Twice during his illustrious career Kobe Bryant flirted with joining the Chicago Bulls to follow in Michael Jordan's footsteps and add more championship banners to the six His Airness helped hang at the United Center.
He's never been shy about admitting his past desire to play in Chicago, either. But instead of changing the Bulls' history, Bryant remained with the Los Angeles Lakers both times and won the last two of his five championship rings with current Chicago big man Pau Gasol.
Bryant has played in Chicago fewer times than any other place heading into Sunday night's final trip to the Windy City, which he's said nearly became his home.
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Before signing a seven-year deal as a free agent with the Lakers (11-45) in the summer of 2004, Bryant met with Bulls executive John Paxson and reportedly was close to threatening general manager Mitch Kupchak to engineer a sign-and-trade deal that would send him to the Bulls (28-26) or risk losing him for nothing.
Bryant then suffered through three disappointing seasons in Los Angeles following the deal and demanded a trade prior to 2007-08. He said in an interview in recent years that "Chicago was my No. 1 choice," and the clubs reportedly presented him with an agreed-upon deal that would've given Bryant his wish.
He scoffed at the fact then-Bulls standouts Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were included in the package and vetoed the trade thinking it would significantly deplete the Bulls' talent since he desired to play for a winner.
The Lakers acquired Gasol during the following season and lost in the Finals before winning the next two championships. Although everything worked out for Bryant, he's looking forward to his last trip to Chicago, a place he says has "a special significance to me personally."
His 14 games road games against the Bulls are his fewest against any team as a visitor during his 20-year career.
Bryant will play despite dislocating his right middle finger and returning after having it popped back in to place during Friday's 119-113 loss to San Antonio, the Lakers' fourth straight defeat. X-rays following the game showed there was no break.
He scored 25 points despite the setback and is averaging 24.9 over his last seven. Bryant, though, scored only 10 and shot 4 of 13 from the field in the first meeting with Chicago on Jan. 28, as Gasol finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in the Bulls' 114-91 victory.
Gasol, who played 6 1/2 years with Bryant in Los Angeles before signing with Chicago prior to last season, barely missed a triple-double Friday with 18 points, 11 boards and nine assists in a 116-106 home win over Toronto that snapped the Bulls' five-game skid.
Chicago hadn't won since Jimmy Butler suffered a sprained knee Feb. 5 at Denver, but Doug McDermott went 13 of 17 from the field and finished with a career-high 30 points off the bench.
''We needed that,'' said Derrick Rose, who added 26 points and six assists. ''Doug came out and played aggressively.''
McDermott is averaging only 8.6 points on the season, but he's scored in double figures in five of his last seven. He had 15 while hitting 3 of 6 from 3-point range in the first meeting with the Lakers.
''It was a long time coming,'' McDermott said. ''There's been a lot of ups and downs so far and I just stayed with it. It's just one game so I'm not going to get too high on myself, but it's definitely a good start for my confidence. ... Hopefully I can build off it.''
The Bulls have won seven of the last nine meetings, including the last four in Chicago. Bryant missed the previous four matchups before last month's meeting.