Growing up on the West Side of Chicago, Alfonzo McKinnie said he used to rush to the TV when the Chicago Bulls’ iconic introduction began.
“I remember being in the house with my grandmother and I always thought the Bulls had the dopest intro,” McKinnie said Monday night. “Even now standing out there on the court and hearing the intro, seeing the Bulls run through the other team’s bus, that’s something I remember being excited to see as a kid.”
This is a surreal moment for the well-traveled McKinnie, who has experience with everything from the Windy City Bulls to NBA Finals minutes with the Golden State Warriors to his latest G League stint with the Mexico City Capitanes before signing with the shorthanded Bulls.
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“Man, to be honest, it’s the biggest dream come true,” McKinnie said. “I’m a West Side kid. I grew up like 10, 15 minutes down the way. House was a Bulls house. Watched the Bulls growing up. So just being able to compete on the highest stage in my hometown, on my favorite side of the city, the West Side, it’s been surreal to be honest. Just putting that jersey on has been everything for me.”
Instead of being daunted by the moment, though, McKinnie is making a case to stick long-term.
Forget 10-day contracts, the second of which the Curie and Marshall High School product signed before stuffing the box score 16 points, five rebounds and a block in 29 extremely athletic minutes during the Bulls’ victory over the Rockets. At this rate, McKinnie could — and probably should — take a roster spot currently inhabited by the non-guaranteed Matt Thomas.
He’s that perfect a fit for this roster with his adaptability and activity.
“He’s a great guy, a team guy,” coach Billy Donovan said. “His learning of our system — just terminology, things we’re running — he’s done a good job of picking that up pretty quickly. And then he has shot the ball well. He can put it on the floor. He’s unselfish. And he gives you a lot of length on the perimeter defensively. He has fit in very, very well.”
That’s been McKinnie’s reputation through NBA stops in Toronto, where he played 14 games with DeMar DeRozan, and the Lakers, where he logged 39 games last season with Alex Caruso. Steve Kerr trusted McKinnie enough to play him 57 minutes in the 2019 NBA Finals against the Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors.
“I think I’ve played pretty well,” McKInnie said of his time with the Bulls. “My main goal with any opportunity is to come in and take full advantage of it.”
It’s this glass-half-full approach that has served McKinnie, 29, well through the ups and downs of his itinerant career.
McKinnie said he appreciated his 2016-17 stint with the Windy City Bulls, which he earned after paying $175 to attend a tryout camp, because it allowed his family to see him play in person every game and him to enjoy home-cooked meals. He thanked the Mexico City franchise for helping him prepare him for this chance.
So it’s no surprise that when his agent called him in the not-so-glamourous G League stop of Greensboro, N.C. to ask him light-heartedly if he wanted to join the Bulls in Miami — “I’m like, hell yeah,” McKinnie said — that McKinnie’s first call went to his mother.
“My Mom is my best friend,” he said.
What has kept McKinnie going through the ebbs and flows to his career? It’s not easy at his age to move from logging NBA Finals minutes to riding buses in the G League.
“I just got a vision for myself,” he said. “I want the best for me and my family. In order to do that, I have to wake up every day and just get to it. I know there are going to be a lot of downs and I just have to stick with it. It has gotten me this far. It has helped me get other opportunities. And I’m here now.”
And maybe not going away.