The United Center offered rare media access during the Bulls' dynasty


The United Center remains one of the few NBA arenas where media get the benefit of sitting courtside.

Back in the day, beat writers who regularly covered the team sat either along the baseline or — better yet — at the scorer’s table at every stop. Then, one owner figured out that such prime real estate could be monetized with fans sitting there. And most teams followed suit.

Thankfully, the Bulls have not. Granted, the seating has shifted from both sides of the west basket, across from the now visitors’ (then Bulls’) bench, to just the far side. But it’s still better than most.

Media seating was one of the many nuanced aspects to covering the 1996 Bulls' title run that this wide-eyed reporter noticed on his first NBA assignment.

With the Bulls’ bench on the west end of the United Center back then, beat writers like the late, great Terry Armour from the Chicago Tribune, John Jackson from the Chicago Sun-Times and Kent McDill from the Daily Herald could have conversations with Michael Jordan DURING THE GAME. That’s because Jordan, invariably, took the last seat on the bench as he rested.

Jordan would sometimes move his seat or rest alongside signage to make the Bulls’ bench configuration an L-shape. That way, Jordan could have an end zone view of the action as opposed to one from the sideline. Jordan’s head would sometimes block the beat writers’ view, which he loved to tease them about.

I noticed this despite sitting in the hockey press box, the three-rowed balcony setting that sat perched above the 300 level. This is where the Bulls placed the spillover media, the crush of international journalists and local reporters working on “sidebar” angles like myself.

To get to this location, which still is utilized for every Blackhawks game, you walked a long, winding hallway past the service workers’ break room. Then you took an elevator to the top level.

Some reporters complained about the seating, which could make Luc Longley look small. At 28 and getting my first big professional break for the Chicago Tribune, I felt as if I was ascending to heaven.

On this night, I watched the Bulls take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Heat in their best-of-five, first-round series. I won’t spoil the specifics. That’s what Friday night’s classic broadcast is for, and we hope those who tune in are enjoying these diversions and memories of a happier time.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

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