Pau Gasol's 'special night' saying farewell to 'brother' Kobe Bryant


Pau Gasol's 'special night' saying farewell to 'brother' Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant's latest stop on his farewell tour around the NBA stopped in Chicago on Sunday night. The five-time NBA champion was showered with praise from a sellout crowd, watched a two-minute pregame video presentation celebrating his 20-year career and heard chants of "Ko-be!" echoing around the stadium throughout much of the fourth quarter. And yet, for as emotional a night as it was for Bryant, playing in the same building built by his longtime idol, doing so against one his closest friends in Pau Gasol only added to the ambience inside the United Center.

Gasol finished the Bulls' pregame video in unique fashion, introducing "my former teammate, and my friend, from Lower Merion high school, No. 24, Kobe Bryant."

"It was great. Pau, we’re like brothers. It’s so strange. I always thought we’d be retiring on the same team," Bryant said after the Bulls' 126-115 victory. "Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. But to have him do that meant so much to me. It’s strange. This is the last time I’m going to be facing him. That’s weird. Unless we play pickup ball in Barcelona somewhere."

Both Gasol and Bryant have enough memories together to last a lifetime. The pair spent seven seasons together in Los Angeles, winning titles in 2009 and 2010. They battled in the Olympics - Gasol for Spain, Bryant for Team USA - in 2008 and 2012, played together in four different All-Star games and against each other once, last week in Toronto. But Sunday had a sense of finality to it, as Bryant played his 15th and final game inside the United Center, and his last against Gasol.

Gasol got the best of his old pal in the pair's final meeting, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 37 minutes. He added five assists and five blocked shots and the Bulls won consecutive games for the first time in five weeks, while Bryant's Lakers fell to 11-46, moving one loss closer to the chance at drafting Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram in June's NBA Draft. But past the victory - the Lakers have lost five straight, and 15 of 17 - Gasol was able to soak in one last memory with Bryant. The two embraced at midcourt before the opening tip and chatted together at the free throw line early in the second quarter.

[MORE: Bulls top Lakers in Kobe Bryant's final game in Chicago]

After Bryant hit four consecutive jumpers in a five-possession span to tie the game early in the third quarter, Gasol responded with one of the Bulls' 13 3-pointers from the top of the key. He held his follow-through and glanced over at Bryant. When Bryant was substituted out with 45 seconds remaining he hugged Gasol, and did so again after the final horn sounded.

Gasol admitted the pair's time at All-Star weekend last week - Gasol was added after Jimmy Butler's knee injury - allowed the two to spend time together. But the finality of Sunday's game added importance for both players.

"We shared a few moments, but knowing this one was the last one on an NBA floor, it’s special to share that moment, to have the bond that we have, the respect and admiration and friendship," Gasol said. "So it’s awesome and I love it. I feel honored that I have this type of relationship, where I’ve earned his respect throughout the years and that we won a couple championships together, which is pretty amazing."

That relationship grew, in part, because of the way Gasol helped shape Bryant's post-Shaq legacy. When O'Neal demanded a trade and was subsequently dealt to the Heat after the 2004 season, the onus was on Bryant to prove he could win without his era's most dominant center. Gasol arrived four seasons later, beginning a seven-year stretch in Los Angeles that revived Bryant's career; Bryant's Lakers missed the playoffs in 2005 and were knocked out of the first round in 2006 and 2007.

Following a mid-season trade in 2008, Bryant and Gasol led the Lakers to the NBA Finals that summer where they lost to Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. The following season the Lakers won 57 games and beat the Magic in the Finals. One year later they repeated over those same Celtics. In that three-year stretch Gasol averaged 18.7 points and 9.8 rebounds, including 18.3 points and 10.4 rebounds in 67 playoff games. For as much as Bryant wanted to win one by himself, those titles aren't possible without Gasol playing Robin to Kobe's Batman as cohesively as he did.

"It’s a huge honor. Proud that I was able to have the opporuntity to contribute to his legacy and live those moments with him and the rest of the guys. So we developed a nice relationship on and off the floor. And mainly off the floor, which is the most important because on the floor will go away.

"Off the floor is what matters the most. Really honored to be part of his legacy and have experienced the things that we went through as teammates, through the good times and also the bad times because he always had my back and always tried to motivate me to be better and pushed me when I needed to be pushed. So I appreciated that as well."

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The storybook ending that could have been was never written. Gasol left Los Angeles for Chicago after years of constant trade speculation despite his continued success into his 30s. Bryant did his best to keep his longtime friend and versatile 7-footer in Los Angeles, but knew it Gasol's time in Los Angeles - and likely Bryant's last championship window - had closed.

"I tried everything under the sun to convince him to stay, but you know Pau is such a prideful person and when he felt like he was being disrespected with all the continual trade talks despite the success that he had," Bryant said before Sunday's game. "And the benching, he just felt completely disrespected. I understood that as a man and there was nothing I could do but just wish him well."

Perhaps coincidentally, both Bryant and Gasol mentioned in their postgame interviews the possibility of the pair one day playing pickup basketball in Barcelona together. That will have to wait for now. Bryant has 25 games remaining in his NBA career while Gasol is in the midst of another season of revival, averaging 17.0 points and 10.8 rebounds in this his 15th NBA season. He's due to become a free agent at season's end.

But Sunday's special circumstances allowed both players time to reflect on the past and enjoy the present, even for just a night. And it allowed Gasol to reflect on the legacy he believes Bryant will leave behind.

"I think his legacy is just a guy with championships, records, all the milestones he accomplished. But he just left his mark. He inspired a lot of young players, a lot of young players trying to be lke him, his hero, his idol, the guy they follow and try to do the things that Kobe does on the floor.

"He’s at the top of the list. He’s as competitive as it gets. A guy that never likes to lose, always likes to prove that he’s better than you and is always ready to compete and prove it, own up to it. He doesn’t just talk about it, he owns up to it and he competes as hard as possible. Incredible competitor. One-of-a-kind."

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).