The Kobe Bryant stories kept flowing Monday.
“He’s one of the reasons I wear No. 8,’’ Bulls guard Zach LaVine said.
LaVine went on to tell a story about his rookie season and a game in November at Staples Center in which he had 28 points off the bench as a member of the Timberwolves.
Guess whom the Lakers threw on him for the fourth quarter to lock him down?
“I knew growing up and idolizing him that he always guarded the best player [late],’’ LaVine said.
“I had a really good game, so he was guarding me, and we were standing at the free-throw line, and he tapped me on the butt and said, ‘You know, keep going.’ It was almost shocking to me that I was in that situation as a 19-year-old. It was like, this is a dude I idolized, and he’s guarding me. It was just surreal.’’
LaVine also fouled Bryant during that 2014-15 season, sending him to the line for two important free throws. Bryant made both to pass Michael Jordan for third place on the all-time scoring list.
So, of course, LaVine had a heavy heart in the Bulls’ 110-109 victory against the Spurs (20-26), and he played like it until it mattered most.
After scoring 44 points against the Cavaliers on Saturday, LaVine was only 7-for-22 from the field, finishing with 23 points. But LaVine’s second free throw with 2.1 seconds left proved to be the game-winner. DeMar DeRozan had a chance to tie the game but missed his second free throw and the put-back at the horn.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win, and a hard-fought one at that. And that was all coach Jim Boylen wanted from his players.
“I think Jim said it best — what Kobe would want us to do is go out and play our hardest,’’ guard Kris Dunn said. “Play our heart out. That’s what we tried to do.’’
The Bryant talk didn’t end there.
Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson might have had the best Bryant anecdote. It centered around him and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf trying to bring the legendary guard to the Bulls.
There were several trade rumors linking Bryant to the Bulls over the years, but in 2004, Paxson and Reinsdorf flew to Newport Beach, California, to meet with Bryant, a free agent at the time, and agent Rob Pelinka.
“In talking about coming to Chicago, it was six years after [Jordan] left,’’ Paxson said. “Most guys didn’t want to follow that or have to try to live up to it. What [Bryant] expressed to us was he wanted to embrace that if it happened. He wanted that challenge.’’
It was a moment Paxson never forgot.
“It’s hard to wrap your mind around stuff like this, like for everybody, all of us,’’ Paxson said. “You guys have been around the game for a long time and you get the opportunity just to be in someone’s presence, and you feel better about the game itself when you experience those times.’’
Forward Otto Porter Jr. (fractured left foot) continued making progress. He was seen at the Advocate Center taking laps around the court and skipping forward and backward — and not because he’s making $27.2 million guaranteed this season.
“There is a very methodical way they get these guys back, and they walk before they start running,’’ Boylen said.