Michael Jordan

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

The statue doesn’t sit out front of the United Center anymore, but the statute remains the same for any player good enough to be on the marquee for the Chicago Bulls.

Zach LaVine, while awed by the specter of Michael Jordan, isn’t spooked by chasing a ghost. Weeks away from a debut as a Bull—returning from ACL surgery—LaVine is aware of the standard set by the man who called himself “Black Jesus”.

“Black Jesus played here for so long. I’m not putting myself in that category,” LaVine said, unaware Jordan gave himself that nickname as a young player in Chicago. “He lived up to it. They (fans) want to get back to that pinnacle.”

He hears the hopes and wishes of fans when he walks off the United Center floor two hours before every home game after getting shots up as part of his rehab. LaVine knows what’s expected from him—what’s more, he expects that from himself.

He’s a two-time slam dunk champion, certainly, but the Seattle area native wants to be known as a complete player, someone a franchise can build around.

And if it’s Black Jesus’ franchise, so be it.

“You try not to let it mess with you,” LaVine said. “I feel like I’m strong minded, I’m confident in myself. Everybody is gonna have their own opinions. All that matters is how you feel about yourself.”

Not that he’s not holding himself to the standard set by the standard bearer himself, but he’s aware the responsibility that comes with playing at Jordan’s position for a franchise still largely synonymous with Jordan—even though this spring will mark 20 years since Jordan actually wore Bulls red.

“No one’s trying to compare you to him, that’s out there,” LaVine said. “You’re just trying to be the best you, coming into this situation. You have the opportunity to be the face of the franchise. To be that guy. You want to embrace that. You want everybody to know you’re prepared and capable of doing that.”

Simply being identified as a player a franchise will commit to building around as opposed to the third wheel, as he was believed to be in Minnesota behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, is warming for him.

Derrick Rose believed he was up for the challenge until his body betrayed him. Jimmy Butler wanted it, but the Bulls thought otherwise leading to the chain of events that brought LaVine to Chicago.

In the first season of a full-fledged rebuild, LaVine knows the prevailing belief is that the next franchise carrier is more likely in the coming draft than on the Bulls roster.

“People gonna put a name on everything. I’m gonna hoop, do what I do,” LaVine said. “I know I’m talented, I think the Bulls organization knows I’m talented. Whatever we do with the pick or free agency, that’s their side of basketball operations. I’m gonna do what I do. I put in the work.”

He’ll return to full contact practice next week and if one had to guess, finally be introduced as an active player in the middle of December once he works the kinks out and gains confidence in taking real contact.

But then again, confidence has never been a problem for LaVine. Whether it was instilled in him by a vocal father who had him chart every shot he took as a high schooler or simply innate, LaVine isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“He had a plan, for sure,” LaVine said of his father, Paul, who once played linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. “I have binders of shots. I was doing workouts the day before games. I was doing professional workouts before (college). I embraced being a hard worker.”

Whether it’s the rehab or a road that’s had plenty of twists and turns for him to be 22, he’s experienced enough not to be naïve but young enough to have admirable wide-eyed optimism.

“You put in that much hard work, it can’t fail. It can’t.”

Chicago will host NBA All-Star extravaganza in 2020

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AP

Chicago will host NBA All-Star extravaganza in 2020

How long has it been since Chicago has hosted an All-Star Weekend?

Well, they were in a different building in 1988, and Michael Jordan had hair—albeit thinning, but he hadn’t gone bald yet.

That will change in 2020 when the United Center will host the ever-growing All-Star Weekend, according to league sources. The 1988 spectacle that took place at Chicago Stadium was a launching point of sorts for the NBA, with Jordan winning an epic slam-dunk contest over Dominique Wilkins and then winning MVP of the All-Star Game the next day with a 40-point performance.

Between the game, Larry Bird’s iconic 3-point shootout performance and the collection of All-Star players, which could’ve been the greatest ever, the 2020 weekend has a lot to live up to.

The momentum was increasing in recent years, especially with the atrium being finished inside the United Center—which the NBA will surely use as a way to engage fans to get out of the bitter February cold.

Chicago has been home to the NFL Draft in 2015 and 2016, getting rave reviews for its handling of an estimated 100,000 people each year to the downtown area in late-April, along with its bid for the 2016 Olympic Games that was placed over a decade ago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf will be present at the “major announcement” Friday afternoon at the United Center, and one can assume they played a major part in pushing Chicago’s candidacy to the NBA as Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf was previously on record as being against hosting an All-Star Weekend.

Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Orlando and New Orleans have hosted All-Star weekend recently, cities that didn’t have to worry much about weather being a factor.

Toronto and New York City also hosted it recently and the league and its sponsors were better prepared for the inconveniences that can arise. Apparently, Chicago was likely able to assuage those concerns along with providing a burgeoning area around the United Center that has grown in recent years.

The last time Chicago hosted the event, it could be best considered a gathering. Now, it’s a worldwide extravaganza that requires multiple buildings in different areas, something Chicago is well-equipped for.

It’ll be a huge party—one that will have people packing their parkas to spend a weekend in Chicago.

Lauri Markkanen keeps making history for the Bulls scoring in double figures again

Lauri Markkanen keeps making history for the Bulls scoring in double figures again

Another night, another achievement for Lauri Markkanen.

The Bulls rookie had perhaps his best performance as a pro on Wednesday against the Heat, scoring a career-high 25 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He shot 50 percent from the floor, added two more 3-pointers and even contributed with a pair of steals.

With his performance Markkanen became the sixth Bulls rookie in franchise history to score 10 or more points in each of his first six games.

Check out the video above for the others, and hear from Fred Hoiberg on why he believes Markkanen can be a superstar in the NBA.