Being a Bulls fan in 2007 was an exercise in patience. It had been nearly a decade since the end of the dynasty era, and the ensuing rebuild had already morphed through several different permutations.
There was the initial teardown that led to Elton Brand being selected No. 1 overall, the failed "Baby Bulls" experiment centered around Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler and another reboot where the franchise refocused their hopes on proven college players like Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon rather than high school kids.
The one constant throughout this period was trade rumors. Kevin Garnett. Pau Gasol. Vince Carter. And most famously, Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers had struggled through their first two seasons without Shaquille O'Neal, and the war of words that played out in the media made Bryant feel like Lakers brass was blaming him for breaking up Los Angeles' own dynasty. Bryant did not hide his desire to be traded. At the onset of the summer of 2007, Kobe was all over radio and television saying he was done with the Lakers, who had just been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Suns.
Then there was the video.
Kobe was walking through a mall parking lot when a couple of fans approached him and begged him to stay in LA. "Get a Bulls uniforms, fellas," Kobe said.
From then on, it was real. Or at least you could have convinced yourself it was.
It's amazing how rarely things change with the Bulls. This is a franchise that prides itself on loyalty, but so often that means the same people making the same mistakes over and over again.
The picture above was on the front page of the Sun-Times in 2007. In a world before the proliferation of PhotoShop, these things stood out. I was 20 years old, working overnights restocking baking supplies at a tent sale, reading the Sun-Times on my lunch break probably around 3 a.m. I had started a Chicago sports blog a few months before.
I remember my reaction to the Kobe rumors well: it's never going to happen. Even in 2007, I had been burned too many times getting my hopes up the Bulls would trade for a superstar. Nine years later, it's the same story. The Bulls don't do trades.
When it comes to Kobe, it's hard to blame the Bulls' front office too much. Their hands were tied. Bryant was the only player in the NBA who held a no-trade clause at the time, and his veto power clouded over every trade rumor. Essentially: the Lakers wanted 22-year-old forward Luol Deng in any package for Bryant, but Kobe didn't want to go to Chicago if Deng wasn't going to play with him.
This was the impasse that ultimately killed the deal:
A source with knowledge of the trade talks said Deng has been included in proposals swapped between the teams, but Bryant has continually threatened to veto almost any deal in which Deng would be included. Bryant wants to be sure that the team he joins has enough talent remaining to compete for the NBA title.
The source said talks between the teams had stagnated, though by no means were they dead.
As ESPN.com reported on Saturday, the Lakers have asked for Deng, Tyus Thomas, guard Ben Gordon and rookie Joakim Noah as the core parts of any trade for Bryant.
Note the date on the ESPN story linked above: Nov. 1. The season had already started and Kobe-to-the-Bulls was still the biggest sports story going. That speaks to the level of hysteria that clouded the coverage of these rumors. And it makes sense.
The best player in the world, still in his 20s, openly telling people he wanted to go to Chicago to challenge and surpass Michael Jordan's legacy. Only Kobe, man.
It's incredible to think about just how much both franchises changed in this moment. The Lakers kept Kobe, traded for Gasol in the middle of the season and immediately went to the Finals. Kobe would get two more rings, and eventually mean so much to the franchise that they gave him the golden parachute of a contract he's mercifully finishing up tonight in his final game.
The Bulls were 49-33 in 2007, fresh off their first playoff series win since the Jordan era. Instead of building on that success, the Bulls cratered. They finished with the eighth worst record in the NBA, but the ping-pongs ball bounced their way in the lottery, giving them the opportunity to draft Derrick Rose.
Everything was hanging there in the balance for the Bulls, Lakers and Kobe in 2007. It worked out for Kobe and LA. In a way, the Bulls have been stuck in a similar place ever since: good enough to be one piece away, a step too slow to ever get there.