Bulls

Chicago's goodbye to Kobe Bryant

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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.

LeBron James tabs Black Panther director Ryan Coogler for 'Space Jam 2'

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USA TODAY

LeBron James tabs Black Panther director Ryan Coogler for 'Space Jam 2'

This week, ESPN reported that the LeBron James and Maverick Carter-led Springhill Entertainment group tabbed "Black Panther" director/producer Ryan Coogler to produce "Space Jam 2" with Terence Nance set to direct. The information was also distributed by Springhill Entertainment via a photo on Twitter:

A sequel to the original Space Jam has been rumored for quite some time, especially following Springhill Entertainment signing a deal with Warner Bros. back in 2015. But this is the first time that there has been concrete announcements making the long-rumored sequel a reality.

James seems to be quite excited, and heavily involved in the film's production, and a source close to ESPN even said that James personally recruited Coogler to work on 'Space Jam 2'.

There are no confirmations on any other NBA players who will be in the movie. But speculation is running rampant, and some have even stated players who they think should star alongside James in the sequel to the late '90s, Michael Jordan-led classic:

And some more light-hearted, joking responses as well:

The 'Space Jam 2' movie will be interesting, as James has been sure to try to calm down those who think the project is simply a money-grab. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, he said that the movie is not just about he and the Looney Tunes getting together.  James stated, "It's so much bigger. I'd just love for kids to understand how empowered they can feel and how empowered they can be if they don't just give up on their dreams. And I think Ryan did that for a lot of people."

'Space Jam 2' has no release date yet, but is scheduled to begin shooting in the summer of 2019.

Surprise team in the East?: Bobby Portis compares Bulls to '17-'18 Pacers

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Surprise team in the East?: Bobby Portis compares Bulls to '17-'18 Pacers

The Bulls haven't garnered much respect in the national media. And on top of that, Las Vegas definitely has already put the Bulls out of the running for a playoff spot, pegging them for 27.5 wins. But when it comes to doubting the Bulls, count Bobby Portis out. 

In an appearance on the Locked on Bulls Podcast last week, Portis stated that the Bulls would benefit from defined roles and was very confident in the team's outlook.

He went on to say that the Bulls will be "really good" and that the reason the team didn't win was because they "never got a chance to gel as one cohesive unit".

Portis compared this current Bulls team to an upstart Eastern Conference squad from last season.

He said, "There's always a surprise team, I feel like last year the Pacers were the, surprise team in the East, y'know? Maybe that can be us this year."

Portis is correct in the assessment that more practice time together as a whole unit will have a positive effect on the team. LaVine especially, should be able to hit the ground running after playing 24 games with the Bulls last year and now having a full training camp and preseason under his belt as well. And Portis himself, no longer worried about competing for a starting job, should continue to bring high-energy, scoring and rebounding to lead the bench unit. 

But his comparison of this year's Bulls team to the '17-'18 Pacers is perhaps the most intriguing.

The Pacers surprise season last year was spurred on by the excellent play of Victor Oladipo, the 2018 NBA Most Improved Player. If one of LaVine, Jabari Parker, Markkanen, Dunn or even Portis himself, can make a jump of this nature into (or near) All-Star status, then of course the sky's the limit for the '18-'19 Bulls. 

Near the end of the Portis interview on Locked on Bulls, Portis is asked to finish the sentence "The Chicago Bulls are going to win BLANK games this season." Portis responded that the Bulls are going to "win as many games as we can and we gonna make the playoffs."

Hopefully the rest of the Bulls are as confident as Portis. It could be just the attitude the team needs to get off to a fast start.