Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant Makes His Last Trip To Chicago

Jan 28, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) and Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) hugs prior to the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 28, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) and Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) hugs prior to the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Here’s a look back at one of Kobe Bryant’s first visits to the Chicago Bulls as he makes his last trip.

There’s not an NBA arena in the league that Kobe Bryant has not shared a special moment in. The Los Angeles Lakers legend has scorched courts with scoring barrages, left the floor bloodied, and even celebrated championships in front of opposing fans. From a standpoint of strictly fandom, Bryant’s ties to the Chicago Bulls will remain eternal. It was during the 2007 offseason that Bryant nearly became a Bull himself.

His admiration of Michael Jordan, from the walk to the patented fadeaway, will forever offer fans from both teams memories for the ages. Just like Jordan, Bryant is hoping to have his statue erected outside of the arena that he called home for all 20 seasons he’s played.

Sunday marks Bryant’s last visit to the Chicago Bulls, and it will hopefully be one of the many memories that he’s shared on their court. One of the most memorable moments of Bryant visiting Chicago may have been during his rise as the heir apparent to Jordan.

It was the 1997-98 season, where the Lakers were coming into their own with a roster including Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, and a 19 year-old Bryant. The young core was full of athleticism and excitement, none more potent than the player who epitomized “Showtime” in Bryant. That season was his first selection to the NBA All-Star Game, as well as being one of the league’s best reserves, finishing as runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year.

While the Lakers were one of the top teams in the Western Conference, the Bulls were the cream of the crop in the entire NBA.  Jordan was poised to lead the team to a second three-peat of NBA titles as he rode into the sunset as a Bull. As Jordan readied the waning years of his career, even he looked to Bryant as a successor to his throne during the 1998 All-Star Weekend:

Bryant went into the Bulls game with kid-like enthusiasm, but also with the focus of student picking the brain of a teacher during battle. Jordan was business as usual, looking to pick up a win in the midst of a championship run. The game was almost a perfect set stage since O’Neal actually missed the game. O’Neal was the Lakers’ leading scorer during the year, as well as the biggest star in Los Angeles at the time.

When Bryant entered the game, he immediately took to defending Jordan. Looking at him as a barometer, Bryant almost had no choice to cover him. Much of the competitive fire that drove Bryant to want to take on Jordan was fueled by his love and the challenge of living up to the Jordan comparisons. Bryant spoke with CBS Sports’ Ken Berger about memories of Jordan’s game and skillset:

"“I think a lot of people saw the highlights of him, the dunks or the fancy layups. But as a kid, I saw more than that. I saw how he got there,” Bryant told CBSSports.com. “I saw footwork. I saw spacing. I saw how to use screens. That’s what I saw. That’s what’s different from a lot of kids who came up during my era. They saw the highlights, but I saw how he got to those highlights.”"

Contrary to his first matchup against Jordan, where he only scored five points, Bryant put up a memorable 33-point performance against the Bulls. Highlights included a complete package during the game with jumpshots and plenty of acrobatic moves. There was even an instance of Bryant pursuing MJ for some advice between free throws.

Jordan still managed to outduel Bryant with 36 points, and got the win in the process, 104-83.

Looking back at it, it’s almost unbelievable that Bryant was able to live up to the generated hype of following Jordan. As he closes his career, Bryant seems satisfied to enjoy his last basketball moments, even while being on one of the franchise’s worst teams ever.

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The memories like those in 1998 are what keep Bryant’s competitiveness fed. Today’s younger players are reliving their moment with him heading towards retirement, and it’s beautiful to watch.