In 2004, Los Angeles Lakers lost two important things that were running their ship- legendary coach Phil Jackson and the impressive Kobe Bryant – Shaquille O’Neal partnership. It was the first time in Bryant’s career when it seemed he would no longer be a part of the Lakers’ side. Chicago Bulls was one of the first teams that were linked to signing Bryant.
And the way Bryant admired Micahel Jordan, it was not surprising.
“We were looking at houses, we were looking at schools,” Bryant told the Tribune in December 2004. “We already were talking about a sign-and-trade.” This was how close Bryant was to signing for the Bulls back then. But soon, Shaquille O’Neal requested a trade away from the Lakers and he joined Miami Heat. After Shaq’s move, Bryant stayed with the Lakers.
However, Bulls executive John Paxson has always remembered the meeting fondly. In the aftermath of Kobe’s death earlier this year, Paxson talked about the meeting saying: “We were fortunate that we were given that opportunity. I could tell he had an enormous amount of respect for Jerry Reinsdorf, Jerry’s relationship with Michael (Jordan) and the brand that the Bulls are. The things that always stand out to me after that were, first of all, how smart of a person — we knew how smart of a player he is — and how mature he was even at that time.”
Three years later, Bryant was once again linked with a move to Chicago when he requested a trade. It was a link the Bryant would later confirm. Towards the end of his career, Bryant said that the Bulls were his top choice in 2007. However, the teams could not agree with a deal as rumors had suggested.
For the entirety of his career, Bryant remained a Lakers but with a special bond with the Bulls. Other than the trade links, he also had the Michael Jordan link with the Bulls. When Bryant suffered a tragic death in January, the Bulls franchise also had a tribute to him.
“The Chicago Bulls organization is terribly saddened about the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the other passengers in today’s horrific helicopter crash in California,” Paxson said in a statement after Bryant’s death. “While he leaves us far too soon, his legacy and persona will forever be remembered. One of the best to have ever played the game of basketball, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Bryant family and the other families affected.”