Bulls

Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr., Jim Boylen participate in Juneteenth march

Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr., Jim Boylen participate in Juneteenth march

On Friday, a mass of Chicagoans participated in a faith community-led demonstration through Grant Park in celebration of Juneteenth.

The Chicago Bulls marched with them.

Specifically, Wendell Carter Jr., head coach Jim Boylen, assistant coaches Nate Loenser and Karen Stack Umlauf, and other Bulls staff took the streets. Behind the scenes, Boylen has taken an active role encouraging team-wide dialogue on racial injustice; beyond a team Zoom teleconference Zach LaVine and Thad Young spoke positively about to reporters, Boylen has also individually reached out to players to check in on them. As an organization, the Bulls recently introduced paid time off for Juneteenth and Election days, moving forward.

 

The Bulls contingent took up near the rear of the crowd. Boylen and Carter, save for a few words to those flanking him, marched deliberately. All parties donned face coverings, as did most every marcher, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But other than one passer by exclaiming “That’s Jim Boylen and Wendell Carter!” and offering a quick wave, members of the Bulls seamlessly blended into the throng of celebrators, who assembled under the leadership of Bright Star Church Chicago and Faith in Justice and Peace (FIJAP hereafter) — the latter a coalition of local faith-based organizations that have come together to address societal issues in five key areas: systemic racism, economic and community development, housing, health (mental and physical) and legislation/policy. 

The march ran from the corner of Columbus and Roosevelt on the south end of Grant Park up to Monroe on the north end. Along the way, demonstrators brandished signs, sang songs and chanted the names of fallen members of Black communities, many of whom were unjustly killed by police.

 

The tenor of the proceedings ranged from celebratory to solemn to inspiring. Upon convening just north of Butler Field, Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star led a stirring rendition of the Black National Anthem, followed by speeches from a litany of local faith leaders. Pastor David Swanson compelled white people to actively challenge “the systemic racism and structures of white supremacy that are being exposed,” emphasizing that Friday’s march represented not a finish line, but a starting point. Muslim, Jewish and Baháʼí faith leaders also spoke, preaching solidarity with Black communities.

Harris resided over all, bouncing the microphone from speaker to speaker, and leading prayers, chants and moments of silence — some observed, symbolically, on one knee. He wrapped the event by performing a rendition of a “Black Lives Matter” song he penned himself, to ebullient response.

“Today you saw thousands of people from faith — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Baháʼí, and so many others, you had elected officials, you had the police out here with us. Unity. This is what it's all about,” Harris told NBC Sports Chicago. “This march was about being solution-oriented, and so Faith in Justice and Peace is a vision that the lord gave to me, and I'm excited to have all of these partners saying we want to be involved to bring systemic change.”

Throughout, Harris lauded elected local officials in attendance using their platform to stand for action, and gave Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot special recognition for opening up Grant Park to Bright Star, FIJAP and the marchers for the demonstration.

Of the Bulls’ presence at the march, and the rapidly growing exposure of the movement, Harris expressed excitement.

“People of influence and affluence have to come and be involved in this,” Harris said. “Black people have been unheard in this country since we've been here, since we were brought over here at the bottom of slave ships and in chains. Many of our ancestors, matriarchs and patriarchs, they all died. 

“But now people are paying attention. Chicago Bulls were out here, White Sox, Cubs, the Bears… they called, the owners were calling me saying we're with you, we got your back, some of them supported in a way where we were able to get all of [these resources].”

But as Swanson preached, there’s a long road ahead. Harris’ biggest takeaways from the day’s events were optimistic.

“I'm excited,” Harris said. “My hope is next year, we do Juneteenth out here again and we have tens of thousands of people if not hundreds of thousands of people. Hopefully COVID is gone and hopefully all restrictions will be gone, because we need to make sure we educate people about the lived experience of the African-American people.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Bulls news and analysis.

The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE BULLS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Bulls news and analysis.

So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

SUBSCRIBE TO THE BULLS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.