With fond memories of playing for the Bulls, new Buck Robin Lopez beats them

With fond memories of playing for the Bulls, new Buck Robin Lopez beats them

At every turn, hugs greeted Robin Lopez in his Monday return to the United Center.

Well, except for the time Benny the Bull, one of many mascots the affable center has tormented over the years, threw a cardboard cutout of Lopez's likeness into a trash can during a bit aired on the scoreboard during a timeout.

Over three seasons as a Bull, Lopez earned widespread admiration from teammates and coaches for his selfless play and durability. That's why after dropping 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks on his former team, the new Bucks center even was warmly greeted when he visited the Bulls' locker room following the Bucks' 122-112 preseason victory.

"He was coachable and he was reliable, just a wonderful guy," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. "Very intelligent guy. And I thought he was a great Bull while he was here during a difficult time. I wish him success."

Team success is what drew Lopez to the Bucks, who signed him as a free agent.

"It was cool," Lopez said of the free-agent process. "Everything happens so quickly now. A lot of teams inquired. I don’t want to say the choice was easy because a lot of quality organizations inquired. But obviously it was an appealing offer. Obviously, a very good organization top to bottom. They’re ideally trying to win now."

But what about playing with his twin brother, Brook, for the first time since they played collegiately at Stanford?

"You can’t have everything," Lopez cracked.

Yes, the shade-throwing between the two brothers will be going on all season. And with Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer's wide-open system leading to multiple 3-point opportunities for Brook last season, look for Robin's "tea-party" celebration following his made 3-pointers frequently this season.

"I think we felt what was best for him and our situation with Wendell Carter that it was best for him maybe to find another opportunity, which we had no doubt that he would. But he was a terrific player for the team for us,"  Boylen said. "He was a dynamic screener. And he was an ‘Amen’ guy in the locker room, so when you say something he’d always give you an ‘Amen’ because he believes in the right things."

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The time former President Barack Obama's Joakim Noah takes sparked a story

USA Today

The time former President Barack Obama's Joakim Noah takes sparked a story

Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s devout basketball and Bulls fandom is well-documented

But according to former Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer on the most recent episode of “The Crossover NBA Show with Chris Mannix,” there came a point in Obama’s time as the leader of the free world when he had to consciously reign in his inner blog boy.

It began with the Bulls’ drafting of Joakim Noah.

“Obama learned over the years that, being president and being a fan, you can’t be a normal fan when you’re president,” Pfeiffer told Mannix. “When he was running for president, we were in New Hampshire doing an interview with a local reporter a day or so after. This must have been the ’07 draft. And the reporter at the end just asked Obama, as a fan, what did he think of the Bulls pick, and that was the year the Bulls picked Noah.

“And Obama, as a fan, like a lot of, if I remember, Bulls fans at the time, thought it wasn’t a great pick because it was duplicative of Tyrus Thomas, who they’d taken the year before. And Obama said that, and it made a lot of news both in Chicago and in sports… So he realized that you can’t just pontificate on draft picks without some consequences when you’re president of the United States.”

Worse, Noah was an ardent Obama supporter. Also according to Pfeiffer, the eventual Bulls center spent part of his time at the University of Florida as a member of a grassroots, Obama-supportive student organization. Obama's comments didn't change that sentiment: In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche in Feb. 2008, Noah endorsed Obama in the 2008 election and said he'd been a supporter since 2004. 

But it’s hard to blame the ex-President too much for that take, ice cold as it ended up becoming. The Noah pick was widely polarizing at the time (and even through his rookie season), and Thomas wasn’t yet considered an unequivocal bust. Plus, Obama did eventually renege on those comments, even inviting Noah to his 49th birthday party at the White House in 2010, which saw stars across the NBA spectrum assemble for a pickup game.

That day spawned an anecdote that will go down as an all-timer, even for a player as celebrated as Noah. From former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod in GQ’s “The Oral History of President Barack Obama Playing Pickup Basketball”:

“[The President] ticked off Joakim Noah because the president was trash-talking him about his shot, [which is], shall we say, unorthodox. The president said, ‘Where’d you get that shot? That’s the ugliest shot I’ve ever seen.’ So at some point, Noah decided, ‘Okay, let’s see about yours.’ And he completely smothered the President. I mean he was guarding him and the President could not go anywhere. But I will say that with all of that, somehow playing against all these NBA players, he (Obama) mysteriously was able to hit the winning shot.”

Surely, the Obama-Noah relationship is all love now. But the evolution of it has certainly been a riot. 

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Bulls' treasure Johnny 'Red' Kerr was a walking basketball encyclopedia

Bulls' treasure Johnny 'Red' Kerr was a walking basketball encyclopedia

With the Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals games largely shifting to network coverage, the broadcasting work from Tom Dore and Johnny “Red” Kerr for the 1996 playoffs is mostly over.

But what a treat it has been hearing that duo work together again during NBC Sports Chicago’s re-airing of the 1996 playoff run. Covering the games meant you didn’t get to hear the humorous interplay between the two, or Dore’s economical play-by-play work, or Kerr’s heart-on-his-sleeve bemoaning of missed boxouts or official’s calls.

Not that those of us around that team didn’t hear such moments off the air. It was fun to catch up with Dore on a recent Bulls Talk podcast. And I’d call getting to know Kerr one of the highlights of my two decades-plus around the franchise.

Red was there when John Havlicek stole the ball. And he was there when Michael Jordan held the pose.

Yes, Kerr was a walking, talking basketball encyclopedia who bled Bulls red. A storyteller supreme.

Beyond basketball, Kerr graciously sat for a tear-stained interview about his 46 years of marriage to Betsy after she passed away in October 2000. He did so because he wanted to share their love story, because her support allowed him to pursue his passions and because of her Bulls fandom.

At the time, Kerr shared how he hand-picked the three songs played at his wife’s funeral. This sparked a discussion about our shared passion for music.

From that day on, Kerr used to burn me CDs of artists he liked or he thought I’d like or I had told him about. In fact, having a 68-year-old Kerr thank me for introducing him to Uncle Tupelo is a career moment that may be hard to top.

Kerr became the first coach in sports history to lead an expansion team to the playoffs when he guided the 1966-67 Bulls. His knowledge of the game burned through every broadcast. His humor played out in lines like this one as the Bulls eliminated the Knicks to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the Magic:

“The Bulls are trying to send the Knicks to play golf tomorrow. The Bulls might play golf, too.”

A bust of Kerr stands in the atrium of the United Center, a fitting tribute to a wonderful player, coach and broadcaster. And above all, a gem of a man.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

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