Kobe And Da Bulls
CHICAGO - I was in from Chicago this week working on a story on the struggling Bulls that ran in today's paper. I thought it might good to check in with the man whose trade demand to Chicago helped the Bulls get off to another miserable start.
The Bulls were Kobe Bryant's destination of choice before Bulls general manager John Paxson halted trade talks the first week of the season. It's still amazing to me that the speculation completely flustered the Bulls while the Los Angeles Lakers have managed to thrive (You have to remember that Bryant wasn't the only Laker mentioned in trade rumors; Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum had their names tossed around with regularity last summer).
Bryant didn't have a spectacular game in the place he had hoped to call home before the Lakers started winning some games. He scored just 18 points on 7-for-19 shooting, but his team got another lopsided win against the Bulls, 103-91 (They beat the Bulls 106-78 when the teams met last month). The Lakers improved to 15-9, which ranks as the fourth best record in the Western Conference, and gave Bryant plenty to smile about afterward.
The Bulls, however, look like they are in deep trouble. They dropped to 8-14 and Ben Wallace was benched in favor of rookie Aaron Gray during a critical second half stretch. Staying in purple and gold doesn't seem so bad in comparison. But Kobe still hearts Chicago.
"It was a fun night," Bryant said afterward. "I always enjoy coming here and playing. It's one of my favorite places to play."
"A couple of people offered me a house for sale, I told them Michael's was a little better," Bryant said, making fun of a Chicago Sun-Times story last month that had Bryant planning on buying Michael Jordan's home in Highland Park, Ill.
On an extremely brisk day in the Chi, Bryant was asked if he could handle playing in this city after living in sunny Los Angeles the past 11 seasons. "I grew up in the cold," Bryant said with a laugh. "This is nothing to me."
Early in the fourth quarter, a handful of fans behind the basket started begging Phil Jackson to put Kobe back in the game. They started chanting, "Kobe! Kobe!"
Jackson soon put Bryant back in leading one fan to scream, "Thank you, Phil. That's who we paid our money to come see."
The Lakers then went on a decisive 11-2 run.
The "Kobe! Kobe!" chants weren't nearly as loud as the ones heard when fans at United Center mockingly screamed it during the Bulls' home-opening loss to Philadelphia. Those cheers continued to creep up in this building during the first month of the season.
If Bryant was flattered by the long distance love, he didn't say. "A couple of my friends played against the Bulls when that took place. They called me after they played them and said they heard something that was just the craziest thing they had ever seen," Bryant said before the game. "I was shocked by it."
The Bulls won a few games to get the fans rooting for them again, but Bryant heard more cheers than jeers when he was introduced on Tuesday. One boy took the advice Bryant gave those cellphone recording fans outside of a Southern California shopping mall back in May - "Get a Bulls jersey, fellas" - and showed up with wearing a Bulls jersey with Bryant's number scribbled on some masking tape.
Bryant opened the game by jumping over Kirk Hinrich, catching a pass from Luke Walton and dunking for the Lakers' first points of the game. He then went out and missed his next seven straight shots. Bryant was obviously hampered by the right groin he injured last Friday against Golden State, but I couldn't resist telling another writer, "Maybe Kobe is playing for the Bulls."
I kid. I kid. Bryant then nailed his next two shots - a pull-up jump shot and a breakaway dunk - to put the Lakers ahead five points.
Bryant was asked afterward if he was relieved that he doesn't have to come back to Chicago again this season. "I like the city," Bryant said. "I like the food."
He likes winning a little more.
Non-Kobe note: While reporters were waiting to talk to Bryant pre-game, I saw Lamar Odom walking around the locker room and I had to ask him what the deal was. I know Wizards fans have been focusing on DeShawn Stevenson's lumberjack beard, but Odom has him beat - and is challenging Drew Gooden's ducktail in the category of most ridiculous use of hair - with the star he has had shaved into the back of his head, just above his left ear, for the past few months.
The craziest thing is, Stevenson is growing his beard because of a bet with Gooden. Odom wanted to do this on his own.
I was pleased to learn that he didn't have it tattooed. Odom told me that he got tired of his barber doing the same old thing so he decided to mix things up. He showed up at training camp with two stars on his head, with his original plan being that he'd add more stars until he made the all-star team. The all-star team doesn't seem like a possibility this season, but the star remains.
"I was going to have a whole bunch of stars," Odom said. "It's something I wanted to play around with a little bit."
I asked him if teammates have given him a hard time. "Nah," Odom said. "By nature I'm a rock star."
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