The Rising Stars game on Friday night was supposed to be the welcome to Chicago moment.
The official tip-off of the All-Star Weekend, with the host city opening up its arms to the NBA world.
Who could have guessed that a disgruntled Bulls fan base would hijack the show hours earlier?
During the Friday morning episode of ESPN’s “First Take,’’ the program brought Bulls guard Zach LaVine onto the set for the live interview, and co-host Max Kellerman made the mistake of uttering a name from the Bulls front office.
Any name would have set the crowd off, but it was actually a question about if LaVine had confidence that vice president of basketball operations John Paxson could bring more talented players to the roster to help out LaVine.
That immediately started a roar of boos.
Trying to stay in the role of play-maker – peace-maker in this case – LaVine said of the booing fans, “They might think differently, man, but I’m with the team man, I gotta put the team first.’’
LaVine then tried laughing off the uncomfortable moment, saying “They’re terrible, man,” again referencing the fans.
It wasn’t the calming reaction LaVine was hoping to get.
Instead, the boos turned into “Fire GarPax” chants, all but drowning LaVine out.
The show’s moderator Molly Qerim tried to calm the crowd down, as did co-host Stephen A. Smith, and even though it did calm down, the message was sent to the rest of the nation just how unhappy this fan base was with the Bulls in Year 3 of the rebuild.
Just in case the television audiences missed it, the video quickly hit the social media rounds, with a source saying Friday night that the Bulls were aware of it.
Likely the last thing the organization needed this weekend, considering the 19-36 record in Year 3 of the rebuild, as well as the lack of representation the host team had in the three days of events.
LaVine will participate in the Three-Point Contest on Saturday night, and that’s it.
Bulls second-year center Wendell Carter Jr. was selected to play in the Rising Stars Game, but a slow-healing right ankle injury forced him to miss the contest.
Carter still took part in the morning media session, dressed, and was introduced with his Team USA teammates.
“Gotta earn that kicker,’’ Carter joked of the payout.
It was Carter, however, that provided the only ounce of good news provided on Friday.
The former first-round pick [No. 7 overall] from the 2018 NBA Draft had blown past his expected return date – originally diagnosed as a 4-6 week injury – but was now hoping for a return this week, when the Bulls resume play on Thursday, hosting Charlotte.
“I want to be back the next game,’’ Carter said. “That’s what I’m shooting for right now.’’
Carter was hoping to participate In the Tuesday evening practice, see how it bounces back in the Wednesday practice, and then get cleared to go back at it.
He’s only played in 37 games this season, averaging 11.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and getting in work the last 20-plus game would not only be huge for Carter, but for a front office that insisted at the trade deadline that they were still trying to evaluate how this group functions together.
The way Carter sees it, yeah, missing out in participating in the All-Star Weekend in his own city wasn’t fun, but it wouldn’t be his last one.
”I definitely think I’m on the right path to becoming an All-Star,’’ Carter said. “When? I’m not sure, but I feel like the pace that I’m going at, my respect for the game, the way I play the game and how effective I am when I play, I feel like I’m on a pretty good path.’’