Bulls

Jimmy Butler celebrates shoe release with surprise visit to Fenwick High School

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Jimmy Butler celebrates shoe release with surprise visit to Fenwick High School

Jimmy Butler couldn’t hide his smile, holding his new performance shoe in his hands, moments before he was supposed to surprise high school basketball teams with a special appearance coinciding with the release of the Jordan Ultra.Fly.

In a room inside Oak Park’s Fenwick High School, a Jordan Brand sponsored school, the two-time All-Star still has moments of humility mixed with the disbelief that he’d made it to this spot—as one of Jordan Brand’s signature athletes.

“It’s crazy,” Butler confessed to CSNChicago.com Friday afternoon at Fenwick. “I’ve come a long way from Tomball, Texas, which everybody has heard me say before, let alone be on the Jordan Brand is big time for me. Just the other athletes we have, Michael Jordan himself, I’m just at a lost for words just to have my own shoe out with the brand. And I’m very fortunate.”

Butler later walked into a classroom where the boys’ and girls’ high school teams were unknowingly waiting on Butler to make his appearance, earning a rousing applause and before posing with the teams for a picture, did a question-and-answer session from Easy Otabor, buyer and operator for RSVP Gallery in Chicago.

Butler has worn the Ultra.Fly in the past few weeks in various colors, and it’s being released nationwide this weekend in a black/green colorway, with more colorways to come at $125. It’s inspired by Jordan’s nickname, “Black Cat”, earned due to the former Bull being graceful, agile and most importantly, cutthroat on the basketball court as a competitor.

“It’s my sneaker. It’s really for athletic individuals like myself,” Butler joked. “The shoe itself is real durable and I think it compliments my game well. It looks good when it’s out there on the floor. When you look good, you feel good, you play good.”

It’s one of the lightest shoes Jordan Brand has to offer and Butler considers it most appropriate and comfortable, given his aggressive style.

“On top of everything else, it can maintain my style of play,” Butler said. “As hard as I try to play on both ends, the Ultra Fly is definitely helping me keep doing that.”

Most of Jordan Brand’s performance shoes have some symbolism to Jordan specifically, and Butler was the muse for this shoe-- which shouldn’t come as a surprise to the player carrying on the Jordan tradition in the city Jordan made himself famous.

“It’s good and it’s bad,” Butler said. “I think it’s good to be one of the faces of Jordan here in this city. But the bad part is everybody wants to compare me to the man himself because we play the same position for the same team and I don’t think I’ll ever want to be compared to him when you see what he’s done for the game, what he’s done for this brand, his brand. I don’t find it too disappointing to be compared to him. Maybe one day I can be half the player he was.”

[SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey]

Butler shares the responsibility of being on Jordan Brand with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Being a member of an exclusive family means that much more.

“I’d hope so. Because that would make me feel really important! 'Aww, Michael Jordan picked me to represent his brand,'” Butler said. “But yeah, I get to see him All-Star, we keep in touch but that’s just how the brand works. It’s really a family, everybody’s taking care of everybody, everybody’s making sure everybody’s doing okay. When you go against another Jordan Brand athlete, it’s all respect, it’s all love.”

The same way he looked up to Jordan is similar in some ways to the way the kids in that classroom looks up to Butler currently—as an inspiration and his mere presence represents a manifestation of the dream, especially to point guard Mike Smith, as Butler has taken Smith under his wing.

“Yeah, exactly, I’ve been in their shoes, wanting to get to where I am now,” Butler said. “I know exactly what they’re going through, how they’re feeling. I’m just trying to get them to understand, it’s all possible if you believe in yourself, work hard and put your mind to it. You can’t believe all the naysayers and doubters telling you that you can’t do anything. Buy into it, hear it enough, that’s not okay. Like I tell Mike (Smith) every day. Do what’s best for you because it’s your life. He’s the only one that can live it. I wish all these kids the best of luck and I want their dreams to come true just like mine did.”

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

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

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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.”