Kobe Bryant exits All-Star stage in appreciation, with perspective


Kobe Bryant exits All-Star stage in appreciation, with perspective

TORONTO—The tributes came, then came more fervently and passionately for Kobe Bryant in his last All-Star Game as he stood alone on the Western Conference sideline with one of the greatest showmen, Magic Johnson, saluting him before tipoff.

The tears didn’t come streaming down Bryant’s face in his last All-Star game, but they didn’t have to because the heartless assassin has already shown more humanity in his last season than many knew existed.

He happily posed for photos with some officials he likely used to berate during heated playoff battles or Tuesday nights in Memphis, when intensity was at all-time highs or simply because his mood determined he should.

But now the man who coldly and almost clinically disrupted Michael Jordan’s last All-Star moment in Atlanta had his own, and instead of launching up jumper after jumper with the young guns watching, waiting their turn, Bryant ceded the stage.

Bryant scored 11 with seven assists and six rebounds in 26 minutes as Russell Westbrook’s boundless energy and bottomless thirst led to 31 points and a second straight All-Star MVP in a 196-173 Western Conference win at Air Canada Centre.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

LeBron James had his hand at stirring up some competition, telling Bryant to “bring it” and spreading his arms wide while forming a defensive stance, one of the few times there appeared to be some genuine competition in a game that had very, very little.

Instead of ruthlessly going at James, he playfully faded away on a long jumper that came up short. More pointedly, he seemed to have more fun going one on one with Dwyane Wade’s son and Chris Paul’s son at halftime during warmups.

“None of us have seen that part,” said Pau Gasol, Bulls center and a former teammate of Bryant for two championship runs. “At this point of his life and career, the older you get, the bigger the gap is with younger players. When he was playing his first All-Star game, some of these players were in kindergarten.”

Bryant had a little time for the adults, as he and the older elder statesman Gasol playfully went at each other a few times on the post, and sharing moments throughout the evening.

“We talked about it before the game, to see if we posted each other up who would be successful,” Gasol said. “We both tried it but neither of us was successful. It was fun, a cool bonding moment.”

Gasol scored nine with seven rebounds in 15 minutes of playing time as he was selected as teammate Jimmy Butler’s replacement days before All-Star weekend. Safe to say, he was happy to be there but had to adjust to the uber lack of defense being played in the highest-scoring All-Star game in NBA history.

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“I like to compete and play the right way. Games like these are difficult to do that but I tried to get myself going,” Gasol said. “You don’t anticipate that. You know these games aren’t known for their defense but today was a little…absent.”

He laughed as he said it, but the game was a showcase for some of the younger stars, the establishment and the resurgent player who came within a basket of overtaking Wilt Chamberlain as the all-time single-game scoring leader.

Paul George scored 41 in his return to the All-Star stage, a welcome sight as many remember his gruesome injury during USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas in 2014 and believed he would never return to form as one of the top swingmen.

Chicago Native Anthony Davis feasted on uncontested alley-oop dunks to score 24 while reigning MVP Stephen Curry scored 26, including a 40-footer with seconds remaining to conclude the scoring on the evening.

Curry’s triple came moments after Bryant’s final curtain call, as he exited the game to chants of “Kobe! Kobe!” with 1:06 remaining, getting hugs and daps on the head from virtually everyone on the floor.

The man who said he could never envision being elder statesman two days ago, like Michael Jordan and Julius Erving before him, had essentially successfully passed the torch to the young players whose flame burns bright and star shines just as bright as a new era is ushered into the NBA.

[RELATED: Butler feeling better after being 'scared' with injury]

“As a younger player, I couldn't even see the next day," he said Friday. "No, when you're young, you never think you'll get old. You're always just moment to moment. You think it's never going to end, the body is never going to hurt, never going to give out. … I'm enjoying this whole thing with being around these players and talking to them one more time. The competitiveness in terms of me trying to establish something and prove something, that's gone."

But even as he will join the likes of Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Jordan, luminaries, ambassadors whom the younger generation will look to for approval, he found there wasn’t a challenge on the floor, not in the way he challenged Jordan in his very first All-Star game 18 years ago.

“Michael was still Michael,” said Bryant, acknowledging his mortality. “It was 98. He was that guy. I’m 20 years in and it’s different. These kids, they’re so many generations removed from that, it’s not even about that anymore.”

But on this night, it was about Kobe and for once, he soaked in the appreciation the way an ambassador is supposed to.

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls


Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

Just two years after being drafted in the second round, Paul Zipser told German media that he doesn’t see the Bulls wanting him next season.

The Bulls have until mid-July to pick up Zipser's option.

"I would not be surprised if they no longer want me.” Zipser said in German and translated via Google Translate

“Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not play in Chicago soon.”

Last month, Zipser had surgery on his fractured left foot, in his native country of Germany, which grew speculation the Bulls wouldn’t pick up his player option for next season. Zipser said the surgery "went perfectly."

Zipser showed some flashes of potential in his rookie season, averaging 5.5 per game and 2.8 rebounds in 44 games. But this past season, he played more games, but injuries derailed him from improving his overall production. He finished with four points and 2.4 rebounds in 54 games, including 12 starts.

Zipser explained that things changed from his first year to his second year.

“They were very varied," Zipser said. "The first year was just going very well. I fought my way into the team from the beginning and showed how I can help the team. The Bulls just needed someone like me. That's why it worked so well. We benefited from each other - that's why we were successful.”

“That was very different. It was not right from the beginning, and I was already struggling with my injury. It was not quite clear what it is. If you have pain in your foot, you automatically go down a bit with intensity. You just do not want to hurt yourself and be completely out. It was then difficult for me to keep my head in the sport - I did not manage that well. Nevertheless, the injury should not be an excuse.”

Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Zipser might not dress up in a Bulls uniform next year.

Former Bulls guard opens up about having depression


Former Bulls guard opens up about having depression

During his NBA career, he was known as having a joking, outgoing, clown-type of personality. Now, former NBA point guard Nate Robinson opened up about having depression.

Robinson, an 11-year NBA veteran, told Bleacher Report that he began going to therapy sessions in the 2012-13 season when he played for the Bulls.

He said he would struggle with having an angel and a demon inside of him.

"The NBA gave me my depression," Robinson told Bleacher Report. "I've never been a depressed person in my life."

"The hardest thing in my whole life, of my 34 years in existence on earth, was dealing with 11 years in the NBA of trying to be somebody that [NBA coaches] want me to be," Robinson said.

When Robinson was with the Bulls, he said he would sit in front of the plane so he wouldn’t be tempted to crack jokes. His one year with the Bulls ended up being one of the top seasons statistically in his career. He averaged just over 13 points and four assists per game. He played in all 82 games (starting 23) on a team that finished 45-37 with a berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

He thought his behavior was always looked down upon, and Robinson thought he was being punished for his actions.

“It’s like Spider-Man, that Venom. I never wanted that Venom outfit to just consume me,” he says. “I wanted to be Spider-Man. I wanted to be positive. I never wanted that dark side to come out because I know what that dark side could do.” 

This might come as a surprise for NBA fans, knowing how energetic Robinson was on the court, no matter what team he was a part of.

Even though Robinson is just 5-foot-9, he brought a spark of energy when he came into the game.

He hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2015-16 season with the Pelicans and spent last year with the Delaware 87ers in the G League.

Robinson is known for his participation in the NBA Slam Dunk competition. He won three contests, going back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.

One highlight was Robinson jumping over Dwight Howard in 2009, which ultimately gave Robinson his third title. Another highlight is welcoming former 1986 Slam Dunk Champion Spud Webb on the floor in 2006 and jumping over him.

Robinson is still vying for a comeback to the NBA.