Bulls

Gregg Popovich reflects on Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna's tragic passing

Gregg Popovich reflects on Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna's tragic passing

In the wake of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna's tragic passing, touching tributes have abounded around the country and world. Last night and throughout pregame of a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the Bulls organization and fans decorated the United Center — inside and out — in Bryant's honor. 

Before the game, one which feels hollow in the scope of the events of the past 48 hours, Gregg Popovich offered reflections on his time knowing Bryant. Popovich's Spurs and Bryant's Lakers battled numerous times throughout the aughts and early 2010s, but he said his most poignant memories of Bryant go beyond the hardwood.

"He was somebody that I always respected just because he was so much more than a basketball player. He was highly intelligent, inquisitive, curious. We all know about his competitiveness, but he was a strategist. He focused. He was driven. And would have been successful no matter what he chose to do in life," Popovich said. "We all remember the on-court, but to me, the special parts will be the very few times I was able to spend time with him off the court and have discussions with him just one-on-one for a variety of different reasons.

"We all have special thoughts of him to varying degrees no matter whether you knew him a little bit or not at all, even the millions that admired him and cherished just knowing you could watch a game with him in it. You feel like he was your own. That's when happens when you're iconic and you're basically a superhero."

The impact of this loss is felt more deeply because of how many lives Bryant touched in his all-too-few 41 years.

"I think it's pretty obvious what Kobe's impact was on the league. Millions of people. On each team, the young kids on your team idolized him and looked up to him," Popovich said. "And the older ones knew him and talked to him and had relationships with him. So, no matter which one of those groups you belong to, it was a tragic shock, obviously, because it was so unexpected. You don't dream of things like that."

Popovich also extended further condolences to all families affected by the tragedy.

"There are no words to adequately describe such a horrific event, I don't think," he said. "You just offer your heartfelt sympathies to the Bryant family and to all the other families, and all we can all do is just hope that at some point in life they find some peace and some understanding. That's all you can do."

The Spurs went on as scheduled for a game with the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, one which took place mere hours after news broke of Bryant's passing. It was one of eight games to take place that night, all wracked by grief that isn't likely to subside soon.

"I don't think anybody was," Popovich said when asked if he felt they were able to play their best game so soon after learning the news. "It didn't matter whether it was us or Toronto, I think everybody was in a little bit of a fog, which was expected.

"I think it'll still take some time, especially for the guys that knew him the best. To get back whole, just mentally and psychologically, emotionally more than anything. It's a tough thing."

Tonight, Jim Boylen said the Bulls and Spurs plan to honor Bryant with 8- and 24-second violations to start the game. The Bulls will also show a tribute video.

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Scottie Pippen explains why second half of Bulls' title run was more special

Scottie Pippen explains why second half of Bulls' title run was more special

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary series is going to get plenty of attention with the rest of the sports world on hold.

The series will focus on the Bulls’ final title season, 1997-98, and was recently moved up to debut on April 19.

Scottie Pippen talked about those title years for the Bulls in a recent episode of his ESPN show, “The Jump.” He explained what it was like knowing the 1997-98 season would be the team’s last run together.

“For me, it was really everything coming to a head for us,” Pippen said. “A great run through the 90s. Dennis [Rodman] had came and joined us the second half of that run, and that part was really the more special part because we were the best team in basketball for a long time, and no one knocked us off. Knowing that that was the end of our run and that we had to end it that way, we made it very special, and we wanted to end it with a championship.”

It’s noteworthy that Pippen says the second three-peat felt more special than the first. It would make sense for the team’s first title to be special because it was the breakthrough, but Pippen likes the fact that the Bulls were able to maintain their throne for so long and never lose a playoff series with a full strength team.

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Dennis Rodman brushed off big-men, trash-talk and curfew during Bulls dynasty

Dennis Rodman brushed off big-men, trash-talk and curfew during Bulls dynasty

Dennis Rodman listened to the question, thought about it for a second and then started brushing his teeth.

After all, he had to catch up with World Championship Wrestling members Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags, who had just declared the Bulls forward an honorary “Nasty Boy.”

Reporters’ notes from 24 years ago don’t shed much enlightenment on what such a title signifies. But if Rodman practiced hygiene for it — this is, after all, a player who often eschewed a postgame shower — then it must’ve been special.

Before a recent re-broadcast of this 1996 Bulls’ title run, which continues with Sunday night’s showing of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in Orlando, I wrote about Rodman’s “Walk of Shame.” This was the postgame routine Rodman utilized to mimic a red carpet’s entrance, walking down a hallway to answer postgame questions rather than doing so while standing in front of his locker.

Rodman mostly employed this practice at home games, which is why, on this day, he cut short his postgame media session to brush his teeth inside the visitors’ locker room.

One might surmise that Rodman’s trademark outrageousness was the story. That his play overshadowed his behavior makes it time to shift the focus back to on the court.

Man, Rodman was something for the Bulls’ second three-peat, but perhaps never more evidently than during this title run and in this series. After a nine-point, 16-rebound effort in Game 3, Rodman’s averages for the series sat at 12.3 points and 16.3 rebounds.

The Bulls held large rebounding advantages in all three victories.

Plus, what other team could largely utilize single coverage using a 6-foot-7 defender like Rodman on the 7-1 Shaquille O’Neal? In this game, O’Neal, who also matched against Luc Longley and Bill Wennington at times, managed just 17 points on 8-for-19 shooting.

“[O’Neal] can talk all the trash he wants,” Rodman said. “I think his game is totally off. I’m not going to snap either. I got people grabbing me. I got people clawing and scratching at me. It doesn’t matter. I like that.

“Shaq hit me with an elbow twice, but that’s great. I like that kind of physical play.”

Rodman said these words before going to brush his teeth and then meet his wrestler buddies. But he had one more thing to say, reminding everyone that he didn’t have a curfew.

Just when you tried to steer the focus back to Rodman’s sublime on-the-court play, he wouldn’t always let you.

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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