Chicago's goodbye to Kobe Bryant


Chicago's goodbye to Kobe Bryant

In describing Kobe Bryant, Charles Barkley once said, “He’s not Michael Jordan, but he’s close.”

From the time a brash high schooler from Philly declared for the NBA draft, his eyes have been squarely fixated on the Jumpman.

Showing no fear for the reigning king in the All-Star Game, Kobe showed everybody what, or more specifically whom, he was aiming for.

He turned some off by brushing away screens in meaningless exhibitions, and drew laughs when tossing up airball after airball in a deciding playoff game, but yet, Kobe was undeterred.

One of the few who didn’t wilt under the shadow of the statue, Kobe was the only one who had the audacity to want to be greater than the greatest.

So much of Kobe’s early career was fixated on being like him, Kobe took “Be Like Mike” to a whole other level. Of imitation. Inflection. Past the point of flattery, to where it was nearly scary.

Developing an own identity took a backseat to an obsession of MJ, which brought upon some scorn from fans.

Of course, Kobe learned lessons and applied them. Michael welcomed Kobe to the national stage with perfect fadeaways and flawless fundamentals and then years later, Kobe said his goodbye to the greatest in such a ruthless way, 55 in L.A.

To compare, Kobe was a better shooter than Michael, with deeper range. And Kobe made more tough, contested shots. But Michael always got the shot he wanted, and almost always authored a storybook ending.

That’s not to say Kobe didn’t get his pounds of flesh, or gold.

From the first ring to the fifth, Kobe shined on the Finals stage despite enduring some heart-wrenching and humbling defeats.

Kobe had the ego to prove he could win on his terms, as the sole headliner without a 330-pound shadow on the floor with him. And while he had some individual moments in the interim - 60, 61, 62, 65 and of course, 81 - the game taught him doing it alone sounds much better in theory than application.

He almost landed in Chicago, but the Bulls and Lakers couldn’t agree on a deal and Kobe wound up better for it. Two more rings after the first three earned more respect and for himself, validation and entrance to the short table of special champions.

Somewhere along the way you found yourself and became a golden standard in your own right without being a second-rate imitation of anyone.

Father Time has prevented the ultimate storybook ending, with injuries grabbed Kobe at the worst possible time, but they’ve revealed a humanity few thought existed in such a maniacal competitor.

The perfect ending, many hoped, was him riding into the sunset like Peyton Manning, at least with a shot at a championship ring.

But if that happened, we wouldn’t see the elder statesman, the mentor, the player who’s embraced his basketball mortality and grateful for the journey, potholes and all.

Instead Kobe would be singularly focused on winning all over again, obsessed with the goal that he would miss the moments of playing one on one with opponents’ children, passing on lessons to the next generation while showing the public that he wasn’t afraid to show his heart.

One by one, players and teams, many of them former rivals, have come to pay respects. Fans have paid homage in a tribute that’s been most unexpected but seemingly most appreciated by someone not many thought had a sentimental bone in his body.

In a way, as Kobe says goodbye, it’s a perfect ending for an imperfect superstar.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks


Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”