Bulls fans open All-Star Weekend with vocal protest

NBA All-Star Weekend got off to a rough start for the Bulls.

Zach LaVine appeared at a live taping of ESPN's “First Take” on Friday morning at Navy Pier.

Co-host Max Kellerman got right to the point. His second question was, “(John) Paxson's built a couple winners in Chicago. Do you have confidence that your GM can get you the help you need?”

The audience jeered. LaVine laughed nervously and began giving his most diplomatic answer.

“They (the audience) might speak differently. But I'm with the team, man,” LaVine said. “I've got to put the team first. I've got to put the team first. It's just the situation we're in right now.”

At that point, the crowd started chanting, “Fire Gar-Pax,” referencing the nickname for the Bulls management team of Paxson and Gar Forman.

“You know Chicago gets rowdy,” LaVine joked. “I'm staying with the team. Obviously. I'm going to do everything I can to help them get back here.”

Host Molly Qerim Rose generously spoke up and asked the crowd to stop, saving LaVine from the awkward situation.

“Let's not get uncomfortable,” she said. “It's Valentine's Day.”

That's what happens when Chicago hosts the All-Star Game for the first time since 1988, but has no all-stars. Fans have been growing impatient for a few years.

But the show must go on. The Bulls were partially represented in Friday's Rising Stars Game by center Wendell Carter Jr., who took the court for warmups, but didn't play due to a right ankle sprain.

Earlier in the day at the Rising Stars media session, Carter said he's hoping to play in the first game after the break, on Feb. 20 against Charlotte. Carter has been sidelined since Jan. 6.

The Rising Stars Game opened with an address from Pau Gasol, who was joined by WNBA star Sue Bird. That might seem random, but Gasol's presence made sense, since he spent two years with the Bulls and was a teammate of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. The entire weekend will be dedicated to the memory of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven other victims killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

The game itself was the typical combination of flashy dunks and indifferent defense. Team USA won 151-131 after trailing by 10 points at halftime.

Charlotte's Miles Bridges was named MVP. The game's high-scorer was Knicks guard R.J. Barrett, who scored 27 points for Team World. Team USA was led by Golden State's Eric Paschall with 23. Cleveland's Collin Sexton had 21 points and Bridges 20.

The highlight might have been when Zion Williamson (14 points) bent the rim with a two-hand slam late in the second quarter. Or maybe when Luka Doncic walked the ball to half-court and banked in a 50-footer at the first half buzzer. Or perhaps Bridges throwing the ball off the backboard to himself for a dunk.

In the final minute, Williamson tried three between-the-legs dunks and missed all three. After the third miss, he walked straight to the bench and sat down.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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