Bulls

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

The tears streaming down Jim Boylen’s face said all you needed to know about the Bulls’ reaction to the stunning death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other victims in a Sunday helicopter crash that has rocked the NBA community.

Like Bryant, Boylen has daughters who love basketball. Like Bryant, Boylen is uber competitive and serious about his job.

But he’s a father and a human being first.

“Obviously, a very emotional, tearful day in our building. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kobe Bryant’s family, the other families that are involved in the accident,” Boylen said. “These things hit your team and the league on different levels. There’s the rookie out of high school breaking into the starting lineup, one of the hardest workers ever and becoming an All-Star and a champion and a Hall of Fame player. And then there’s the second half of your life where you earn respect from the basketball community and you’re a husband and a father and a mentor for the rest of the league. Difficult day.

“And if you have children like many of us do, it’s painful.”

The Bulls discussed the tragedy after a Monday morning shootaround to prepare for a game against the Spurs that everyone acknowledged would be difficult to play. The United Center has projected images of Bryant, smiling in his Lakers uniform, since Sunday night and fans have started a makeshift shrine outside the building.

The Bulls will have a moment of silence to honor Bryant, and Thad Young, who will wear Bryant’s “Zoom Kobe 4 ‘Prelude’” shoe, said it’s likely they’ll take a 24-second violation to honor one of the numbers Bryant wore.

“Kobe has always inspired me — and not just me but other guys around this league, from young to older guys,” Young said. “He's always been very inspiring to each and every one of us just because of what be brought to the game and his life outside of the game. He was pretty much an open book. You know, he let us see how he treated his wife and kids. He let us see the behind the scenes of how he lived his life.

“We thank him for that. He showed us how to continue to walk this Earth and be upstanding citizens and he showed us how to be not just a person to walk this earth but to be a loving husband, father and family member.”

LaVine, who wears No. 8 in part to honor Bryant, acknowledged the difficulty of playing Monday night but said it’s the best way to honor the future Hall of Famer’s legacy.

“It’s going to be really sad, but I think it’s something that he would have wanted — for people to get back into the game and play,” LaVine said. “I feel like that’s how he would approach it. So I’m going to go out there and play the way I do, play my heart out. Obviously, everybody is going to have a heavy heart. But we still have a job to do. It’s terrible you have to play under those circumstances, but I feel like it’s something he would want as well.’’

LaVine grew up idolizing Bryant.

“He inspired a whole generation of kids pretty much. They wanted to be like him. It’s like kids in the 80s and 90s wanted to be like Mike. We wanted to be like Kobe,” LaVine said. “Growing up and seeing the different highlights of his hard work, I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that was instilled in me was his hard work. I try to bring that to my game. And his passion for the game, how ruthless he was as a competitor. But it’s more than that as a basketball player. He was a father. There were more families on there. It’s just terrible what happened, man. It’s just such a loss in so many different ways.”

LaVine proudly detailed one anecdote from his rookie season when he scored 28 points off the bench in a Timberwolves road victory at Staples Center on Nov. 28, 2014.

“I just remember Kobe was guarding me in the fourth quarter, and obviously I knew growing up and idolizing him that he always guarded the best player [late],” LaVine said. “I had a really good game so he was guarding me, and we were standing at the free-throw line and he tapped me on the butt and said, ‘You know, keep going.’ It was almost shocking to me that I was in that situation as a 19-year-old. It was like, ‘This is a dude I idolized, he’s guarding me.’ It was just surreal.”

LaVine also recalled how he fouled him to send him to the free-throw line that gave Bryant the points to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. But LaVine’s takeaways from Bryant were as much professional as personal.

“I try and take his hard work,” LaVine said. “He was somebody that after games, I heard so many different stories from former players that have coached me where if he had a bad game he would stay all night. Or during the summertimes, he wouldn’t take time off.

“Obviously, everybody is different. But I just try and take that mindset of working hard and being in the gym and his mindset of coming in to just kill every game. That was his mindset. There will never be another Kobe Bryant. There’s only one person like that ever. He touched so many lives in the way he affected basketball, and beyond that as well.’’

Young also acknowledged Bryant’s competitiveness.

“He's just always been a clear-cut assassin. There's a reason they call him the Black Mamba. He's one of those guys that's very ferocious, very competitive, do whatever it takes to win, even if it means dunking on his grandmother,” the veteran forward said. “But at the end of the day, he's one of the greatest to ever do it, one of the realest to ever do it. He's put this league on his back. He's helped make the league to what it is today. He's helped inspire and lead the way for guys like me and younger guys to come into this league and be able to do a lot and be able to continue to grind.”

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Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

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USA Today

Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

With all the attention given to the battle for supremacy in Los Angeles between the Lakers’ superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, plus the spectacular debut seasons for Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, Milwaukee’s march to the NBA’s best regular season record for the second straight year has gone largely unnoticed.

The Bucks won their 50th game Tuesday night in Toronto, rallying to beat the defending NBA champs one night after surviving an overtime battle in Washington. Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff spot in the East and currently holds an eight-game lead over the Raptors for home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

We all remember what happened last season when the Bucks won the first two games of the conference finals against Toronto in Milwaukee, then saw their season come crashing to a close by dropping the next four. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse devised a system to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the lane, and the Bucks were lost when the MVP couldn’t carry the offense as he had done all season.

So, which team will pose the biggest threat to the Bucks in the East this year?

Toronto has been the hottest team in the conference over the last six weeks, winning 17 of their last 19 games. Nurse has done an excellent job of adjusting his rotation to fill in for the extended injury absences of Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and top reserve Norman Powell.

Fourth year guard Fred VanVleet and third year forward O.G. Anunoby are having their best seasons, and Raptors’ President of Basketball operations Masai Ujiri continues to find and develop young prospects that went ignored by the rest of the league. The latest examples are young big man Chris Boucher and versatile wing Terence Davis, who have been key members of the rotation during the current hot streak.

The Raptors have the length up front to give Antetokounmpo problems in a seven-game series, and they certainly don’t fear the Bucks after beating them in the conference finals last spring. Yes, Kawhi Leonard has moved on, but Siakam quickly took over Leonard’s role as an All-Star caliber two-way wing, averaging 23.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. If the Raptors are 100% healthy for the playoffs, they will be a tough out.

Philadelphia was supposed to emerge as a title contender this season after adding Al Horford in free agency to join Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, giving the 76ers the length to challenge Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. But Horford and Embiid have not played well together and now Simmons is expected to be out for multiple weeks because of a nerve impingement in his back. It’s possible the Sixers will get things together by the start of the playoffs, but given their 9-20 road record, it’s hard to imagine them winning a series without home court advantage.

Miami had been the talk of the league for the first half of the season, but the Heat has hit a bit of a road bump lately, dropping six of their last eight games. Pat Riley made a deal at the deadline, giving up former lottery pick Justise Winslow to acquire veteran Andre Iguodala from Memphis, but it’s hard to say how much Iguodala has left in the tank at 36 after all those extended playoff runs with Golden State.

Jimmy Butler will continue to provide scoring and demand maximum effort from the young players on the Heat roster, but it doesn’t look like the Heat have the experience or scoring depth to be labeled a serious contender. Right now, they would have to be considered the underdog in a 4-5 match-up against Philadelphia, with the winner having to face Milwaukee in the conference semi-finals. Not exactly the best path for playoff success.

That leaves the Celtics, who got drummed out of the playoffs by Milwaukee in five games last season. In case you haven’t been watching Boston lately, third year forward Jayson Tatum is making the jump to elite status. Tatum is averaging 30.3 points a game over his last ten, including a 41-point effort against LeBron and the Lakers Sunday, and a 36-point performance in a win at Portland on Tuesday, which included a career high eight 3-pointers in 12 attempts.

Tatum’s emergence gives Boston a clear-cut number one scoring option to match up against Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in a potential conference final. Fourth year swingman Jaylen Brown is also enjoying a breakout season, increasing his scoring average by over seven points from a year ago to 20.4, while All-Star guard Kemba Walker has provided stability and leadership at the point, something that was sorely lacking during Kyrie Irving’s tumultuous two seasons in Boston.

Gordon Hayward is 100% healthy again and playing at high level, while defensive specialist Marcus Smart has suddenly emerged as a reliable 3-point threat. Sure, the Celtics have some questions in the middle, where Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts. But second year center Robert Williams is expected to return from a hip injury soon and could emerge as the shot blocker/rebounder the C’s need to go up against Giannis and the Lopez twins.

We’re still about seven weeks away from the start of the playoffs but based on Boston’s scoring depth and the emergence of Tatum as a go-to option late in games, I would give the Celtics a slight edge over Toronto as the Bucks’ top challenger in the East. 

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NBA head coaches with NBA experience reminisce on pickup hoops days

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USA Today

NBA head coaches with NBA experience reminisce on pickup hoops days

Nine current NBA head coaches also played in the league. They range in experience from Billy Donovan’s 44 games with the 1987-88 Knicks to Steve Kerr’s 910 games with six teams.

Staying in the sport they love at the highest level is one thing. Playing it is another.

Retiring as a player is one thing. Giving up pickup basketball is another.

NBC Sports Chicago interviewed seven of the nine coaches about their post-playing career pickup basketball history. Only one of those seven, the Wizards’ Scott Brooks, said he still plays fullcourt, pickup basketball regularly.

The wistful tones of those who no longer play — almost always not by their choice — resonated throughout these tales. The love of basketball, whether coaching it or playing it, remains strong.

STEVE KERR, Golden State Warriors coach, 54 years old, 910 games over 15 seasons, retired in 2003

I retired when I was 37. I picked up tennis and I played a lot, like three or four days a week. And I played pickup basketball every Sunday. And I played basketball all the way until I was about 45. And I was grinding. I was going hard on the tennis court and in pickup. When I turned 43, literally in the same month, each knee kind of ran out of cartilage. And I could feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no cushion in there anymore.’ I had a scope done by our team doctor in Phoenix. I was GM at the time. I remember thinking, ‘All right, I’ll get a scope. And I’ll be fine.’ I wake up and he said, ‘The scope went well. We cleaned it up. But you gotta stop playing basketball.’ And I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you gotta stop playing basketball and tennis. You just don’t have any more cartilage.’ I was devastated. My whole life, I played. There was so much wear and tear from my playing days and my post-playing days. Seven years of flying around the tennis court, my body just wore out.

I actually enjoyed the pickup ball more than the NBA because I was finally the most talented player on the floor. I could actually cross somebody up and get to the rim. I’d be like, ‘What just happened?’

But you miss the feeling of the freedom and the flow and the energy. You start making some shots and you’re running and you get this incredible workout and at the end of the games, you’re just exhausted but in an incredibly satisfying way. And then you go home and throw the ice bags on the knee and watch football or something. I miss that. Now it’s all non-impact stuff — yoga, elliptical. I have to avoid any of the pounding.

SCOTT BROOKS, Washington Wizards coach, 54 years old, 680 games over 10 seasons, retired in 1998

We play every gameday on our home floor but the sideways fullcourt. It’s 'old man' full.

In the summertime, I probably play two to three times a week. I love it. Every Saturday morning, I go to my son’s old high school gym, and he calls about 10 of his high school buddies and I beat the crap out of them. I’m an old man game now. I post up. I foul. I set illegal screens. I’m basically Charles Oakley out there.

(Injury could) happen to me. I’m just willing to take the chance. If I don’t do that, I’m going to be pretty heavy. Plus, I like the interaction with other guys on the court. You bond with your coaching staff and your video group.

Nothing replicates a run. I do yoga, elliptical and play pickup. If you can invent a treadmill where you can fall and get up and take charges and set screens, I’ll do that. I just love the physicality of the sport. And I love the competition. I love to do something where I’m going to know if I win or lose and know those results in the short-term.

RICK CARLISLE, Dallas Mavericks coach, 60 years old, 188 games over five seasons, retired in 1990

The last pickup game I played in was in 2000. This was a pretty compelling thing to observe if you’re any kind of historian. It was me, Derrick McKey, Chris Mullin and Larry Bird against Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Jeff Foster and Zan Tabak. We played a three-game series. It was tied 1-1. In the third game, Bird came off a screen on the right side, caught and shot a 17-footer high above Jeff Foster’s outreached hand. The ball went straight up in the air and straight through the basket without touching the rim at all. Larry and I looked at each other and basically said, ‘We’re done with this after today.’ The game-winner will probably never be able to be topped. Plus, physically, playing against those guys, Foster was so strong and so dynamic that it was dangerous being out there. Larry and I both realized it. That was the last time I ever did it. And I’m positive that was the last time he did it too. I was 41 at the time.

I still do some stuff where I work with players on the floor. But I don’t play up in pickup games. It’s very dangerous.

You do miss the competition. You miss the creativity of getting on the court and being able to play with like-minded players. You play with experienced guys and the things you can create offensively just off your feel for the game is a lot of fun. But you have to move on from that. Because it is truly very dangerous unless you’re conditioned for that. And if Scott (Brooks) is still playing, that means that he’s playing pretty consistently and he’s in condition for it. He’s in great shape. I’ve seen him. But for my friends in their 40s and 50s, I don’t recommend it. You’re playing with fire. You get on a court with guys who are higher than your level, stuff happens really fast. I’ve seen and heard of too many major injuries happening.

My Dad was a warrior rec player. He was one of the all-time legends of my town growing up as a pickup player. He played into his mid-50s. He’s got two new hips. He has had one revision on a hip replacement. He had one knee replaced. I saw how it tore his body apart. He’s 89 now. And he would probably try to walk out and play in a game today if he could.

This game, and the competitive aspect of it, and the endorphin release you get from playing in a pickup game, it gets in your blood. You have to find things to do to replace that. That’s the challenge. I’ve gone on and I do different workouts. I still work to get a sweat and do things to keep my body feeling good. It’s not the same as playing. But you’ve got to do low-impact things so you have to feel good. I’ve become an avid Peloton person. That’s a great way to get aerobic work in. You just find things.

NATE McMILLAN, Indiana Pacers coach, 55 years old, 796 games over 12 seasons, retired in 1998

I used to play until 2009. I stopped that year because I was practicing with the team and tore my Achilles.

I was with Portland. We had a ton of injuries. We didn’t have enough guys to practice. We needed another body. I told my assistants, ‘I got it. I’m playing.’ We were playing 4-on-4. My team was winning — of course. We played an extra game. I should’ve stopped when I was ahead. I tore my Achilles in that last game. You realize that you should stick to HORSE and not trying to play 4-on-4 fullcourt.

You just love the game. During that time (after retirement), what you think is you still can get out there and do it.  You look at guys like (Vince) Carter and you’re amazed he can still play competitively at the professional level with these young guys. But you come to a point where you realize it’s over. And for me, it was when I tore my Achilles.

I didn’t really miss it. Once I retired, it was over for me. I had given all that I could. My body was at a point where I had a lot of injuries towards the end. One of the worst things is to try to compete when you’re old or injured. When I decided to retire, I was ready. It was time. So I didn’t really miss it.

As I said, we were winning (that last game) before I got hurt.

LUKE WALTON, Sacramento Kings coach, 39 years old, 564 games over 10 seasons, retired in 2013

I played my last game two years ago. And it was fun. And it was worth it. But the next day it was very clear that there was no need for me to ever play fullcourt basketball again. Mentally, I’d still love to play any chance I could. Physically, it’s just not an option.

I miss everything about it — the competitiveness, the game. To me, basketball is the most beautiful, fun, enjoyable game there is. That’s why I played it my whole life. I miss playing. Coaching is the next best thing.

I do beach volleyball in the offseason.

MONTY WILLIAMS, Phoenix Suns coach, 48 years old, 456 games over nine seasons, retired in 2003

I gave up pickup. Actually, I didn’t give it up. My knee forced me to give it up. Every time I played it just kept blowing up. It’s humbling to not be able to get out there anymore, especially when you see (assistant coach) Willie Green dunking the ball and (assistant coach) Steve Blake shooting 3s. I look at myself in the mirror and see this gray goatee and I realize I’m older and I can’t do it. It bothers me. I love playing.

The last time I played fullcourt was last year in Philly. I just remember feeling so great about playing. But then the next day my knee blew up. I remember the physical therapy people in Philly. They were like, ‘Dude, it’s about time you stop doing that with the young guys.’

I still play some 3-on-3. But I’m hopeful I can get into a 48-and-over league here soon and play with some guys. But playing with Willie and Steve is probably not going to happen.

I don’t think it’s any one thing I miss. I just love the game. I like thinking about playing and what I could do. I love making a shot or blocking somebody or physically hitting somebody. I like the anticipation of knowing that I’m going to play. That drove me as a kid. Like on Friday, we’d meet up at the Rec. I was thinking about it all day Friday because I knew I’d have a chance to match up against older and better guys. That’s probably the thing I struggle with, that I don’t have the anticipation of playing anymore. That’s what drove me.

BILLY DONOVAN, Oklahoma City Thunder coach, 54 years old, 44 games, retired in 1988

I would probably say I was 35, 36 years old the last time I played. Getting out of bed and having issues with my lower back kind of ended it for me. I’ve actually thought about playing again. But I would just be a facilitator. Run and pass. No shooting or driving. Get everybody else involved.

I loved playing. It’s the greatest way to get exercise. When you’re playing, it’s something you’ve done your whole life. It was weird when I stopped playing because I had to find alternative ways to exercise. I always exercised, even when I finished playing (in the league), through playing pickup ball. I never went out and jogged. I just played fullcourt pickup ball. It was a great way to maintain a level of conditioning.

Not interviewed: Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni; 68; who played 180 games in the NBA and ABA and Clippers coach Doc Rivers, 58, who played 864 games with four teams and made one All-Star appearance with the Hawks. Carlisle and Williams both said they're fairly certain Rivers no longer plays.

Told that Brooks still plays, Williams smiled.

“I can see that. Scotty’s a gamer,” Williams said. “I can see Scotty knocking somebody out too. He’s as tough as nails.”

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