Fast Break: ESPNChicago.com, Bulls

The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat are involved in the type of Eastern Conference Finals many envisioned for the NBA titans.

Entering Game 4 Tuesday night in Miami, the series has been taut. The Heat’s superstar trio of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh has had just enough firepower to take a 2-1 series lead over Derrick Rose’s Bulls.

For many Chicago fans, watching Rose’s team bloom into a title contender has to recall the start of the Bulls’ dynastic runs in the 1990s.

Feeding the interest of Bulls’ fans young and old is the quest of ESPNChicago.com, one of the ESPNLocals tracking a home team as the NBA Conference Finals unfold.

Front Row asked Keith Sgariglia, ESPNChicago.com’s Managing Editor, how his site has tracked this Bulls’ parade deep into the playoffs.

FR: With the Bulls’ surprisingly successful regular season and postseason run, what modifications have you had to make to coverage of the team?

Sgariglia: Much like the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup last spring, the Bulls’ latest success has required flexibility from both our writers and editors. It became obvious very early this season — back during free agency in July, actually – that the city was excited about these Bulls. The team was able to add through free agency and were led by an exciting homegrown star in Derrick Rose. As a result, Bulls fans were consuming content at a rate often reserved only for the Bears.

Our Bulls beat reporter Nick Friedell wrote from every single game this season — home and road — and we sent columnists to most Bulls home games. Our office edit staff started doubling-up on game nights and we cranked out news stories every day from player availability and radio interviews on ESPN 1000. We let the fans’ interest level dictate how much coverage we needed, and they continue to display a very high demand.

FR: How do you balance the fervor for Bulls’ coverage this spring with reporting on the Blackhawks’ NHL playoff run, the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Notre Dame, etc.?

Sgariglia We are fortunate to have full-time beat reporters covering most of our teams, so the outstanding daily coverage they provide doesn’t really change. They’re still on the road with their team and at the park every day, bringing news and analysis to our audience. Where we adapt is with our versatile roster of columnists.

Instead of evenly spreading them out across all the sports, we focus more on the Hawks’ and Bulls’ playoff runs and send our columnists to those games first. We still highlight larger events (spring training, Opening Day, NFL draft, etc.) with additional coverage, but the focus for our local columnists has to be on the games that matter most to our audience. Considering our relatively small staff, our relationship and communication with the editorial team in Bristol is most crucial at this time. We’re fortunate to be able to use some of the great things they’re already doing on ESPN.com to enhance our local coverage of the “other” Chicago teams.

FR: How many ways can you tell Derrick Rose’s story?

Sgariglia: We haven’t run out of angles yet, although we’ve certainly tried. It’s truly amazing to see how quickly Derrick Rose has captivated this city. Chicago loves Derrick Rose and Bulls fans can’t read enough about him.

FR: For some of your readers, the Michael Jordan Bulls’ dynasty is a faint memory. For others, it’s the era against all teams are measured. How do you make note of the dynasty on the web site?

Sgariglia: In March, the Bulls celebrated the 20th anniversary of their first NBA title, so the in-game ceremony gave us an opportunity to look back at that 1990-91 team which went on to win three championships. In addition to creating retrospective photo galleries and video tributes, Melissa Isaacson and Michael Wilbon spoke with several stars from that era about breaking through against Detroit’s “Bad Boys” and how Chicago finally may have a worthy successor to their legacy in this current Bulls team.

FR: For you personally, Keith, what’s it been like to see the Bulls make this sort of resurgence? Where were you when Jordan’s Bulls dominated the 1990s?

Sgariglia:As a fan, it’s very exciting. I grew up spoiled watching Michael Jordan night after night, and by the time Scottie Pippen arrived, each playoff game was an event you watched with a group of family and friends. There are a lot of Bulls fans in my mom’s family, and a Bulls-Pistons game always seemed to fall on Memorial Day, so we’d spend a few hours in my grandma’s driveway grilling hamburgers and eating potato salad, and spend the next three hours huddled around their little TV yelling at Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman. Ironically, years later my friends and I were all cheering for Dennis Rodman when he helped them to their second three-peat. Each time they won a championship, I remember the people in downtown Chicago honking their horns, waving their Bulls flags from their cars and celebrating long into the night.

It’s not fair to expect six more championships from this bunch, as MJ suggested back in March, but after a lot of really bad years, it’s fun to live in a Bulls city again.

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