Bulls sign Windy City star Lemon to help fill out roster
The Bulls may be playing out the string this season, but there was a meaningful transaction Friday.
Walt Lemon Jr., the best player on the Windy City Bulls, signed to join the NBA Bulls. Coach Jim Boylen said he expects the point guard to play Saturday against Toronto, and for a South Side native like Lemon, this move hit home.
Lemon learned the news shortly after the Windy City Bulls lost their inaugural G-League playoff game to the Westchester Knicks on Wednesday.
"My agent called me and told me that the Bulls were going to sign me. I actually cried," Lemon said Friday at the Advocate Center. "It's a dream come true for me to get a chance to play in the NBA again. For me, I don't really care if it's five games or two games. For it to be my hometown, that's special enough."
Lemon made his NBA debut last season when he played five games for New Orleans. But this has been a long climb from Julian High School and Bradley University. His career featured stops in Hungary, Germany, Turkey and Greece, as well as multiple G-League teams.
"Not that many people know about me but if you do know about me, you know where I came from and where I started," Lemon said. "Anything is possible. I know if I can at least have a chance to put on a Chicago Bulls jersey and play on the United Center floor, I think anybody can."
Lemon grew up in the Roseland neighborhood near 111th and Wentworth. He talked about how tough it was to stay on the right path.
"I mean, if anybody don't know Chicago, Chicago is a cutthroat city," he said. "It's tough to live here. If you don't do the right things, it's tough to get out. It's easy to get sucked into violence and drugs. Just everyday life with me growing up in a bad neighborhood where I lost my father at 15.
"That was a tough time for me. I had to grow up really fast. Losing my father and growing up in a tough city like Chicago, I can't express enough how hard that was."
Lemon said he never made it to a Bulls game until his college years, but he idolized Derrick Rose, another South Side native who is roughly four years older.
"Derrick Rose is my favorite player still is to this day," Lemon said. "My first time seeing him he was a junior at Simeon and it was actually at the United Center. After I seen him dunking on everybody just going crazy, I was like, 'I want to be just like that guy.'
"I actually saw him work out at the old practice facility. For me, that was like Kobe watching Jordan. I was watching how he moved, how he carried himself, how he went about everyday life and how he goes about the game."
The 6-foot-3 Lemon said he was a scoring guard as a kid and faced a tough transition learning to become a true point guard in college. He did everything well at Windy City this season, averaging 20.1 points and 8.9 assists.
Lemon actually started the year as a Boston Celtics two-way player, but was released early in the season. Windy City was desperate for point guard help after losing Tyler Ulis to an injury, traded for Lemon's rights and went from a 5-12 start to the playoffs.
"He can really pass the ball, get downhill," Boylen said. "The thing I like about him the most is he's tough and a 'yes sir, no sir' guy. Competes, competed in practice today and is not scared."
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Bulls vs. Toronto Raptors, 7 p.m. Saturday at the United Center
TV: WGN • Radio: WIND 560-AM
Outlook: The Raptors (53-23) are just about locked into the No. 2 seed in the East, so this figures to be another game where they don't play the starters heavy minutes. ... SF Kawhi Leonard (27.0 points, 7.4 rebounds) has been ruled out for this one for personal reasons. ... PF Pascal Siakam is the second-leading scorer 17.0 ppg. and a contender for the Most Improved Award. ... When the Bulls lost in Toronto 112-103 Tuesday, none of the Raptors' starters played more than 22 minutes and the leading scorer was backup SF Norman Powell with 20.
Next: New York Knicks, 6:30 p.m. Monday at Madison Square Garden
-- Mike McGraw