Under Commissioner David Stern, the National Basketball Association has been a star-making machine to rival Hollywood. It has taken its elite players and promoted them, protected them, and profited by them. It hasn’t quite been professional wrestling, with its story lines written in advance, but at times it’s come close.

The Bulls of the Michael Jordan era benefited from that over the course of their six championships. Yet those Bulls also had a steely determination that transcended favoritism; witness how they never played a seventh game in the NBA Finals, no matter how intent the refs appeared to be to extend a series for the benefit of TV networks.

Wouldn’t it have been sweet if this season’s Bulls had ironically upset that whole caste system.? A humble team with a swarming defense and but a single superstar—homegrown, youngest-ever Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose—the Bulls seemed designed to beat the Miami Heat and its “three kings” set of mercenaries: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, united last summer in a ballyhooed media event. Right up through the first half of the second game of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bulls seemed to have a handle on the Heat. At that point, they hadn’t lost to them all season, and they’d taken the series opener by 21.

The Bulls weren’t to win another.