After a practice altercation on Oct. 17 with teammate Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic says he has accepted Portis' apology and is hoping both he and the team can move forward.
Mirotic spoke on Wednesday for the first time since the two players engaged in a shoving match before Portis struck Mirotic with a sucker punch, which left Mirotic hospitalized. The fourth-year forward required surgery after suffering a concussion and maxillary fractures, but appears more than willing to coexist with Portis in the future.
"We are teammates," Mirotic said after Wednesday's practice, per ESPN. "We are on the same team. Obviously we are fighting for this team. We both are going to do what we need to do to make it work. Yeah, I did accept his apology."
Mirotic did not directly tell reporters that the pair has spoken, but when asked if Portis knew he had accepted his apology, Mirotic responded that Portis will find out eventually.
"I guess he will know now," Mirotic said. "I'm comfortable being with the team. I had a lot of support from my teammates, from everybody. Right now it's on me to relax and enjoy playing basketball again, to get my strength back. It's been a long time since I didn't play. ... When I stepped into the United Center [Tuesday] it was a huge feeling for me, really excited just to be on the bench so yeah, I'm excited."
In October, NBC Chicago's Vincent Goodwill reported Mirotic would prefer a trade if the Bulls decide to keep Portis. Then, the Chicago Sun Times reported the Bulls would side with Portis over Mirotic if they had to make a choice. The 26-year-old did not have a comment on the accuracy of either report.
"That's something my agent can tell you," Mirotic said. "I'm happy to be back."
While neither he nor head coach Fred Hoiberg committed to a return date, Mirotic said his facial fractures have fully healed.
"I know he's excited to get back out there on the floor," Hoiberg said. "That's the final hurdle here getting him back on the court, in uniform, in a game setting. Hopefully he responds well here to these next three days and then we'll make a determination from there as far as getting him back out on the floor. But he's been in really good spirits. He's been really good with the guys. Now it's about getting in the best shape possible and getting ready to play."
Portis was suspended eight games for the incident and, according to the Chicago Sun Times' Joe Crowley, reached out to Mirotic via text and a message but did not receive a response. Before his return, Portis was asked whether he had spoken to Mirotic since the incident.
"No, I haven't talked to Niko," Portis said, per ESPN. "I just let bygones be bygones with that. I can't control that. Only thing I can control is myself at this point."
Mirotic made it clear to reporters that while he and Portis may not be close, he would still support Portis as a teammate.
"I've been playing this game nine years professionally," Mirotic said. "I was always a good teammate, always professional with everybody and I'm going to continue to do that. If I'm here it's because I want to continue to support the team. He's a part of the team. I'm going to support him too. Obviously, I'm going to give him [fist bumps], like he would give me [fist bumps] too."