The Chicago Bulls had one of their splashier offseasons in recent memory. The Bulls handed out contracts worth over $80 million each to both Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan. But they also made news by signing Alex Caruso to a four-year deal worth $37 million.
Caruso, 27, has gone from an undrafted guard in the G League to a key role player and champion with the Los Angeles Lakers. But even in a new city, the Bald Mamba knows he’ll always be known as an internet meme above all else.
Alex Caruso became a meme on the Los Angeles Lakers
It took a while for Caruso to find his place in the NBA. The 6-foot-4 guard went undrafted out of Texas A&M, played for the Philadelphia 76ers Summer League team in 2016, and the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s D-League (now G League) team later that season. Soon after, Caruso became famous, but not exactly as a basketball player.
The Texas native joined the Lakers’ Summer League Team in 2017. With millions of eyes tuned in to see the much-hyped Ball, fans also got their first exposure to Caruso, a 23-year-old with an unfortunate hairline and a villainous goatee. He looked nothing like a basketball player, but his defense and athleticism impressed LA enough to earn a two-way contract.
Caruso saw sporadic playing time at the NBA level in each of the next two seasons. But he took advantage of some opportunity and put up great numbers near the end of the 2018-19 season. Highlighted by a 32-point performance in the final days of the season, the Carushow signed a two-year deal to remain with the Lakers.
Although he finally graduated from his status as a Summer League and G League mainstay, Caruso was still the internet’s favorite player. Any search of Alex Caruso on social media led you down a rabbit hole of photoshopped images making the undrafted guard look like the next Michael Jordan.
“It hasn’t stopped,” Caruso said just before his championship-winning 2019-20 campaign. “I get a couple of tweets a day, where it’s like, ‘You’re the GOAT!’ Or, ‘Carus-god,’ or something crazy.”
Caruso has accepted his reputation
The Carushow, aka Bald Mamba, aka GOAT, is actually a pretty good basketball player. Last season, the 27-year-old averaged 21.0 minutes per game while shooting 40.1% from three. More impressively, his defense made him a player LA often turned to in late-game situations to get a stop. Lakers coach Frank Vogel even went as far as to say Caruso was deserving of All-Defensive team recognition.
After he signed with Chicago, Bulls fans were as excited as Lakers fans were devastated. When he made his Bulls preseason debut, the home crowd gave him one of the loudest ovations of the entire night. But Caruso knows the reception is not just because he brings valuable defense and shooting to the team (h/t: NBC Sports Chicago).
“Yeah, that’s just kind of my career at this point. Everybody just kind of likes watching me play. Whether they’re cheering for me out of sarcasm or actual fandom or whatever it is, it comes with it. I was a little surprised it was as loud when I first came in. I would like it to be a little more warranted with some success and winning. But hopefully we’ll get to that point.”Alex Caruso
Fortunately for AC, the winning may come soon enough for the Bulls.
Caruso and the Chicago Bulls can make noise
With Caruso, Ball, and DeRozan in the mix, the Bulls have gone from a lottery regular to a playoff contender. Chicago hopes to avoid its fifth straight losing season in its worst stretch since MJ left.
The three newcomers join Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic to form Chicago’s talented core. LaVine scored a career-high 27.4 points per game and made his first All-Star team last season. As for Vucevic, the two-time All-Star is set to begin his first full season with the Bulls after being traded by the Orlando Magic during the trade deadline.
All of those players will have valuable roles for Chicago in 2021-22. Especially Caruso, who rewarded his adoring fans with 10 points and 10 assists in his preseason debut.
“We just have good chemistry, I think,” Caruso said. “I’ve spoken about it before, but having guys like Zach, DeMar, Vooch, who are really unselfish All-Stars and important players in this league, makes it easy for everyone else to fall in line and do that. … So if we get stops and get out in transition, it’s going to be pretty easy and pretty successful for us.”
Should Caruso play a big part in the Bulls’ return to relevance, expect your timelines to continue to be full of Bald Mamba content.