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Knicks and Bulls could reignite a classic NBA rivalry

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 10/27/2021 Stefan Bondy, New York Daily News

Perhaps the most famous Knicks rivalry can finally be resuscitated from the smoldering ashes of the last 25 years.

The Knicks and Bulls, once warring enemies of the 1990s (albeit one-sided in favor of Michael Jordan), enter Thursday’s matchup in Chicago with positive vibes and two of the best records in the Eastern Conference.

It’s still way too early to declare these marquee franchises are back, but we’re not going to ignore that at least a share of the East’s top spot is on the line for the Bulls (4-0) and Knicks (3-1). Both teams were also undefeated in preseason and spent big in free agency, lending legitimacy to their early success.

For the first time in a long time, there are reasons to get excited about New York vs. Chicago in the United Center.

“It’s unbelievable. Those guys are playing very, very well,” Kemba Walker said. “It’s gonna be a dog fight, for sure.”

Together, the Knicks and Bulls account for more losses than any other NBA franchises over the previous five seasons. They share one conference finals appearance since the ‘90s, and just one playoff series victory since 2015.

Beyond the intrigue of a possible revitalized rivalry, there are deep personal connections between personnel. Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks coach, spent five seasons on the Bulls sideline and brought two notable former Bulls to New York: Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.

In the words of Jimmy Butler, “Thibs getting the band back together.”

Not coincidentally, the Bulls are honoring the retired Joakim Noah at Thursday’s game, with several former teammates expected to attend. Thibodeau, who coached Noah to his best NBA seasons, waxed poetic about his former player after the Knicks pummeled the Sixers on Tuesday.

“That team resonated with the city, and Jo was the heart and soul of that team,” Thibodeau said. “And when you watched his game, aesthetically, his shot wasn’t pretty but it went in.

“He was an emotional guy; I loved him, I fought with him. And he’s a dear friend now.”

Of course, Knick fans had a different impression of Noah based on his disappointing, expensive and controversial-laden stint in New York. He became emblematic of the failures of former executive Phil Jackson, another personality with ties to both the Bulls and Knicks.

The legacies of Noah and Jackson are something else for the Knicks and Bulls to disagree about. On Thursday, they can settle more important things on the court.

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