MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant didn’t need to pose for a Crate & Barrel billboard in Wrigleyville or walk a goat around a Bed Bath & Beyond commercial shoot. Cub fans just kept sending him free stuff.
The wedding gifts actually shipped to his parents’ house in Las Vegas, where he honed the swing that landed him on a new Sports Illustrated cover that asked: “How Perfect is Kris Bryant?”
This happens when you mention your registries on a late-night show with another Vegas guy (Jimmy Kimmel) after leading an iconic franchise to its first World Series title in 108 years.
So Bryant will be the center of attention in Sin City this weekend when the Cubs play two split-squad games against the Cincinnati Reds. But that spotlight will pretty much follow the National League’s reigning MVP wherever he goes.
At least this gives Bryant a chance to chill at the pool and organize the house he moved into in January.
“My mom just kept throwing stuff in my car: ‘Here, take it!’” Bryant said. “Opening all those boxes, I can’t believe how many presents we got from fans. It was unbelievable. Jess is going to have to write all the thank-you notes. I’m just signing my name on them. You have literally like 700 thank-you notes to write.
“I said: ‘You need to just go get the generic thank-you.’ She’s like: ‘No, they took the time out of their day to buy us a present.’ This is going to take her the whole year. So if there’s anybody out there that’s waiting for one…”
The wait is finally over for generations of Cub fans. Spring training will always have a “Groundhog Day” element to it. But this camp – with no major injuries so far or real roster intrigue or truly wacky stunts – has felt different. As the players get ready for a new season – one without 1908 looming over everything – they can’t escape what they did.
“Every day something reminds me of it,” said Kyle Hendricks, who will start Saturday in Las Vegas. “Even going to throw in these spring games, when they announce your name and the whole crowd erupts because of the World Series. That wasn’t happening last year.
“Little things like that make me notice. Something every day is brought to my attention, so it’s still getting used to that part.”
The Cubs insist there won’t be a hangover effect in 2017, believing that this young group is too talented and too focused to get derailed by distractions and overconfidence. But the Cubs could go 0-162 this season and Bryant would still probably be breaking down boxes for recycling.
“It’s funny,” Bryant said. “We just put cameras on my house for security and I’ll just look at it sometimes. I’ll randomly see my mom just unloading boxes. I’m like: ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are we getting more stuff?’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, we keep getting more boxes.’”
It's been said and proven that the Bulls can't handle any level of prosperity in this season of tumult, but they've apparently lowered the bar even more as they were unable to handle the thought of prosperity.
Taking a 10-point lead against the 10-man Philadelphia 76ers had the United Center buzzing with unselfish play, easy shots and Rajon Rondo wizardry. About 90 minutes later the slipper fell off Cinderella and life hit the Bulls hard in their 117-107 loss, as they failed to win their second game in a row for the first time in a month.
76ers rookie Dario Saric led the brigade with 32 points and 10 rebounds on 12 of 19 shooting, with two triples. Five 76ers scored in double figures, including an undrafted big named Shawn Long scoring 18 points and seven rebounds in his 10th NBA game.
Jimmy Butler scored 36 with 11 assists and seven rebounds in 42 minutes, but the narrative was the same as he didn't have enough help on the offensive end for long stretches.
More importantly, it again signaled the reality that the belief this team can make a run for the playoffs with the schedule being the easiest of the contenders over the next two weeks is a fallacy—if the first 70 games is any indication.
If the Bulls can't take care of business against the likes of these 76ers, they can't be counted on do much against anybody, regardless of how the schedule shakes out for the last six games.
By the time the United Center faithful was on its third cycle of boos when a Bulls turnover led to them having more points in the paint than the Bulls had on the scoreboard, it was clear the night had turned for the worst and wouldn't be turning again.
They already had a 54-52 paint-to-total ratio and the Bulls committed just three fouls, meaning for all the 76ers activity, the Bulls didn't even touch them or give any consequences by making them earn it at the foul line.
The lead ballooned to 26 at 81-55 with 6:15 left in the third and the Bulls looked as lifeless as they had at any point, given the relative lack of competition. They made a game of it, although the insertion of Anthony Morrow seemed to indicate a white flag more than a search for new energy.
Morrow and Bobby Portis gave Butler the help he desperately needed with a surge that cut the deficit to 102-92 with seven minutes remaining—giving the Bulls a better than expected chance to salvage an improbable comeback.
But with the margins so thin and Butler already expending so much energy just to get the Bulls back in it, they couldn't do more than threaten as Saric probably earned a few extra rookie of the year votes with his career performance.
The Bulls defense, through, was far less than inspiring. The 76ers lived in the paint with guard penetration, scoring 40 in the paint in the first half alone. Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson and the rest of the perimeter players feasted on the Bulls as Robin Lopez and Joffrey Lauvergne were missing in action, leading Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to leave both on the bench for the majority of the second half.
And with this sobering bit of reality, one wonders where the Bulls truly go from here.