Bulls

Jerry Reinsdorf: Lost, untold stories from the Hall of Fame Bulls owner

jerryreinsdorfmichaeljordan.png

Jerry Reinsdorf: Lost, untold stories from the Hall of Fame Bulls owner

Michael Jordan won a game Tuesday night. So did Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson, Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf.

It was a stunning, incomprehensible overtime victory by the Minnesota Timberwolves over the Golden State Warriors, the seemingly unstoppable wrecking crew that’s been on a mission to break the Bulls historic 72-10 regular season record from 1995-96. But thanks to this improbable defeat, the Warriors now have to win their last four games to overtake the Bulls for sole possession of a record many thought would never be broken — including the Bulls longtime owner.

“I had hoped this was a record that would at least last my lifetime,” said Reinsdorf, seated in a chair inside the Bulls locker room at the United Center. “The only thing that would make me feel a little better is that it's Steve Kerr. First of all, how much I like him, he was on the 72-10 team, so it would be easier to take.”

But what if they finish 73-9?

“I'm going to be very depressed.”

As Reinsdorf knows, life rarely moves in a straight line. There are twists and turns you don’t see coming.

As a Jewish kid born and raised in Brooklyn with limited basketball abilities, Reinsdorf never dreamed of being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

How could he?

“When I was growing up in Brooklyn, there was no Basketball Hall of Fame. It wasn't even founded until 1959,” he said.

But this September, he’ll enter this holy shrine of hoops along with NBA legends like Allen Iverson, Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal.

When Reinsdorf joined the inductees in Houston over the weekend for the big announcement, he learned that O’Neal received a PhD in education. So while he was there, the Bulls chairman referred to the 7-foot O’Neal as “Dr. Shaq.”

[RELATED: Jerry Reinsdorf humble in response to Hall of Fame inclusion]

This new title for the former NBA center might not sound like a logical fit. But then again, once upon a time, the idea of Reinsdorf being called “owner” of the Chicago Bulls didn’t exactly fit either.

Before buying a 56 percent stake of the Bulls in 1984 (it was announced in Feb. 1985), Reinsdorf believed that from a financial standpoint, there were much better investments to be made than by putting millions of dollars into a professional basketball team.

“Shows you how wrong I was,” Reinsdorf said with a grin.

Reinsdorf’s fate drastically changed one day, and he can thank, of all people, a man who was once a villain here in Chicago, a legendary bully who used to own the New York Yankees.

That’s right. George Steinbrenner.

“I was having dinner with George Steinbrenner in New York,” Reinsdorf recalled. “He was moaning and groaning literally about having to write checks every year because he owned about 8 or 10 percent of the Bulls. He was complaining every year he lost money. I said to him, ‘I don’t think your partners have the slightest idea how to run this business.’ The principle partners were not involved on a day-to-day basis. These were power people, giants; Arthur Wirtz, Lester Crown, Phil Klutznick. They loved the sport, but they weren't giving it the time.

"I just mentioned casually to George, ‘Boy I’d love to run the Bulls.’ I don’t think I even used the term ‘own.’ I think I said I’d love to run the Bulls.”

About a week later, Reinsdorf got a call from Crown asking if he was serious because there were a number of investors who wanted to get out — including Steinbrenner. Crown and Lamar Hunt stayed on as owners, but Reinsdorf pleaded with Steinbrenner not to sell. 

“I said, ‘Don’t get out, stay in.’ Of course, he told me no. And after things turned out the way they did, George was constantly telling people in my presence that I screwed him out of the Bulls, and he didn’t use that word, he used another word.”

Even though the Bulls had just drafted Jordan, Steinbrenner had no idea the kind of star he would become. Nobody did. Not Reinsdorf, not even the man who drafted Jordan, general manager Rod Thorn.

“I went back years later and I looked at the newspaper reports. Rod Thorn said at the time, ‘(Jordan) is going to be a fine offensive player. You're not going to build a team around him, but he's going to be a fine offensive player.’ But that's what everybody thought. That's not a knock on Rod. That's what everybody thought.”

********

Getting Jordan was a start, but for the Bulls to evolve into the dynasty they eventually became, more luck and fortune had to come their way.

For instance, they needed the right head coach.

Soon after Reinsdorf bought the Bulls, general manager Jerry Krause told him that former Knicks great Phil Jackson was going to be a great one.

Despite growing up a huge fan of the Knicks and admiring Jackson as a player, Reinsdorf said back to Krause, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Still, in 1986, Krause had Jackson come in for an interview to be the assistant coach.

“Stan Albeck was our coach and Phil had just retired as the coach of the Albany Patroons,” Reinsdorf remembered. “Jerry brought him in for an interview with Stan to be the assistant coach. It's a legendary story. He came in wearing a Panama hat and a beard and sandals and Albeck took one look at him and that was the end of the interview. A year later when Doug Collins was the coach, Jerry told Phil to clean up a bit, which he did and Doug hired him.”

Jackson would replace Collins as head coach in 1989 and he was there at the helm for the Bulls six titles. However, Reinsdorf says that before Jackson took over, Collins planted the integral seeds in the ground that helped turn the Bulls into champions.

“You have to give him a lot of credit because Doug Collins was the guy that changed the mentality of the organization. He came in and the players for the first time learned how to win,” Reinsdorf said.

[MORE: Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf named to basketball Hall of Fame]

The other crucial cog in the wheel was Krause, the general manager responsible for making the Bulls more than just Michael and His Jordanaires. He shaped the roster around Jordan, finding the right guys who not only could play and thrive with him but who also fit the Bulls triangle offense.

“Jerry Krause was the genius that put this organization together. He had Michael. He doesn't get credit for drafting Michael, but you've got to put the right pieces around him. The single biggest move he made was trading Charles Oakley for Bill Cartwright. I don't think we win the first couple championships without Bill Cartwright.”

If Krause was trying to make friends with Jordan, trading Oakley away was easily the worst thing he could have done. Oakley was Jordan’s best friend on the team.

“Michael made it clear he didn't like the move,” Reinsdorf said. “Eventually Michael admitted that we wouldn't have won without Cartwright. And this is sort of like the Russians and the Americans negotiating, because at the same time Jerry admitted to Michael that he shouldn't have drafted Brad Sellers. So they were even. They both admitted they were wrong about something.”

Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Jackson have all been inducted into the Hall of Fame. While Reinsdorf will be next, it really bothers him that Krause continues to get snubbed.

“Look, I'm not a voter, but in my opinion Jerry Krause certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame for what he did. In fact, I wouldn't be going into the Hall of Fame if it wasn't for Jerry Krause.”

Jordan and the Bulls wouldn’t have won that first NBA title in 1991 if it wasn’t for that unforgettable sweep of the Detroit Pistons in four games. For three consecutive seasons, the Bad Boys got the best of the Bulls, knocking them out of the post-season using their notorious thug tactics. 

Reinsdorf wasn’t a fan of the Bad Boys back then, and he still isn’t a fan today.

“I thought the Pistons and the Bad Boys, I thought it was disgusting. I thought what the league was doing was ridiculous. They were letting them get away with criminal activities,” he said. “I would sometimes keep an eye on (Bill) Laimbeer as opposed to where the ball was. He would be taking shots at people. A whistle would blow for a foul and he would come up behind somebody and hit them in the head because nobody was looking. I thought it was a disgrace, and I thought it was a disgrace when we finally kicked their butts the way they walked off the court.”

Did you go to Commissioner David Stern asking for their style of play to be outlawed?

“I did many times. I did many times complain about it, as did other owners in the league. The league for whatever reason let them get away with it. Eventually for a long time the league reveled in the idea of the Bad Boys. They marketed the Bad Boys. I thought it was disgusting then and I still think looking back it was disgusting.”

The Bulls went on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers for their first NBA title. They’d go onto win five more. After Jordan hit the game-winning shot over Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, Bulls fans celebrated. So did Reinsdorf, but he also knew something most people didn’t.

The party was very likely over.

“Michael had indicated that he probably was going to retire and Phil had indicated that he didn't want to coach a rebuilding thing. There was a pending work stoppage so I knew that it might be the end,” he said.

Watching Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Jackson leave all at once still hurts many Bulls fans, who saw their team go from the penthouse to the outhouse in one off-season — and the losing lasted for years. Time might heal wounds, but it hasn’t changed Reinsdorf’s opinion about the dismantling of the championship Bulls. 

He says they didn’t have a choice.

“There's no way that it could have continued past that sixth championship for a variety of reasons. First of all, there was a work stoppage. There was a lockout. So the season didn't start until well past the normal starting point. During that time, Michael had told me he was going to retire. I said why don't you wait until the work stoppage is over. During that time he sliced his finger. People forget about that. I don't know what he was doing with a cigar cutter, but he sliced his finger. So he couldn't have played that year.

“Phil was offered the opportunity to come back and he said he didn't want to preside over a rebuilding. He didn't want to go through that. Scottie was a free agent. We would have tried to bring Scottie back if everybody else had come back. The whole thing was just coming apart, but the single biggest reason was that Michael could not have played. Michael could not have played. He couldn't bend his finger. He couldn't hold a basketball, so there's no way he could have come back.”

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

By then, Jordan and the Bulls had become a global phenomenon. The team’s brand could be found just about anywhere on the planet, a reality that was crystallized one day when Reinsdorf received a package in the mail from the late Arlen Spector, a senator from Pennsylvania.

“He sent me this (matryoshka) Michael Jordan doll with these six Michael Jordans getting smaller and smaller. He got it in Outer Mongolia. That really hammered home the point that we must really be a global brand."

********

As for the current Bulls, they are fighting right now just to make the playoffs. They’re two games behind the Pistons with four to play and Detroit holds the tiebreaker, so their chances seem bleak.

VP John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have been taking plenty of heat for the Bulls struggles. Fred Hoiberg’s first season as head coach has been a disappointment.  The chemistry inside the locker room that Reinsdorf is sitting in has been missing for months.

The Bulls chairman declined to discuss the current state of the Bulls. Unlike other owners, he chooses not to mettle with the team on the inside or comment publicly about the team’s issues to those on the outside.

Instead, he stays true to the role he assigned himself when he first bought the team.

“I pick people and put them in their jobs, and if I do my job right, I pick good people. If they do their jobs right, I get a lot of credit. And if they don't, I get ripped.”

In five months, he’ll take the stage in Springfield, Massachusetts to deliver his induction speech. While Reinsdorf has given hundreds of speeches in the past, he admits he’s never actually read one, which is the protocol with the Hall of Fame. He always jots down a few notes and just says whatever comes to his mind.

"They want a transcript of what I'm going to say. That's going to be hard. So maybe I'll give them one speech and deliver another,” Reinsdorf said sarcastically.  "I think."

Who will be on his mind that day? 

“I'll be thinking about Jerry Krause and Steve Schanwald and Michael and Scottie and Phil and the fans of Chicago. You've got to remember, the Chicago fans supported us when we were bad. During the period after Michael left, we weren't in the playoffs for six years, something like that. I think we led the league in attendance, not every year but in the aggregate. So I'll be thinking about the fans of Chicago and how happy the Bulls made them.”

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

NBA Draft: Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's a total package

It's never easy being the third wheel. Ask Chris Bosh and Kevin Love, or more currently Klay Thompson. When Cam Reddish signed his Letter of Intent to play for Coach K at Duke, he was joined by a class that included RJ. Barrett and Cam Reddish. He and Barrett were expected to take on the scoring load and lead a freshman-driven Blue Devils team.

But two months after Reddish, Barrett and Jones signed on officially, Zion Williamson committed to Duke and turned everything on its head. On paper, it made the Blue Devils the No. 1 team in the country. It gave them a fourth five-star prospect and arguably the best player in the country. We all know what happened with Williamson; he turned in one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history and will be selected first overall by the Pelicans in a month. Barrett was excellent, too. The oft-criticized wing was an All-American, led the Blue Devils in scoring and cemented his status as a top-3 pick.

Reddish's freshman campaign couldn't have gone more differently. He was inconsistent throughout, finishing his lone season in Durham averaging 13.5 points on 35.6% shooting and just 33.3% from beyond the arc. Even his 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists were a far cry from what was expected of a recruit many had ranked ahead of Williamson when the season began. He showed flashes, to be sure, like his 22-point effort against Kentucky, his game-winner at Florida State and his 27-point outing against North Carolina in the infamous Zion-shoe-blowout game. But those flashes weren't enough to save a subpar season that saw his draft stock tumble throughout the fall and winter.

Then again, Reddish was the third option behind two of the most profilic scorers in the country. Barrett had a 32.2% usage rate - 25th highest in the country - and Williamson was a focal point every night he stepped on the floor. In a sense that should have created more open looks for Reddish as defenses keyed in on those two, but in reality it limited his opportunities and made it difficult for him to project at how he would be used on game-by-game basis.

Reddit wasn't making any excuses for his poor season when he spoke to the media on Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. But he did say he's looking forward to opportunities in the pre-draft process to show off his entire arsenal that made him a top-5 prospect and a potential top NBA pick coming out of high school.

"I feel like I can do everything. I feel like I was more of a shooter this year (at Duke). I don’t really want to think of myself as a shooter," he said. "So I feel like if I just go out there and play my game, I can do a variety of things."

Two key statistics back up Reddish's claim. First, he was excellent on off-the-dribble jump shots, averaging 0.903 points per possession on 62 attempts. That ranked in the 71st percentile nationally. He also dominated in the small sample size of pick-and-roll actions he induced, averaging 1.114 points per possession (91st percentile nationally). It lends credibility to the notion that Reddish is capable with the ball in his hands. Reddish's usage rate was 15th in the ACC, so it's not as though he never touched the ball. But between the Williamson/Barrett combination and the lead point guard in Jones, he was rarely the main (or second) option.

Playing off the ball was certainly new to Reddish, who like so many NBA prospects deal with a new role in not being the go-to scorer once they arrive in the Association. Reddish got a dose of that as a college freshman and struggled to adjust. He was unguarded on 45 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts and yet ranked in just the 27th percentile nationally at 0.847 points per possession. Worse, he was in the 33rd percentile on spot-up jumpers on 193 possessions. The looks were there. He rarely knocked them down. He also shot just 51 percent at the rim, a troubling number, and that statistic includes freebies in transition that Duke thrived on during the season.

On talent and potential alone, Reddish is still a top-10 pick. He told reporters Thursday that he's hearing he'll fall somewhere in the 3 to 10 range, which sounds about right (though it'd be a shock to see him go before Barrett at No. 3). He still has prototypical NBA wing size - he measured 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan - and is an above average ball handler. But there's no denying his good traits combined with his poor showing at Duke make him a swing-for-the-fences, boom-or-bust pick.

For the Bulls, it might be time to pull the trigger on that kind of player. Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. fell into their laps at No. 7 the previous two seasons - that's not to say they shouldn't be applauded for the picks, just that they were expected. But in this year's draft class, players in the 4-14 range all fall into a similar tier. In the Lottery, there will be safe routes to take (De'Andre Hunter, Rui Hachimura), selections for need (Darius Garland, Coby White) and there will be high-risk, high-reward options (Reddish, Sekou Doumbouya, Jarrett Culver).

But the Bulls could do worse than coming out of this year's draft with a player who 7 shorts months ago was a potential pick to go No. 1. He'd have lower expectations playing on a second unit and could spread his wings a little behind Zach LaVine and Otto Porter. Having that freedom on a second unit could be what unlocks that untapped potential that was missing at Duke a year ago.

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

Is this the year for Bulls to think outside the box at No. 7?

With the majority of mock drafts coming out after Tuesday’s lottery having the Bulls selecting North Carolina point guard Coby White with the seventh overall pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, it had me thinking about whether this might be the year to take a chance on a high risk/high reward pick.

Yes, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson has made it clear he plans to bring in a point guard to challenge incumbent starter Kris Dunn, but with so many options in free agency, are the Bulls still inclined to go in that direction with their first round pick?

Before the lottery, the odds of the Bulls being in position to select either Ja Morant or Darius Garland looked pretty favorable if they stayed in the top-5. But after dropping all the way to No. 7, it’s almost a certainty that Morant and Garland will be gone, leaving White as the highest rated point guard available. White showed tremendous speed and scoring potential in his one season at North Carolina, but he has a lot to learn about directing an offense at the NBA level and will need to get stronger.

If Dunn returns for the final season of his rookie contract, there’s a good chance he moves into a backup role behind a veteran free agent, so maybe this isn’t the year to draft a developmental point guard.

So then, what do the Bulls do at No. 7?

Maybe it’s time to take a flier on a high upside athlete, something they really haven’t done since the infamous LaMarcus Aldridge-Tyrus Thomas draft night deal in 2006. This year’s draft contains a number of players who didn’t live up to expectations in their one collegiate season, but rank high on the athletic testing charts.

I had a chance to talk with a number of players at the draft combine in Chicago, and one who impressed me is USC guard Kevin Porter Jr. Scouts love the athleticism of the 6-foot-4 Porter Jr., but he underperformed in his one collegiate season, averaging just 9.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field in a mostly reserve role.

Porter Jr. missed seven games because of a thigh injury and also had to serve a team suspension for “personal conduct issues.” But he’s not lacking in confidence, telling me he was a top-5 prospect at the start of the season and will be able to work his way up draft boards after teams get a chance to interview him and put him through individual workouts. Porter Jr. also mentioned comparisons to last year’s NBA MVP James Harden, mostly because they’re both 6-foot-4, played at PAC 12 universities and are left-handed.

No one is predicting Porter Jr. will ever come close to the unique scoring talent Harden displays on a nightly basis, but he definitely looks the part of an NBA player with a strong upper body and impressive leaping ability. Don’t be surprised if he winds up being a top-10 pick on draft night.

Other players projected for the late lottery include Indiana shooting guard Romeo Langford, Kentucky SG/SF Keldon Johnson, North Carolina small forward Nassir Little, French forward Sekou Doumbouya and Oregon 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol.

Much like Porter Jr., Little was considered a top-5 pick at the start of the college season, but never earned Roy Williams’ complete confidence at North Carolina, and struggled to find consistent minutes and shot attempts. He shot the ball well at the combine and projects as an elite defender at the NBA level. The Bulls really aren’t in the market for another small forward with Otto Porter Jr. and 2018 first round pick Chandler Hutchison already on the roster, but the wing positions offer the most talent in this draft.

Bol is a fascinating prospect with many scouts saying he’s one of the best pure shooters in this draft as a 7-footer. Problem is Bol suffered a foot fracture early in his freshman season at Oregon, the same type of injury that cost Joel Embiid his first two NBA seasons. Any team that drafts Bol will have to understand the risk of further injury, and the likelihood he won’t be able to contribute much in the 2019-2020 season.

If the Bulls stay at No. 7, White is the most logical pick, but they could go with a player that drops unexpectedly, like Duke forward Cam Reddish or Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver. The Bulls have always been aggressive in scheduling personal workouts and interviews with all the prospects in their draft range, and this year that process will take on more importance than ever.

Remember, Donovan Mitchell was one of the most impressive athletes at the combine two years ago, but stayed on the board until the Utah Jazz worked a trade with Denver to get him at No. 13. Now Mitchell is one of the best young guards in the NBA. Kyle Kuzma also moved into the first round in 2017 with a strong combine showing and is thriving as a productive two-way player with the Lakers.

It’s up to Paxson and his staff to find which player has the most long term upside and maybe come up with their own version of Mitchell or Kuzma next month.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.