Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis make emotional return to the United Center as the Wizards top the Bulls 134-125
By K.C. Johnson
Feb 09, 2019 | 11:45 PM
It’s not often a February regular-season game between two sub-.500 teams carries so much emotion.
But that’s what happens when the Bulls and Wizards met just three days after trading players. It’s what happens when the emotional player nicknamed “Crazy Eyes” is involved. And it’s what happens when a proud player who signed as the premier offseason addition returns to talk about how his homecoming turned sour.
The Bulls aired a video tribute for Bobby Portis, he of the frothing intensity and crazy eyes, and Jabari Parker, the former Simeon High School prodigy. For what it’s worth, the United Center applause welcoming Otto Porter Jr. in his home debut rang louder.
The emotion would’ve been intense regardless.
Portis and Parker laughed last, sending the Bulls to a franchise-record 10th straight home loss, 134-125.
Parker threw down six dunks on his way to 20 points with six assists, while Portis added 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Zach LaVine’s 26 points and Lauri Markkanen’s third straight double-double led the Bulls, who allowed 57.9 percent shooting.
Portis said he had “Bulls DNA” last fall when he turned down the Bulls’ four-year, roughly $48 million offer that Portis said was filled with hard-to-reach incentives and was so stung by the trade that he left the United Center emotionally on Wednesday. He’s been making his strong feelings known via social media since.
“I was just being sarcastic and just having fun. Twitter, I just use it for having fun and just expressing myself a little bit. No bad feelings,” Portis said. “I’m with a team right now that’s in the playoff hunt. I’m really focused on that.
“I think everybody knows how much I prided (myself) playing for the Bulls and prided (myself) playing for the city of Chicago. I think that’s known by everybody in the Bulls organization. Obviously, I got my first taste of the business side of basketball. You don’t really get your way all the time. It’s not really your choice. I have to roll with it now. I was hurt the last 48 hours. But when I got into the game (during his Washington debut Friday), those hurt emotions went away.”
Portis visited the Bulls’ locker room after the game and told his ex-teammates and coaches how much they meant to him, several witnesses said.
Parker, whose highlight was a nasty left-handed dunk over Markkanen, didn’t play in 12 of 13 games after coach Jim Boylen pulled him from the rotation in mid-December shortly after taking over for Fred Hoiberg. Boylen, who had been Parker’s confidante as associate head coach, cited Parker’s poor practice habits and effort on defense.
“At that point, we never had controversy,” Parker said. “I always had his back with things that we had in-house problems with. Always had everybody’s back. Just to see that relationship go sour, not from my end but from his end, was just bad. Because you trust the guy. He says all the things.
“I understand it’s his decisions and whatever, but it was just hard. Because of the relationship that we had going into it when he was a head coach.”
Asked if that meant Boylen didn’t have his back once he became head coach, Parker demurred but still reiterated his surprise at his changing role.
“I can’t say (Boylen didn’t have my back) specifically because I don’t know the factors. It’s a business. He’s the head coach. I’m just a player at the end of the day,” Parker said. “I did the best that I could. I pretty much showed it within my play. It didn’t pan out.
“I played more minutes on the No. 1 team in Milwaukee. I was a big factor, especially in the playoffs. So just coming here and playing for the Bulls, it was just very surprising because I thought I’d be utilized just knowing the circumstances of where I came from.”
Portis has been having fun via social media against a message lost somewhat in translation. He has taken offense to people claiming that the Bulls said he’s just a backup big man not worth a substantial financial commitment. But the Bulls offered Portis generational wealth, which he turned down.
What management said in the wake of the trade was that adding Porter as a starter on a big contract made more sense to them than re-signing Portis as a restricted free agent to back up Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. Bulls Executive VP John Paxson praised Portis effusively following the trade.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Portis said. “I was seeing all the things on Twitter. People kept ‘at-ing’ me. I thought it was just rumors and stories. I never thought I would get traded. But it’s basketball. I think I did a good job of just taking it the right way and moving on. I’m with an organization now that really likes me.”
But Portis had nothing but love for his former franchise and got emotional when the tribute video aired.
“I don’t like to really show my emotions that way to the public. But it was a great feeling just to have a tribute video,” Portis said. “I feel like I put a lot of hours, time, blood, sweat and tears into playing for the Bulls. It was tough for me. But I’ve moved on now. But I will never forget those 3 1/2 years I had wearing No. 5 for the Bulls.”
Referencing his own journeyman playing career, Wizards coach Scott Brooks had some fun with Portis’ passion.
“That’s part of being an NBA player. You’re supposed to say those things,” Brooks said. “I wanted to be a Sixer for life and then a Timberwolf for life and then a Rocket for life and then a Maverick for life and then a Knick for life and then Cleveland for life and then LA for life. And now I’m here. It’s just part of it.
“You play as hard as you can for your organization. If things happen, then you have to move on and do the next place. Bobby has been great. I’ve only had a chance to sit down with him a few times, but I love his motor and energy and enthusiasm.”
That’s never going to change.
Portis entered the United Center in a flashy red suit, smiling and gesturing to familiar faces. He later looked stone-cold serious as he bumped into Cristiano Felicio on the way to the Wizards’ bench following the first-quarter buzzer. He also exchanged good-natured trash talk with Zach LaVine, a close friend.
“One thing I’ll remember most is just me learning how to be patient,” Portis said of his Bulls tenure. “I’ve always been the guy on my team to be the No. 1 option. I’ve always been the guy that’s been the best player on my team. When I got here, I had to sit and wait my turn.
“It was tough right off. It taught me patience. I got hurt. I had to be patient again. Everything comes full circle. I don’t have anything bad to say about anybody here. Everybody treated me really well, with open arms. They treated me like family here. This is a great place to play for any player who wants to come play here. They treat you family. That’s what I’ll always remember.”