CHICAGO – Niko Mirotic accepted Bobby Portis’ apology Wednesday, six weeks after their ugly altercation at practice led to a hospitalization and a suspension.
Things remain awkward for the Bulls.
A day after he sat on the bench for the first time all season, Mirotic finally spoke publicly about the Oct. 17 incident that left him hospitalized with two facial fractures and a concussion. Portis served an eight-game suspension and Mirotic didn’t return to practice until Monday.
Mirotic, who has a no-trade clause, declined to comment when asked if he had requested a trade from the Bulls. The two players were seen giving each other a fist bump during Tuesday night’s 104-99 home loss to Phoenix, but Mirotic suggested the interaction between the two players has been limited.
“Right now, we are on the same team and we are working to make it work,” Mirotic said. “The only thing I can tell you. I was always a good teammate, so I was professional with everybody and I’ll continue to do that. If I’m here, it’s because I want to support the team. He’s a part of the team and I’m going to support him, too. Obviously, I’m going to give him hands like he’d give me hands, too.”
Portis issued a public apology shortly after he received his suspension and acknowledged he would be open to the two working together.
“I’d welcome him in with open arms,” Portis said Nov. 13, the same day Mirotic started working out again with the team.
Mirotic said he had yet to inform Portis he had accepted his apology.
“You know, we are teammates,” Mirotic said. “On the same team. Fighting for the same team and we’re both going to do what we need to do to make it work. Yeah, I accept it. I’m comfortable being on the team. I’ve had a lot of support from my teammates, from everybody. Right now, it’s on me to relax and enjoy playing basketball again.”
Coach Fred Hoiberg said Mirotic’s actions Wednesday were critical to helping the team get back on track. The Bulls (3-16) have lost six straight games.
“I do think that’s an important first step,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, the first thing was getting back on the floor after the incident, to start getting himself back in shape. The next thing was to get back with the group, which he’s done here the past few days.
“It’s good to have Niko back out on the floor with the guys and another important step talking about it for the first time and then continuing trying to move past it.”
Mirotic will remain in Chicago while the team travels to Denver for Thursday night’s game.
Hoiberg said the earliest Mirotic would return to action is Monday when the Bulls host the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although he acknowledged his return is much closer than before, Mirotic also said he wouldn’t get ahead of himself as he focuses on conditioning.