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Chicago fans suddenly aren’t so confident about a repeat 3-peat

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In the middle of the night, while Bulls fans slept, with visions of another championship dancing in their heads, the Grinch Who Stole Six-Mass drove his sleigh through the city and snatched up everyone's Bulls gear.

Every last shirt, cap, Worm wig and sock. Every sweatshirt, scarf and tank top.Either that, or Chicagoans were just plain embarrassed Saturday. Or perhaps they wore all of their Bulls stuff Thursday and Friday, assuming a sixth title was theirs, and had nothing clean left to wear.

Whatever the case, few Bulls garments were visible Saturday, the morning after another Grinch - one who answers to "Mailman" - stole Michael Jordan's thunder. There were few indications, in fact, that this city even has an NBA franchise, much less one that has grabbed five league titles in the 1990s.

Street vendor John MacFarland, positioned near the Chicago Tribune building on Michigan Avenue, found pedestrians had little interest in the Threepeat Repeat T-shirts he was selling at a reduced rate of $10 apiece.

MacFarland, too, was bummed about the Game 5 loss. He would have made a killing in shirt sales Friday night, he said, had the Bulls clinched the title at home.

"I'm rooting for the Bulls, but I'm really not sure now," he said, shuffling a wad of cash from one hand to the other. "I really thought the Jazz were going to win this thing before it started. I just felt the Bulls were burned out with Indiana taking them to seven games.

"But then they went up 3-1 and I was thinking it was a good thing I didn't go to Vegas because I would have put money on the Jazz."

Chicagoans are hoping the Grinch's heart will grow large and he will ride back to town Sunday night, give everything back and declare the big party is still on. If he doesn't return then, some Bulls fans fear he may have taken their Six-Mass for good.

Folks milling about the waterfront boardwalk at Navy Pier Saturday felt that sense of urgency. The Bulls need to wrap up the title Sunday and not let the Jazz force a deciding Game 7 on Wednesday, they said.

"Anything can happen in one game," said Sue Martin of Cicero.

"They need to take care of business" Sunday, said Mike Jackson of Evanston, one of a handful of fans who managed to hide his Bulls shirt from the dastardly Grinch of Game 5.

"I think they can do it, but Scottie (Pippen) needs to step up. I'm still hoping he'll get the MVP, and then maybe he'll stick around next year."

The pending break-up of the Bulls was the topic of conversation in the media here all week, along with musings about Dennis Rodman's disappearing act Monday.

Michael Jordan, who has said he will retire at the end of the season, had a chance to end the series and his career by making a game-winning 3-point shot with one second left in Friday's Utah win. But he missed badly.

"Table set, but Jordan drops his knife," a Chicago Tribune headline said Saturday morning. "MJ is Airball Jordan," announced the Chicago Sun-Times.

Perhaps local journalists were taking out their anger on the Bulls for forcing them to go back to Utah. The United Center's west press box was full of complaints after Friday's game. Writers from Chicago, Boston, New York and other NBA cities grumbled aloud about having to return to the Delta Center. That sentiment was generally absent from members of the international media, a number of whom had previously said they prefer Salt Lake City.

Are Chicago and Salt Lake City really that different? In one it costs $10 an hour to park. In the other, it doesn't. One is known for wind, the other for salt.

According to Polk, a global marketing firm with an office in Denver, Chicago and Salt Lake City are a lot alike and their residents have similar interests. People in both cities enjoy active lifestyles. Both areas rank above the national average in personal computer use, watching sports on TV (especially last week), traveling in both the U.S. and abroad, golfing, bicycling and attending cultural events.

One Chicagoan who attended Friday's game was so concerned about his emotional investment in the Bulls that he vowed to take up target practice.

"I should have taken a gun and shot Karl Malone myself, right there," the man said as he checked out of his hotel Saturday about noon.