CHICAGO -- No matter how far Kyle Korver gets away from Chicago, a piece of his heart still remains with the Bulls. That's because Korver, and his former teammates, know that what they experienced under Tom Thibodeau doesn't happen much in the NBA.
Korver's first two seasons with the Bulls also coincided with Thibodeau's first two seasons in Chicago. The Bulls led the league in regular-season wins and left an indelible mark on the popular Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter.
"I have so much respect for the core of the Chicago Bulls the last few years," Korver said after the Bulls beat the Hawks on Saturday night. "Just the way they approach practice, the way they approach games, the way they approach details, the way they play every day. When you've been a part of that, like the blood, sweat and tears, for a couple years, it kind of carves a spot in your heart a little bit. Obviously, Chicago is an incredible city to play basketball in. The Bulls uniform, there's so much history to it. So I really appreciated my two years here. I'm glad to be a Hawk, I'm excited about where we're headed. But for sure there was a good couple years here. Fun."
That's the way his former teammates remember it as well. Korver, like Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson in previous years, built up a level of popularity which most bench players don't attain during their stay in Chicago. His appearance back at the United Center made his former teammates reminisce about the good old days when the Bulls used to contend for titles, not worry so much about injury reports.
"I got nothing but love for Kyle," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Not only is he a great, great player, but a real good dude. I wish him nothing but the best except of course when he plays us. But he's a hell of a player, he's a competitor, and some of the best times in my career were with Kyle Korver on this team so I've got nothing but love for Kyle."
It's hard to find somebody who doesn't like Korver. Thibodeau sung his praises before the game, much the same way Noah and Gibson did after it was over. It doesn't come as any kind of surprise to the Bulls that Korver has had so much success in Atlanta and has set a new record by hitting a 3-pointer in 103 consecutive games ... and counting.
"One thing about Kyle, he's a pure shooter," Gibson said. "I used to watch him in practice make 100 straight. With his eyes closed -- not even trying hard. But to see the (evolution) of his game is great. He's a leader, he's a great teammate to play with ... I always knew he would do something special like this. It's good that he's doing it but it sucks that he's doing it for the opposite team."
The Bulls would have loved to keep Korver a couple summers ago, but they dealt him away so that they wouldn't go deeper into the luxury tax. It's a move that still upsets many Bulls fans. Korver's addition in Atlanta has helped the Hawks turn into a respectable Eastern Conference team in a season which that can't even be said for most squads.
"He just amazes us every day," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. "I think the coaches for sure appreciate what he can do, his teammates appreciate what he can do and now the attention that he gets defensively and he still manages to get open and make shots, and make tough shots. His professionalism and his work ethic is just off the charts. Until you're around somebody like that every day I don't think you can really appreciate it from a distance, but now I truly do."
From a distance, Korver sounds like he appreciates his time with the Bulls more than ever. He can empathize with what his former teammates are going through without Derrick Rose, given that Al Horford had season-ending surgery on his torn pec earlier this week. Now Korver must rely on some of the things Thibodeau taught him during his stint in Chicago.
"You guys know the story better than anybody," Korver said. "You've got to find new ways to win. Next man steps up. We have more than enough to win with. So we got to take all that mentality over here."
The more Korver speaks the easier it is to understand why he enjoyed his time in Chicago so much. The hard work that Thibodeau demands made the winning that much more enjoyable. As Korver has said in the past, the Bulls prepared every day to win a championship -- now that Korver, and guys like Noah and Gibson know that's not a possibility this season, it makes the special times they did enjoy together even more memorable.
"That team, the core of that team, they're just so mentally tough," Korver said of the Bulls. "There's just been a lot of drama. You're playing in a major market, and obviously losing Derrick, there's a lot of talk around it all. There was championship aspirations around this team with a healthy Derrick. We just lost Al (Horford) for the season and it's a thing you got to go through.
"You go from feeling you can compete to, "OK, we have to totally change our game." And (the Bulls) have done this the past couple years and they find ways. It hasn't been just Derrick that's been hurt. They've had a lot of guys out. I just have so much respect for all those guys over there and how they continue to play hard and just grind and win games like tonight. They just find ways. It's not the prettiest basketball all the time but you have a lot of respect for them."