Chicago’s NBA presence in the recently-passed All-Star Weekend was muted, as is the case with a team entering a break 17 games under .500 (20-37).
There’s no alternate reality available to Bulls fans and faithful that could have brought about a different result for this year, but one now exists on record that could have made the entirety of the post-1990’s dynasty go about a whole lot differently.
It’s been known pretty much since the events happened that Kobe Bryant — he of the Los Angeles Lakers iconography due to a two-decade career in LA with five championships won there — very nearly became a Chicago Bull in 2007. A certain stubbornness in the negotiations, as to be expected by the two franchises dealing with each other, made then-Bull Luol Deng a sticking point.
To put it simply, the Lakers knew they were trading their franchise away and they wanted something approaching decent value for departing with Bryant and that meant Deng, who was the best two-way player on a 49-win Chicago team entering the summer of 2007, had to head west. Unfortunately Bryant coveted Deng just as much and utilized his agency in accepting the deal to say that if Deng had to leave Chicago for him to go there then he’s not accepting the deal.
More than anything at this point in his career, Bryant wanted to compete for titles and he knew in Chicago he had to build off a core of he and Deng as the team’s 1-2 in order to begin an operation to take over the Eastern Conference as he once did the West with Shaquille O’Neal. Due to their contentious breakup as Lakers, out-doing O’Neal, who already won a post-LA title in Miami in 2006, was a complete priority for Bryant.
This knowledge of Bryant’s motivations in the second half of his career were completely contextualized after watching a “Player’s Only” interview special he had with O’Neal as part of All-Star Saturday festivities on TNT. In talking with The Big Exclusive, Bryant was his usual brutally honest self in an overall congenial sit-down between guys who you can tell been through hell and back with each other and have reached a point of understanding underlined by feelings of respect and appreciation that were always there.
With all that said, it was bound to happen that Shaq and Kobe were going to break up, like Shaq said it was for the better of the NBA that it happened. The Lakers suffered for a couple years but gained titles in 2009 and 2010, furthering their franchise’s legacy of greatness. Miami gained greatly from its pairing of Shaq and Dwayne Wade with the ’06 title and a championship legitimacy that led to the Lebron James-led super-team that took over the NBA’s attention in 2010.
But the Bulls and Chicago could have been a part of that Shaq-Kobe breakup boom too, it actually could have taken the place of both the Lakers and the Heat and even the Cleveland Cavaliers in certain years, if only the Bulls could have kept Kobe with Deng.
The wild situation in the video here is unlikely and doesn’t factor in the particular bond James formed with Wade, which led to whatever degree of colluding wound up happening with fellow 2010 free agent Chris Bosh to form their groundbreaking squad, but it is possible, as would have been any number of situations such as Pau Gasol, Kobe’s trusted late-career sidekick, being traded to Chicago from Memphis in 2008 instead of LA.
That duo competes in the East through the time leading up to the 2010 free agency extravaganza and having Kobe and Gasol on the books makes it OK that Carlos Boozer was the lone coveted free agent the Bulls pulled that summer. Kobe, Gasol, Boozer, Deng and etc. even makes for a hellacious competitor to the Miami trinity that could have done the job that the Derrick Rose-led 2011 team couldn’t do.
And all this doesn’t even factor the real news, for Chicago at least, that came in Kobe’s revelations from the Shaq sit-down, that he could have been here as early as 2004. That in that same year he and his wife Vanessa even looked for houses in plush Lake Forest and came to an agreement that Chicago would be the place to continue Bryant’s career should the Lakers trade him in the wake of their losing the ’04 Finals to Detroit. Oh, God…
There’s only one player in the post-Jordan era that would have willingly took on the task of making Chicago great again while matching himself not only with Shaq’s legacy but that of the then-established GOAT — that’s Kobe. You can picture Bryant driving into the United Center parking lot everyday for several years, passing the shrine to MJ, wondering “Man, just how high are they gonna build MY statue when I’m done…”
Kobe’s passion for the game and his Jordan-inspired competitive streak would have been ate up here at least as much as it was in LA, if not more. It would have worked for him on some level and we Bulls followers would have had an amazing coda to modern sports greatness that would have helped define the city and its well-established relationship with basketball.
As clean and appropriate as Bryant’s on-court legacy wound up being after 20 years with the Lakers (Bryant will likely be the last NBA franchise player who actually spends an entire career with one franchise), we can’t help feeling starved here in Chicago while Lakerland remains plump even though at the moment both the Bulls and Lakers are losing teams.
The Lakers have not gone more than nine years in their history without an NBA Finals appearance and 12 years without a title to call their own. In June of this year the Bulls will be rounding 20 years since their last title and Finals appearance. Just how much longer we’ll have to wait won’t be known any time soon, but just beyond the realm of this dimension of thinking Chicago had a Kobe to call its own. Loving, and losing, a second GOAT hurts a lot less than losing your only GOAT.
Follow Kyle Means on Twitter @Wrk_Wrt; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio