Kobe Bryant never played for the Chicago Bulls.
But as NBC Sports Chicago writer K.C. Johnson chronicled in a recent article, Bryant not only looked up to Michael Jordan but flirted with the idea of playing in Chicago on two occasions.
In 2004 and in the midst of his legal troubles, Bryant was a free agent and was apparently so serious at one point about potentially playing in Chicago that he was looking at homes and schools in the area. Jerry Reinsdorf and John Paxson flew out to California to meet with Kobe, and Pax reflected on what went down:
John Paxson on 2004 free agency meeting with Kobe Bryant. pic.twitter.com/Wq2ac7svfm— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 27, 2020
Bryant also seriously considered joining the Clippers, but the day after Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Heat amid their infamous beef, Kobe decided to re-sign with the Lakers. The Clippers were allegedly second in line.
Then in 2007, Bryant wanted a trade, and he confirmed in 2015 that the Bulls were his top choice this time. There were rumors out there that the Bulls refused to put Luol Deng in trade offers and that ultimately ruined the deal, but K.C. claims that was an exaggeration while also saying Kobe wanted to go to Chicago only if Deng stayed.
Of course, the trade never happened after what K.C. calls “non-serious trade talks to appease Bryant,” with Kobe ultimately getting over his gripes with the Lakers and instead choosing to spend his legendary 20-year NBA career all in the City of Angels. In hindsight, a very good choice given he won two more championships with the Lakers.
Eleven of the Bulls’ 15 players on the current roster weren’t in the NBA when Bryant retired after the 2015-2016 season. The remaining four guys never played on the same team as Bryant.
When Bryant played his first-ever NBA game on Nov. 3, 1996, four Bulls players weren’t even alive (Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Coby White, and Daniel Gafford).
But everybody has a Kobe story, of how he amazed, inspired, or influenced them.
Every time Kobe stepped into the United Center in a Lakers uniform he was technically the enemy. He caused the Bulls a lot of grief over the years, beating the guys wearing black, white, and red 18 times in 31 tries. He poured in over 40 points against the Bulls twice, averaging 23.7 points per game overall.
Of course, in the Bulls’ contest against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, none of that mattered. It was all about honoring the guy who became the NBA’s larger-than-life face-of-the-league for years after Michael Jordan was gone.
The Bulls, like every team in the NBA, did a hell of a job honoring Kobe. There’s no single gesture that will suitably honor the legend of Kobe Bryant, but the accumulation of these beautiful gestures at least begins to chip away at this impossible goal.
Giant images of Kobe Bryant on the electronic billboard on the outside of the United Center. Purple and yellow where there is usually red and black. Fans using chalk to pay their respects on the sidewalks. The Bulls’ video tribute before the game was beautiful:
An 8-second violation from the Bulls followed by a 24-second violation from the Spurs to begin the game.
Bulls players speaking eloquently on Bryant’s influence.
Zach LaVine saying he idolized Kobe, that the Black Mamba inspired a whole generation of players including himself. That the reason he wears No. 8 is because of Kobe. Will he change his number like some others are?
Thaddeus Young wearing special Kobe shoes, speaking about Kobe’s influence on him and basketball for upwards of three minutes in a media scrum.
Paxson emerging out of the shadows of the United Center for a rare interview to pay his respects to Bryant.
The tough-guy coach usually devoid of any kind of emotion barely able to spit out words through his tears as he talked about Kobe in another touching moment:
There are players on this team who never played against him or knew him. Fans of the Bulls who didn’t like the Lakers and just saw Kobe play when he squared off against the Bulls.
Yet, if you played basketball or even if you just loved to watch the game from the comfort of your living room, Kobe likely affected you in some way. Everybody has a Kobe memory. Even people who don’t care for basketball knew you were supposed to say “Kobe” before you shot the paper into the trash. He was a cultural icon as well as a basketball one.
The tributes are amazing. They won’t bring him back and they aren’t enough. But they are still amazing. The aftershocks of his death will continue to reverberate throughout the league probably forever. Because...
“You don’t expect Superman to die,” Bulls analyst Kendall Gill said via The Athletic. “And yesterday, unfortunately for us, one of our Supermen died.”
RIP Kobe Bryant.