Kobe Bryant's last game in Chicago full of nostalgia, disbelief and appreciation


Kobe Bryant's last game in Chicago full of nostalgia, disbelief and appreciation

The “Kobe! Kobe!” chants began as a dull roar in corners of the United Center, prompting a sheepish smile from Kobe Bryant as the Bulls temporarily held a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of his last game in Chicago.

It grew to “We want Kobe! We want Kobe!” as Bryant pumped his fist in satisfaction. Not because Bryon Scott called him to re-enter, but a Lakers 3-pointer cut a comfortable lead to a near panic-inducing 11-point Bulls lead.

But with a end of a back to back in Milwaukee the next day, Bryant had to save his remaining energy for the next stop on the tour, after giving this set of fans what they want.

After laughing it off, he appeared to mouth the words, “I’m coming back.”

The obligation of giving the fans what they paid for in this farewell tour got the best of him, as emerged from the bench and walked to the scorer’s table as camera phones and actual cameras popped in anticipation of the greatest since the greatest giving them one final glimpse of what used to be.

“Yeah, it’s a unbelievable feeling. I can’t even tell you…” said Bryant, before playfully knocking off a Gatorade cup from the podium, flashing that trademark edge with a smile. “After all these years, it makes you feel good. It makes you feel good.”

There wasn’t even as much a concern for Bryant actually coming back in to finish off a teetering squad and continuing a hot streak that started in the third quarter where he torched Mike Dunleavy, much to the delight of the fans in attendance.

Catch, dribble, dribble, shoulder fake, fadeaway to the baseline that looked eerily like the guy he used to emulate.

The crowd stood in anticipation, almost wanting to will Bryant to a point where it could bear witness to one final Mamba Moment, with poor Dunleavy on an island.

Wing catch, hard right dribble, effortless pull-up 21 footer.

“No, no. No, no. Absolutely not. Absolutely not,” Bryant said when asked if he ever envisioned receiving these types of receptions on the road. “It’s, a little strange to me at first because you’re used to being booed so many times and somebody’s actually cheering you, you’re not sure how to respond. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol's 'special night' saying farewell to friend Kobe Bryant]

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t know how to react, as he noticed the fans caring less about the score and a possible collapse but more about seeing the living legend one more time.

“It is very well-deserved for Kobe, everything he’s getting in his farewell sendoff,” said Hoiberg, words easily said after a win than a stomach turning loss. “It is pretty cool to be a part of it.”

Being a part of it means taking on the mantle as the league’s elder statesman, something that hasn’t gone lost on Bryant, especially in the wake of peers Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson being announced as finalists to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on the same weekend as Bryant’s last All-Star game.

“It freaks me out every time I hear about it,” Bryant said. “(Former teammate) Tyronn Lue’s coaching. Luke Walton’s coaching. Commentators have been retired for years that were rookies when I first came in. It’s the weirdest thing in the world.”

Building it up, digging deep to what once was an endless reservoir of energy every night has taken its toll, as with 25 games left in Kobe Bryant’s career, the finality of things hasn’t hit him yet.

It seems to have hit Chicagoans in a different way, as for years, Bulls fans would cringe at the thought, let alone the mention of a Jordan comparison. Now, though, as they knew they were getting a last gasp of the close thing to a reasonable facsimile to the man immortalized in statue form, it turned to appreciation or a fan-like form of lust.

There were plenty of Jordan jerseys in the stands, from the Bulls variety to the Dream Team garb, symbolizing the closest thing to a reason to pull those dusty oldies from the closet and wear them proudly without looking like someone stuck in the past.

“Our competitiveness is second to none,” Bryant said of the comparisons to Jordan. “We’re pretty obsessive about how to get an edge, how to compete with people, to the point where like when I was playing if I said ‘Hi’ to a player they’d look at me sideways like ‘what is he up to?’ I think it’s that attention to detail and that competitive spirit that really makes that connection. Not too many players as maniacal as we’ve been.”

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With 45.3 seconds left, Bryant exited for the final time and received a standing ovation from the Chicago faithful and the Bulls players on the floor, very dissimilar to his entrance in this building so many years ago.

In his first game in Chicago, after Jordan easily spun around him for a dunk, TNT commentator Verne Lundquist said, “(Kobe’s) now in a post-graduate course…talk about a fast track.”

“That was like the coolest thing. It was,” recalled Bryant. “Because I had seen that spin move so many times and I knew he was going to do it.”

And just like everyone knows Bryant is walking away from the game, it’s still hard to believe the day is here.

“It’s always different, there’s always an air here,” Bryant said. “You can feel the championships and the history here. This place has always been that for me.”

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.”

Still in search of guard depth, Bulls reportedly 'planning to sign' Shaquille Harrison

Still in search of guard depth, Bulls reportedly 'planning to sign' Shaquille Harrison

The Bulls are still scrambling to add depth at point guard and found another body to throw in the rotation.

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Bulls "are planning to sign" Shaquille Harrison. Harrison was waived by the Suns on Monday.

In order to complete the move, the Bulls are reportedly waiving center Omer Asik.

Harrison went undrafted out of Tulsa in 2016. The Suns signed him and sent him to the then NBA D-League. Last season, the 25-year-old from Kansas City played in 23 games and made two starts in the NBA. He averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 assists in 16.7 minutes per game.

The Suns signed Jamal Crawford earlier this week and waived Harrison. The Bulls apparently have swooped in.

This move comes just six days after the Bulls added Tyler Ulis, who was also waived by the Suns. Ulis didn't play in the season-opening loss at Philadelphia.

Kris Dunn will miss his second straight game Saturday against the Pistons. His absence against the Sixers showed the lack of depth at guard for the Bulls. Cam Payne started at point guard and split minutes with Ryan Arcidiacono. Payne went 0-for-4 in 21 minutes and led coach Fred Hoiberg to say potential lineup changes are "still up in the air."

Harrison can now join Payne, Arcidiacono and Ulis in a battle for backup minutes at point guard when Dunn returns to the lineup.