On Monday night, noted national anthem singer Jim Cornelison walked to the center of the United Center, sang a perfect "Star-Spangled Banner," and everyone at the United Center stood and cheered. It's a scene familiar to any Chicagoan, except the difference was that Cornelison was standing on a basketball court, not center ice. This goosebump-inducing rendition of the anthem took place before the Bulls second-round opener against the Hawks.
It started with the Blackhawks' playoff run in 1985, an has been a part of the game experience ever since. It's a wonderful playoff tradition that the Blackhawks faithful have shared with the rest of the city. Cheering during the anthem took center stage during last spring's Stanley Cup run. The Blackhawks took over the city, and the tradition became well-known to Chicagoans who had never even been in the United Center or the Chicago Stadium before it.
That resulted in Cornelison singing the anthem before the Bears playoff game with the Seahawks in January. As soon as he started singing, fans at Soldier Field knew what to do. They yelled and clapped through the anthem, electrifying Soldier Field and the players on it. They did the same thing the next week, when the Packers were in town.
So it's no surprise that Bulls fans knew to do the same thing. It's not a superstition, as the Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears have all lost games after a rousing anthem. It's not about winning or losing. It's about Chicago showing pride in who we are.
Not everyone likes it. I've heard from people in other cities that what Chicago does during the anthem is disrespectful or even unpatriotic. But I've been in arenas where people pay no mind to the anthem. I've seen cameras pan to people engaged in their own conversations. I've seen people continue to walk around in their quest to get a beer and a hot dog before the game.
That's not true during anthems in Chicago. We're all in on the anthem, and we're cheering on the anthem the same way we cheer on our favorite players. We're facing the flag, and the "Star-Spangled Banner" has our rapt attention.
It started with the Blackhawks, then spread to Chicago's other playoff teams. So tonight, I hope Bulls fans stand and cheer throughout the anthem. I hope they go hoarse yelling, "Our flag was still there!" It's not silent, but it's as patriotic as it gets.