By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Four days after delivering a brutal punch that concussed and broke two bones in teammate Niko Mirotic’s face, Bulls forward Bobby Portis publicly apologized Saturday for his actions, one early step of many that he’ll have to take if there’s any chance of repairing a relationship that he said he wants to salvage.
“I’m wrong for what I did,” Portis said late Saturday afternoon before the Bulls hosted the Spurs at the United Center. “I want to publicly apologize to Niko. I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”
At practice Tuesday, Portis and Mirotic engaged in what Portis termed a “heated and aggressive” confrontation. Assistant coach Randy Brown stepped in as the two battled up and down the court on several possessions. His involvement didn’t have the intended effect, as soon after Portis struck a blow to Mirotic that’s expected to keep him out four to six weeks. Mirotic will likely undergo surgery after the concussion symptoms subside.
That was the last time Portis had contact with Mirotic. His efforts to apologize to Mirotic directly haven’t been successful. Portis has texted and called Mirotic, to no avail.
“He didn’t respond,” Portis said.
Portis was suspended eight games for his actions, of which he’s served one game. He took no issue with the length of the suspension, saying, “It’s my fault, I take it as a man.” He was at the United Center on Saturday specifically to apologize. He won’t be allowed in the building during games amid his suspension. He is allowed to practice.
Serving the suspension is the easier part. Mending a broken relationship and regaining any measure of trust is the hardest part.
“I was surprised by my own reaction, because that’s not who I was, as I first stated,” Portis said. “I’m a competitor at the end of the day, but I never meant to hurt my own teammate.
“Going forward, I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and that we can be teammates again. I’m pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”
Portis stuck to a script in a media session that lasted just more than four minutes Saturday, invoking some form of “competing” at least eight times when asked to describe and reflect on the incident. Asked directly if Mirotic instigated the altercation, Portis responded, “We’re just competing, things happen.” He downplayed the notion that Mirotic beating him out for the starting power forward spot was any motivation for throwing the punch.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has been in contact with Mirotic and Portis. He doesn’t intend to force the issue regarding contact between the two, but he knows a time will come soon enough when Portis and Mirotic will have to have a sitdown.
“Those guys will get together,” Hoiberg said. “They’re going to have to in order to move past it. So hopefully that happens soon. That’s all I can say about it.”
Can they co-exist?
“That’s what we’re going to have to try to do, is continue to try to get them together, get the team together,” Hoiberg said.
In an incident that executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson called nearly “unprecedented” and which inflicted so much physical and emotional harm on Mirotic, there’s no formula for mending a relationship.
All parties just know that if it is to happen, it will take time and much more.
“I can’t change the past, but at the same time, we’re just competing,” Portis said. “Everybody’s competing. It’s a new culture that we’re trying to build. I’m sad that this happened, but it did. I’m just trying to repair my relationship with everybody.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.