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Michael Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams defend Bulls amid diversity concerns

Michael Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams defend Bulls amid diversity concerns

As part of his lengthy process to assemble his short list of interviewees for the new head of basketball operations, Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf talked to White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams.

Reinsdorf, according to Williams, wanted to discuss front office structure and efficiency as he prepared to overhaul the Bulls’ front office. Williams, as is his practice, had points of emphasis and questions he wanted to address. But only after listening first. 

“Michael told me how important he thought it was to have multiple people in the front office who interact and relate with players from a basketball standpoint and a cultural standpoint,” Williams, who is African-American, said by phone Friday. “He talked about the work he had done in this area to pay attention to this specific aspect of the industry. 

“I stopped him. And I said, ‘OK, I can cross my No. 1 item off my list now.’ Because it was something when I took an objective look, that I felt was lacking. He was on top of it. He had great understanding in this area.”

The Bulls are poised to name Arturas Karnisovas as their new head of basketball operations. On Wednesday, a day before Karnisovas agreed in principle to the job, ESPN’s The Undefeated reported a story anonymously quoting several African-American executives expressing disappointment and frustration with the Bulls’ interview process.

Since that story published, NBC Sports Chicago reported that the Bulls are on the verge of hiring Pelicans executive J.J. Polk, who is African-American, as an assistant general manager. Yahoo! Sports reported, and a source confirmed, that several of Karnisovas’ targeted candidates for general manager are African-American.

“What bothers me is it’s now going to look like it happened as a result of this public pressure. That’s not fair to Michael, Jerry (Reinsdorf), the process and perhaps most of all the person that they ultimately hire, black, white or other,” Williams said. “These hires are happening because all parties considered felt it was the right person for the job.

“Anyone who works for a Reinsdorf understands that not having inclusivity and diversity isn’t an option. Their hiring practices always give everyone an opportunity to prove their merit.” 

In a rare interview, Michael Reinsdorf said his months-long process to assemble his short list for the head of basketball operations position finished with six names. Two of those candidates, both of whom Reinsdorf said the Bulls were either denied permission to interview or said no, represented diversity.

“To have the Chicago Bulls put in the light that we are a racist organization, it hurts. And what it means is people don’t understand how we operate or the process we went through to hire our head of basketball operations,” Reinsdorf said. “Diversity is incredibly important to me. It’s incredibly important to our organization. It’s something that we pay attention to every day. Every time we go through a hiring process on the business side or the basketball side, we include diverse candidates. Every time.

“We do that because it’s smart. The only way you can have diversity of thought is by having diverse people in our organization.” 

While the Bulls have employed only one African-American coach in their franchise history in Bill Cartwright, B.J. Armstrong and Randy Brown have held front-office roles. Currently on Jim Boylen’s coaching staff, Roy Rogers and Shawn Respert are African American, while Karen Stack Umlauf is one the few females working on an NBA bench. 

Jerry Reinsdorf hired Williams as general manager in 2000 and promoted him to his current position in 2012. Jerry Manuel, Ozzie Guillen and Rick Renteria all represent diversity hires as manager.

In the interview, Michael Reinsdorf acknowledged he could have added a diverse candidate to his short list once he was denied permission to interview two candidates. He said he didn’t do so because he didn’t want to be “disingenuous” and because he took so long to carefully assemble his original list.

“We didn’t want to interview 12 or 13 people,” Reinsdorf said. “I spent a lot of time on this beforehand. I knew the five or six people that I wanted to approach.”

Williams, in charge of multiple hires during his White Sox tenure, agreed with this approach. 

“He wasn’t going to put anyone else on that list to satisfy some sort of false interview appearance. And I respect that,” Williams said. “When we talked, another thing on my list — and it was in bold print — was, ‘Do not bring anyone in for a false interview.’ It’s insulting. It’s a waste of time for the person and both teams involved.

“That’s why it should be noted he didn’t put those two diverse candidates on his list because they were minorities. He put them on the list because they belonged there. And because they were the right fit for the job.” 

On the Bulls’ business side, Michael Reinsdorf hired Wendy Borlabi, an African-American woman, to serve as performance coach. Ram Padmanabhan, who is of Indian descent, serves as vice president of financial and general counsel.

“We have a small front office basketball-wise. That’s going to change about the Chicago Bulls. We are going to grow as an organization. And we are going to look at diverse candidates for all positions. That’s what we always do,” Reinsdorf said. “The people we hire in these positions will be hired because we believe they’re the best people for that role.”

The imminent hire of Karnisovas represents the first major basketball hire spearheaded by Michael Reinsdorf. Perhaps that’s why he grew most emphatic when discussing the personal element to this story.

In June 2011, Jerry Reinsdorf was one of 13 recipients of the 2011 Jefferson Awards, considered the Nobel Prize for public service. Two months later, Major League Baseball presented the elder Reinsdorf with the Barnes and Thornburg Jackie Robinson Award for diversity in the workplace. 

At the time, Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB’s executive vice president for baseball development cited Jerry’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion in virtually every aspect of his ownership with the White Sox and the Bulls.”

“People want to criticize me for the process that I led. That’s fine. I understand. I’m very thick-skinned and get the industry we’re in,” Michael Reinsdorf said. “I actually feel sad for my Dad. It hurts. He’s 84 and has given his life in sports to doing what’s right. It’s just disappointing.”

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NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

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