Humbled and a bit surprised, Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf took his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in stride when news was announced Monday afternoon in Houston, the site of the Final Four.
Ranking it as “just a personal accomplishment” when asked where the highest honor the sport of basketball can bestow upon an individual, the owner of the Chicago Bulls took more pride in the championships he helped steward and the way the franchise has become a national brand in the past 20 years.
“On an individual level, this would be the highest,” Reinsdorf said in a television interview. “But the important thing about being in sports is to win championships. So I’d say the World Series (with the White Sox in 2005) and six championships would be tied for number one and this would come behind it because it’s just a personal accomplishment.”
Being inducted along with larger than life personalities such as Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, along with one of the greatest female basketball players of all time, Sheryl Swoopes, and former NBA player Yao Ming, Reinsdorf’s inclusion into basketball mortality will likely take a backseat in September as the focus will be on the aforementioned.
But his importance to Chicago and the Bulls franchise hasn’t gone unnoticed by the decision makers, as Reinsdorf has seen more NBA titles since taking ownership of the Bulls in 1985 than any NBA owner not named Dr. Jerry Buss, who oversaw the Lakers win eight NBA championships.
“I was able to put together a great organization with great people. Jerry Krause (former Bulls GM) is really the architect of the championships, Phil (Jackson) and Michael (Jordan) and Scottie (Pippen),” Reinsdorf said. “Then turning everything over to my son Michael to run in the last couple years. Then John Paxson and Gar Forman, wonderful people, really talented. I’m just proud of the people I have with the Bulls.”
Since the NBA/ABA merger, only the late William Davidson (Pistons), Jerry Colangelo (Suns) and Buss have been let into the Basketball Hall of Fame as owners. Reinsdorf makes no bones about it, that taking over in Chicago at the same time a kid from North Carolina was in a star-studded rookie year had plenty of do with his success.
“Well having Michael Jordan was having Babe Ruth, I mean, the greatest player of all time in his sport and it was something I tried to appreciate and enjoy all of those years,” Reinsdorf said. “That was just luck. I can’t take any credit for acquiring Michael Jordan. He just fell into our laps. It was an incredible experience.”
An experience Reinsdorf helped foster and turn into six NBA titles in an eight year span by hiring Krause, whom he’ll likely mention at his induction speech months from now as someone who deserves the honor as much.
He hired Krause and allowed his basketball executives make the decisions, including the one that enabled Krause to hire Phil Jackson in 1989 after firing Doug Collins. The trio of Krause, Jackson and Jordan helped the Bulls elevate themselves to the NBA mountaintop, enduring controversy, retirement and attrition at a time when the NBA’s popularity was exploding across the world.
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Reinsdorf was low-key, preferring to let those outstretched personalities have the glory.
“I don’t know if I’m impressed but I’m proud,” said Reinsdorf of building the Bulls brand. “Proud of the fact the Bulls are a worldwide brand and wherever you go around the world, you see Bulls merchandise. It used to be, you traveled abroad, you say you were from Chicago, they’d say Al Capone. Now they say Chicago Bulls. I am proud of that.”
Come September, for as long as he so chooses while on that stage, Reinsdorf will have the stage all to himself.