Chicago's goodbye to Kobe Bryant


Chicago's goodbye to Kobe Bryant

In describing Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley once said, “He’s not Michael Jordan, but he’s close.”

From the time a brash high schooler from Philly declared for the NBA draft, his eyes have been squarely fixated on the Jumpman.

Showing no fear for the reigning king in the All-Star Game, Kobe showed everybody what, or more specifically whom, he was aiming for.

He turned some off by brushing away screens in meaningless exhibitions, and drew laughs when tossing up airball after airball in a deciding playoff game, but yet, Kobe was undeterred.

One of the few who didn’t wilt under the shadow of the statue, Kobe was the only one who had the audacity to want to be greater than the greatest.

So much of Kobe’s early career was fixated on being like him, Kobe took “Be Like Mike” to a whole other level. Of imitation. Inflection. Past the point of flattery, to where it was nearly scary.

Developing an own identity took a backseat to an obsession of MJ, which brought upon some scorn from fans.

Of course, Kobe learned lessons and applied them. Michael welcomed Kobe to the national stage with perfect fadeaways and flawless fundamentals and then years later, Kobe said his goodbye to the greatest in such a ruthless way, 55 in L.A.

To compare, Kobe was a better shooter than Michael, with deeper range. And Kobe made more tough, contested shots. But Michael always got the shot he wanted, and almost always authored a storybook ending.

That’s not to say Kobe didn’t get his pounds of flesh, or gold.

From the first ring to the fifth, Kobe shined on the Finals stage despite enduring some heart-wrenching and humbling defeats.

Kobe had the ego to prove he could win on his terms, as the sole headliner without a 330-pound shadow on the floor with him. And while he had some individual moments in the interim - 60, 61, 62, 65 and of course, 81 - the game taught him doing it alone sounds much better in theory than application.

He almost landed in Chicago, but the Bulls and Lakers couldn’t agree on a deal and Kobe wound up better for it. Two more rings after the first three earned more respect and for himself, validation and entrance to the short table of special champions.

Somewhere along the way you found yourself and became a golden standard in your own right without being a second-rate imitation of anyone.

Father Time has prevented the ultimate storybook ending, with injuries grabbed Kobe at the worst possible time, but they’ve revealed a humanity few thought existed in such a maniacal competitor.

The perfect ending, many hoped, was him riding into the sunset like Peyton Manning, at least with a shot at a championship ring.

But if that happened, we wouldn’t see the elder statesman, the mentor, the player who’s embraced his basketball mortality and grateful for the journey, potholes and all.

Instead Kobe would be singularly focused on winning all over again, obsessed with the goal that he would miss the moments of playing one on one with opponents’ children, passing on lessons to the next generation while showing the public that he wasn’t afraid to show his heart.

One by one, players and teams, many of them former rivals, have come to pay respects. Fans have paid homage in a tribute that’s been most unexpected but seemingly most appreciated by someone not many thought had a sentimental bone in his body.

In a way, as Kobe says goodbye, it’s a perfect ending for an imperfect superstar.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.