On Jan. 21, during a hard-fought 90-94 loss against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Chicago Bulls lost one of their most revelatory players when Alex Caruso hit the ground awkwardly, breaking his wrist after falling from a flagrantly dangerous foul by Bucks forward Grayson Allen.
Three months later, Allen scored 22 and 27 points, respectively, in back-to-back playoff games for the third-seeded Bucks en route to a 4-1 series win against the sixth-seeded Bulls. Caruso — who missed over two months of the regular season with the wrist injury during a period when the Bulls were fighting for a spot in the playoffs — scored only 23 points total in the series.
Chicago was always going to be the underdog against Milwaukee. The reigning champions, despite an uncharacteristically up-and-down regular season, still had the NBA’s best player in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and extensive playoff experience. The Bulls hadn’t made the playoffs since 2017—the Bucks had just won it all.
Yet it seemed the Bulls, who had embraced an underdog mentality over the course of the regular season, had a chance. Maybe this chance only really existed in the hopeful minds of the Chicago faithful, but it existed nonetheless. But when the Bulls, after losing the first game, won game two on the road, tying the series 1-1 going back home to Chicago, the chance of beating the Bucks went from somewhat blind faith to seemingly confident ambition.
That was until Grayson Allen, greeted by a chorus of boos throughout the United Center, decided to more than double his average point output in consecutive games in Chicago, a flash of scoring that helped Milwaukee take both games in the Windy City before returning to Wisconsin to finish off a series win which, at that point, seemed inevitable.
It’s not just that Allen single-handedly contributed to Caruso’s January injury that derailed a significant portion of Chicago’s regular season. It’s not even that Allen significantly contributed to ending the Bulls’ brief playoff run. It’s that Allen, as a basketball player overall, is known for his unsportsmanlike, “dirty” actions.
A five-minute YouTube compilation shows a series of improper conduct Allen exhibited while playing in college at Duke University. This conduct continued into the NBA—the most notable example being when Allen repeatedly tried to trip All-Star Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, with Young calling the then-Memphis Grizzly out on Twitter.
So while no one was particularly surprised that Allen took the opportunity to seriously endanger an airborne and defenseless Alex Caruso, the effect was no less infuriating. If sport — in the broadest sense — was purely romantic, and if karma held, the Bulls would have stomped the Bucks in a shocking playoff upset. Allen and Caruso’s score lines would have swapped. Maybe Caruso would have even gotten some sort of revenge with a resounding slam dunk over Allen.
But sometimes sport isn’t purely romantic. Sometimes karma doesn’t hold. Allen and the Bucks proved that when they summarily did what they should have done — beat a team that they were better than on-paper in a seven-game playoff series. The Bulls now have a slightly longer and much more bitter postseason before returning to the court again, watching the Bucks march further on to a hopeful return to basketball’s crowning team achievement.
Or maybe, just maybe, romance takes longer to develop than a single season—karma might not be just a year-long process. The time may come, during next season’s playoffs, or even later, when the two upper Midwest rivals will meet again for seven games and the Bulls will, very satisfyingly, take the series win.