Perhaps Bobby Portis’ t-shirt Saturday was his statement: OFF.
Yes, it was a moment when reason and logic went off the rails Tuesday, Portis ended up with an eight-game suspension and teammate Nikola Mirotic sustained broken bones in his face and a concussion and will be out more than a month.
“I’m wrong for what I did,” Portis said pregame Saturday in his first comments since the practice Portis punch that injured Mirotic.
“I want to apologize to Niko,” Portis continued in a brief statement before four minutes of questions and answer with reporters. “I feel like I let the fans, the Bulls organization and, most importantly, my teammates down; this is not who Bobby Portis is.”
Portis added that he’s attempted to contact Mirotic without success.
“I texted Niko and called him. He didn’t respond,” Portis said.
But Portis, who repeatedly stressed it was an act in the heat of competition between players battling for the same position, said he’s confident he and Mirotic can get past this and remain supportive teammates.
Portis met with reporters almost three hours before the game. He was wearing jeans, sneakers and a black Off-White brand T-shirt with bright orange lettering. He was succinct in his answers to about a dozen questions.
“Going forward, I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and that we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I’m pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship. (A meeting) hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out. I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. And I’m pretty sure that we can get past this.
“Things happen,” Portis said, answering tersely, though not rudely. “I can’t change the past, but at the same time, we’re just competing. 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. I got suspended. It’s my fault. I take it as a man. I’m just trying to repair my relationship with everybody.”
Portis because he remains under suspension then left the United Center after his comments. Under NBA rules, he must be out of the arena on game day two hours before the game. But Portis is allowed to practice and will continue do so with the team until his suspension expires Nov. 7.
It was a shocking occurrence for all involved. The 6-11, 250-pound Portis, in his third season with the Bulls after being the 22nd pick in the 2015 draft, punched Mirotic in the face in the midst of a scrimmage two days before the Bulls season opener. Mirotic likely will require surgery. The team suspended Portis, who met with teammates to apologize Friday. Portis will remain working out with the team, but will be barred from attending games until his suspension is concluded.
“I think it's good that he's back in our gym the last couple days,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after Portis spoke. “Try to start the healing process and move past it. Getting the opportunity to get up here and speak was very important. Continue to try to get everybody back together and hopefully move past it.
“Hopefully at some point those guys will get together,” Hoiberg added. “They're gonna have to in order to move past it. Hopefully it happens soon. It's all I can say about it. That's what we'll have to try to do. Get them together, get our team together. We've had meetings about it since it happened. Just keep working on bringing everybody together, competing, playing hard. We've had good practices. I thought we competed the other night (in Toronto). We came back with two good days of work. That's our focus right now. Go out there and compete. We are reaching out to both guys right now. The important thing with Niko is getting him healthy. He's still really sore. Hopefully he'll get back to feeling himself soon.”
And so as the schedule calls, the Bulls will play the games and look for some sunlight among those dark clouds of earlier this week.
“Me and Niko are competitors,” Portis explained. “We’re in the same position, so we compete We (were) just competing. Things happen. I never meant to hurt Niko.. Things got heated and that’s it, you know, kind of back and forth, and things happen.
“Yes, I was surprised by my own reaction, because that’s not who I was,” Portis added. “I’m a competitor at the end of the day, but I never meant to hurt my own teammate. At this point, I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”