Eventful night for Bryant, Jackson

Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Kobe Bryant was in one of the cities where he hoped to play this season, which led to a wealth of conversation when the Lakers and Chicago Bulls played Tuesday at the United Center.

Chicago reporters descended upon Bryant, who was accommodating for a long time at the morning shoot-around, and again for a shorter time an hour before the game, and once again after the game.

No other city could play a bigger game of “What If Kobe were here?” than Chicago, which started out 0-6 and has improved only marginally since.


Thus the immense interest Tuesday by Bulls fans, who have chanted his name at home games, and also by Chicago media members, one of whom asked Bryant why he hadn’t held out before the season to force a trade.

“I just tried to go about it in a professional way,” Bryant said. “You just try to play the game. This is therapy for me. My teammates, we’re like brothers. We all get along extremely well. It would be vastly unfair to them for me to do something like that. I love playing so much, I couldn’t do it.”

Bryant joked that he wanted to come to Chicago because of its pizza and said he was relatively satisfied these days.

“I’m having a great time,” he said. “We’re playing well. We’re enjoying each other’s company and that makes the journey that much more fun.”

Without saying it directly, however, Bryant reserves the right to change his mood if another three-game losing streak comes along. He still has not publicly retracted his desire to be traded and typically deflects the issue by referring questions about it to the Lakers’ front office.

For now, there are no gripes, especially with the Lakers sitting at 15-9 after a convincing 103-91 victory over the Bulls.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expected Bryant to play with an added edge Tuesday against Chicago. Bryant had 18 points on seven-for-19 shooting.

“I’m sure he wants to do well,” Jackson said beforehand. “He’s got Chicago fever a little bit. He actually had the desire to be here. We tried to fulfill that, but it didn’t work out.”

Jackson said a trade to the Bulls was a near-impossibility in the first place.

“It was an awful longshot for him,” Jackson said. “Just difficult to work those things out, very hard to make everything match up with a player like that and the amount of money he has and the fact he has a no-trade clause.”

The Boston Celtics are off to a 20-2 start, although Jackson doesn’t seem worried that they’ll threaten the NBA record the Bulls set by going 72-10 in 1995-96.

“I’m not concerned about it, but they certainly are off to a start that would say, yeah, it’s going to be a challenge for them to maintain that,” said Jackson, who coached that Chicago team. “I don’t know that they’ve gone on any extended road trips. We know they usually take a big one right after the Christmas break. We expect to see them out West where we can beat them up a little bit.”

Jackson, who won six championships coaching the Bulls in the 1990s, on returning to the United Center: “There’s still a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings about this place . . . not one specific thing, it’s just the feel of the place. I just like to look at it and feel it.”