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

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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.”

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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."

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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.”

Take a deep breath: The injured, rebuilding Bulls are exactly where they’re supposed to be

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USA TODAY

Take a deep breath: The injured, rebuilding Bulls are exactly where they’re supposed to be

There wasn’t a snowball’s chance that Saturday night was going to be anything other than abysmal. Already shorthanded, the Bulls were without leading scorer Zach LaVine on the second night of a back-to-back facing the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. Even without Kawhi Leonard and on its own tail end of a back-to-back, Toronto’s roster made the end result feel inevitable. And it was.

The Bulls offense was invisible without LaVine, tallying just 55 points through three quarters and finishing with 22 turnovers and 21 assists. They shot 35 percent from the field while the Raptors scored at will; the 122-83 loss was the fourth worst home loss in Bulls history, and the Raptors largest road win in their history. It was even uglier than the final score.

In a vacuum the Bulls are 4-13, the fourth worst record in the NBA, with the league’s third worst offense and seventh worst defense. The season is exactly one month old and the Bulls already have two four-game losing streaks, another three-game skid and only wins against four sub-.500 teams with a combined record of 16-45. Its best win came against a 7-8 Hornets team that was finishing a four-game-in-six-nights road trip. “Let’s go Raptors” chants breaking out at home while trailing by 38 is probably a new low in a season that’s quickly getting away from the Bulls.

"We have to find a way to stick together through this tough stretch that we've had, and we've got to find a way to build on the good things that we do and start to limit the bad stretches that we have, which are way too many right now," Hoiberg said. "Got to find a way."

It’s been ugly. But in context, the 4-13 Bulls are playing exactly like a team that a) is missing three of its top players, including its best, and b) is in Year 2 of a bare bones rebuild. The Bulls are one year removed from a 27-win season, the franchise’s worst in 14 years. They’re the youngest team in the NBA and on Saturday night played seven players with three years of NBA experience or less.

VP John Paxson told reporters after last season that the tanking Bulls “don’t ever want to be in this position again.” It was an uplifting quote at the time, a sign that Year 2 of the rebuild wouldn’t be as bumpy as Year 1. The reality was that, even when healthy, this rebuild is barely in the simmering stages of fully cooking.

Perhaps Paxson meant he didn’t want to be playing Cris Felicio 30 minutes a night and be actively benching healthy veterans (to the point that the NBA stepped in). But it certainly didn’t mean more wins than losses. Trying to win is different than expecting to win. Las Vegas projected a healthy Bulls team to win 28.5 games for a reason, even in a weak Eastern Conference.

The 2018-19 season’s most important goal was assessing five players: To that point, Zach LaVine is averaging 25 points per game and outplaying the contract some believed he didn’t deserve. Wendell Carter Jr. is on pace to be the first rookie since Joel Embiid to average 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. The other three – Markkanen, Dunn and Portis – are on the shelf and may not be fully up and running until late December or early January.

Only the Denver Nuggets have had more games missed to injury than the Bulls. Denver knew Isaiah Thomas would miss time when they signed him in July as he rehabbed from hip surgery and that rookie Michael Porter Jr. would miss time with a back injury. The Bulls’ four injuries were sprung on them after media day and training camp began.

The result is them changing lineups, rotations, responsibilities and roles on the absolute fly. Cameron Payne hadn’t played significant minutes in 10 days and had 4 points in 22 minutes as a starter on Saturday. Robin Lopez and Felicio remain in a coin flip each night for backup duties behind Carter.

The truth is it’s really not important from a long-term perspective, which is entirely what the Bulls are focused on. Maybe Justin Holiday plays well enough to be traded. That isn’t going to move the needle on the rebuild. Don’t focus on the micro during a macro rebuild.

Markkanen’s magical rookie season, Carter’s impressive start and LaVine hitting everything in sight seems to have increased team expectations. The reality is the roster is still far from competing, even when healthy. The core pieces appear to be there. They’re also 23, 21 and 19 years old.

Rebuilds take time.

The goals will change when Hoiberg’s coaching with a full deck. LaVine and Markkanen must develop a two-man game on the perimeter that punishes defense with a pick-your-poison effect. Dunn and Carter’s pick-and-roll progression will be something to watch, as will Dunn’s perimeter shooting. Bobby Portis is playing for millions of dollars, either on the open market or in Chicago.

The rest is fluff. They’re supposed to look bad right now. The roster wasn’t exactly built to withstand injuries to three major contributors. How many in the league are?

That’s not to say there haven’t been negatives. Jabari Parker has been a bust. There’s no denying the Bulls swung and missed on paying the Chicago native $20 million only to take low-percentage shots, jog back on defense and own up to very little of either. Cameron Payne had an opportunity to showcase his ability as a former Lottery pick and cement his status as the backup behind Dunn. It didn’t happen. Chandler Hutchison to this point has been underwhelming, but like the core pieces he should have a larger role when the calendar flips to 2019.

They’ll have another Lottery pick in a draft class that looks absolutely star-studded. Maybe it won’t be Zion Williamson. But after drafting Markkanen and Carter seventh overall in consecutive drafts, there’s optimism they can find another gem regardless of where they draft. They’ll also have a boatload of money in free agency. Maybe it won’t be Kevin Durant. But Chicago looks liked a much more desired destination than it did 12 months ago.

It certainly can be frustrating to watch given the future seems so far away. But this is what the front office signed up for. The time to evaluate the roster – and even Hoiberg – won’t come for another few months. If you’re truly upset with how the Bulls are playing down three of their top players, you’ve either wagered on them to win 29 games or are Jabari Parker’s agent.

For now, it’s about withstanding the lows and searching for the progression that ultimately will lead to the highs.  Take a deep breath, Bulls fans: the rebuild is where it’s supposed to be.

Lauri, Kris and Bobby are on his way to begin the next chapter.

Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses

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USA TODAY

Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses

The Bulls came out on fire against the Bucks, putting up 40 points in an explosive first quarter. Unfortunately they followed that up by scoring 41 points in the second half. But the offense of Jabari Parker and Justin Holiday was pretty much the only thing working for Chicago on Friday night.


Holiday’s effectiveness as an aggressive, dependable floor-spacer continues to showcase what makes him such a valuable NBA player. Unfortunately, that value has been mostly squandered on a Bulls team that lacks a diverse offensive attack.

Holiday contributed 9 points on 3-3 shooting from the 3-point line in the first quarter. He kept this momentum rolling in the second, and ended up not missing a single shot in the first half. Holiday ended the first half 6-6 from the 3-point line but went on to only score once more in the second half. He ended the game with 20 points, the second-leading scorer on the night for Chicago.


On a night where Zach LaVine was clearly gassed from the burden of carrying the offense all season (6-20 from the field), only Parker could provide a solid secondary option. Parker’s effectiveness also tapered off dramatically in the second half, as he stopped taking 3-pointers and didn’t get to the free throw line at all. Early season struggles were to be expected from Parker, as he is on a new team with a roster full of young players. But his shot selection is what has been so frustrating to watch. 

Results do not have to be immediate, but seeing as Parker is taking a greater percentage of his shots from long 2-point range than last season, it is clear he hasn’t fully bought in to the idea of getting all the way to the basket or shooting the 3-pointer without hesitation. And that is why players like Holiday—one of Hoiberg’s loyal soldiers from his first year as Bulls coach—are so crucial.

It is clear that Hoiberg’s preferred playing style has stuck with Holiday and hopefully, that it can rub off on the other players.

We have discussed before how his 3-point attempt rate (72 percent) is the perfect indicator of how often he is hunting the 3-point shot. But the problem is that this current Bulls roster needs more players who create 3-point looks for others, rather than knock them down.

Heading into Friday night’s game, Holiday had been assisted on 72 percent of his 2-point shots and 95 percent of his 3-point shots. This season, he has been assisted on 57 percent of his 2-point shots and 90 percent of his 3-point shots. This is an alarming sign for the Holiday, as he has never been a player known for creating his own shot and the decline in assisted baskets means he is being forced outside of his comfort zone on offense.

It is no coincidence that Holiday’s 3-point percentage in November (35 percent) is lower than his 3-point percentage in October (40 percent). He played 34 minutes per game in October before that number got increased to 37 minutes per game in November. Holiday has been in the top 10 in minutes all year and there is no end in sight for his tremendous minutes load with the Bulls being so thin on the wing.

The 2019 NBA offseason for Chicago will likely be about finding players they can comfortably play at the small forward spot. But Bulls fans should appreciate Holiday’s play while he’s here, as he has been one of the team’s more consistent players. Holiday has done a decent amount of leading by example—especially when it comes to playing the way Hoiberg wants to—and continues to show why he can continue to be a valuable piece on this Bulls team.