Bulls' Coby White focused on winning games, not peripheral storylines


MEMPHIS --- On Oct. 26, 1984, nearing age 22, Michael Jordan finished with 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals in his Bulls debut, a victory over Washington at Chicago Stadium.

Wednesday night, nearing age 20, Coby White posted 17 points, seven assists and three rebounds in his Bulls debut, a loss to Charlotte at Spectrum Center.

Jordan, the Hornets’ chairman, watched the game from his luxury suite. Did White talk to the man with whom he shares the distinction of being a first-round pick of the Bulls from North Carolina?

“No, I didn’t,” White said following Thursday’s practice at a local college.

Did White see Jordan?

“No, I didn’t,” White said.

Did White even know Jordan was in the house?

“No, I didn’t,” White said, now laughing.

And if White had known Jordan was in attendance?

“If I would’ve seen him, I would’ve said, ‘What’s up?’ But I wasn’t going to go out of my way and be like a fanboy,” the Bulls’ rookie said. “And I was just ready to leave because we took the ‘L.’ And I had a bunch of family there. I wanted to spend time with them because I don’t see them a lot.”

White met Jordan once, at a Jordan Brand game after his senior year of high school with fellow North Carolina recruit Nassir Little. White was too nervous to say anything other than a generic “what’s up?”

“Me and Naz were nervous.  We went up to him and we were like, ‘Should we tell him we’re going to UNC?’” White said. “Naz was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to UNC next year.’ He was like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’ But that’s about it.”

Picturing White as nervous seems out of character. The rookie has looked anything but as he makes the transition to the NBA.

Making his NBA debut in front of family and friends in his home state, White played with the same poise and assuredness that has defined his game since late in the preseason.

“It was fun for me, man,” White said. “My first one, I had a good time. It was an exciting game going back and forth. There were so many answers back. Charlotte shot and moved the ball well. I played hard and with a lot of effort. I feel I could’ve made more shots. You gotta move past that. Shots aren’t always going to fall. What you can control is how much energy you play with and I think I did that well.

“I always start off the game with butterflies. Once I run up and down the floor twice, I lose myself in the game. I feel at ease.”

White got to the free-throw line five times in 27 minutes. He missed three of four 3-pointers. But he played with aggressiveness and poise and confidence.

“I’ve been like this my whole life. I got two older siblings who helped raise me. My Mom and Dad did a helluva job and my two older siblings set the tone for me,” White said. “I always hung out with my brother and his friends when I was little. He’s eight years older than me so I had to mature. And losing my father helped me mature at a young age because I had a lot more responsibility than I had when he was alive.”

White’s penned an emotional and eloquent tribute to his late father, Donald, in a Players’ Tribune essay in June. White held thoughts of him Wednesday night as his mother, two siblings, niece and nephew, aunt, uncle and cousin attended along with friends and North Carolina staffers Sean May, Eric Hoots and Kendall Marshall.

White posted just five assists in five preseason games. He looked far more comfortable in a scoring than set-up role. Against the Hornets, White showed both.

“He’s a good player,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I think he’s a willing passer. He’s a developing player. He has the ability to learn so I think he’s getting more comfortable in what we do. And I also think people aren’t letting him maybe score after what they’ve been seeing. And now you’ve got people in front of you and you gotta make a play.”

And the tests keep coming. Though No. 2 pick Ja Morant starts for the Grizzlies, there may be times when White, the No. 7 pick, is matched up against him on Friday.

“He’s a helluva player,” White said of Morant. “He’s really crafty, explosive, fast and can get in the seams. He’s a helluva passer, especially in pick-and-roll. I’m going to try to do what I do against everybody else and rely on my defensive principles.”

This time, Jordan won’t be watching.

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