ESPN Radio’s Durham reflects on Bulls’ greats past and present

ESPN Radio play-by-play announcer Jim Durham (left) and analyst Dr. Jack Ramsay will call the Bulls-Heat game Sunday.

LeBron James and Chris Bosh may have taken their talents to Miami’s South Beach, but Derrick Rose is doing his best to “lift up” Chicago’s South Side.

So says ESPN Radio’s NBA play-by-play commentator Jim Durham who’ll call Sunday’s Chicago Bulls-Miami Heat game (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Radio; 3:30 p.m., ABC) with Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay.

“He’s trying to lift up his old neighborhood — the Englewood section has struggled, but he hasn’t lost contact with it,” says Durham, himself a Chicago native.

“He goes back there, and goes back there and plays. He’s very unique — he’s really a humble guy. When my wife and I met him, everything was ‘Yes sir,’ and ‘No ma’am,’ yet he’s so confident in his ability. It’s like, ‘How come I can’t win the MVP?’ ‘How come our team can’t win the championship?’”

Does that confidence sound like another Bulls superstar?

“Both (Rose and Michael Jordan) have a burning, competitive nature, they’d go to the ends of the earth to win a game,” Durham says.

“But Michael, in my opinion, is the greatest player to ever play the game. I may be prejudiced, but I was around him so much, I feel I’m qualified to say that.”

In fact, “J.D.” did play-by-play – simulcast on Chicago TV and radio — of Jordan’s first seven seasons, including the Bulls first NBA championship before joining ESPN in 1992.

Here are samples of Durham’s work on some important Jordan shots:

CLICK TO LISTEN: Jordan game winner vs. Utah

“What everyone forgets is that he chopped the ball away from [Karl] Malone at one end, then came down court, and made his last shot in a Chicago Bulls uniform.” — Durham on MJ’s last-second shot beating Utah on June 14, 1998 in Game 6 of The Finals giving Jordan and the Bulls their sixth championship.

CLICK TO LISTEN: Jordan go-ahead jumper in 2003 All Star Game

“The 2003 All-Star Game in Atlanta. Just more Michael.” – Durham on MJ’s fade-away apparent game-winner from the right corner with 4.8 seconds left in OT that gave a 138-136 lead to the East, which would lose in double OT.

CLICK TO LISTEN: Jordan over Craig Ehlo

“A great series — the Bulls weren’t supposed to win — they were the sixth seed, and lost the last game of the regular season to Cleveland – at home on ‘Fan Appreciation Night.’ It was the deciding fifth game in Cleveland, and the fans were all over Michael – ‘Get out your golf clubs, your season’s over.’ After the shot, he pumped his fist and shouted, ‘Whose season’s over?’” — Durham on Jordan’s game-winning shot in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference first-round series

“Derrick has a better team than Michael did at the beginning, but he also has that home town pressure on him,” Durham says.

Durham joined ESPN Radio in 1992.

Durham received the 2011 Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The prestigious award is presented annually to members of the print and electronic media whose longtime efforts have made a significant contribution to the game of basketball.

He knows the passion of Chicago fans after serving as master of ceremonies at a March 2011 event in the United Center commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Bulls’ – and Jordan’s — first title.

“I figured it was 20 years ago, and the fans would be laid back, so I was surprised how they haven’t forgotten that team,” Durham says.

“They started the ‘MVP’ chant before I could get the words out introducing Michael.”

Durham says it was “great” having many of the current Bulls watch the ceremony, so they could see what a 2011-12 championship would mean to the city. Something the “Big Three” hosting them Sunday will never know.

“Dwayne Wade is from Chicago, so that could fuel the rivalry,” Durham says of Sunday’s rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

“And, I won’t say they snubbed the Bulls, but as free agents, LeBron James and Chris Bosh visited Chicago, but opted to go to Miami.”

That’s something Chicago’s current hometown hero would never do, Durham believes.

“I can’t imagine Derrick Rose going somewhere else to win,” Durham says.

“He’ll make his stand right where he grew up. I’d be shocked if he’d play in any other uniform than Chicago.”

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