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Jerry Reinsdorf recalls 30 years of Bulls history
by Sam Smith
Posted on Sep 8
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Jerry Reinsdorf says, as we all understand, it’s never like the first time. There was little with the ownership of the Bulls that could surpass that first Bulls championship in 1991, the uncertainty, the anticipation, even the relief after the Game 3 win in Los Angeles that the team would at least be able to get back to Chicago to play. We all know the team didn’t need to, sweeping the three games in Los Angeles to win the franchise’s first NBA championship.
But as Reinsdorf reminisced on the eve of his enshrinement as a member of the Class of 2016 of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Reinsdorf recalled some of his favorite moments, events and teams in the three decades of being the managing partner.
It’s an impressive trip down memory lane, fitting with the extraordinary group in which Reinsdorf will be enshrined Friday. It includes Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Tom Izzo, Sheryl Swoops and the late Zelmo Beaty and coach John McLendon. They’ll be accompanied by an equally inspiring cadre of presenters to include Bill Russell, Lenny Wilkens, Isiah Thomas, John Thompson, Larry Brown, Julius Erving, Earl Monroe, Alonzo Mourning, David Stern, Wayne Embry, Sam Jones, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen and Bill Walton.
“I’m most proud of what we do in the community and how the combination of performance on the court and off has made the Bulls a world wide brand,” said Reinsdorf. “I’m proud of the fact I was able to surround myself with great people who did great things and it resulted in the Bulls being a global brand and winning championships and a factor in the community. I’ve said many times any real skill I have is finding great people and I’m proud of that because those people have done great things.”
As for those special times, Reinsdorf said:
— “The biggest highlight is going to be the (Michael Jordan) shot on (in the 1989 playoffs on Craig) Ehlo. That was the first time I really thought we had a chance to succeed. I remember when Michael made that shot I was jumping up and down with Jerry Krause and Karen Stack and 18,000 people were in dead silence and all of a sudden I realized we were in the wrong place to be jumping up and down and we better get out of there. To me, that will always be the highlight. Even though it wasn’t a championship, that’s when it all started.”
— “My favorite team of all the Bulls teams was 1993-94. They come to camp and Michael is gone; we didn’t time to do much. (Toni) Kukoc has come over from Europe to play with Michael and all of a sudden Michael is gone. They hung together and won 55 games. We should have gone another round, at least, but for that brutal (official’s) call against New York. My liking for a team isn’t based on just how good it was, but how good was it in relation to how good it should have been? That team overachieved its talent level. That was a great team.”
—- “Paxson’s three (to win the 1993 Finals in Phoenix). You could have drawn a line where I was sitting with Paxson to the basket. I remember a few years earlier we were playing Dallas and at the end of the game we went to Paxson. He buried a three, the buzzer went off while the ball was in the air. When the ball went to Paxson, I turned to my wife and said ‘It’s Dallas all over again.’ She didn’t know what I was talking about. Before that the ball went to Horace and I’m thinking, ‘Get rid of the ball,’ And he told me he was thinking the same thing. He said, ‘They’re going to foul me and I’ll miss one of two free throws.’”
— “Somebody told me in Utah in 1998 I had to wear earphones because the crowd was really nasty. So I didn’t know what was being said during the game other than people telling me good you couldn’t hear what they were yelling. I was thinking down by a point less than 24 seconds we have to foul somebody and hope they miss. All of a sudden Michael steals the ball and I thought he was going to call timeout. But he doesn’t and dribbles down and makes the shot. I was stunned it happened so fast. But they still had the ball. The funny thing was the last game in Phoenix and last game in Utah the other team had the ball at the end. KJ got by his man and had a relatively easy shot. Horace swiped it away and Utah was the same thing with (John) Stockton and (Ron) Harper got the ball. Both times we could have lost.”
—- The 1995-96 season was surreal because if you look I think we were in 80 games. Two we lost back to back. Denver, we were down like 30 points and came back and took the lead and lost and then we were gassed in Phoenix. No doubt in my mind if we could have looked into the future and known if someone was going to win 73 games we would have won 74 games. But once we passed the 69 there were no goals. If we knew we would have needed 74, we would have won 74. It was all driven by Michael the way he was embarrassed with the (playoff) loss to Orlando coming back from baseball.”
—- Michael in 1993, the funny thing is he was going to play baseball that summer. Somewhere after the end of the basketball season, Michael was at a game and he and (White Sox general manager) Ron Schuler came over to me and Schuler said Michael said he wanted to play minor league baseball that summer at Kannapolis, which was our lowest minor league team. Was it OK with me? I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know why you want to do it, but if you want to do it, it’s OK.’ That weekend was (the weekend his father was murdered). That changed everything. The death of his father was the last gasp. He had a dinner every year for his foundation about a week before training camp opened. David Falk came over to me and said, ‘You are not going to believe this, but Michael wants to retire.’ I said, ‘You’re right, I don’t believe it.’ We agreed to meet the following week in Maryland and that’s when it became (final). I didn’t try to talk him out of it because the reasons he gave me were so good. Essentially, he felt the last championship was really difficult, it would be hard to win again, his father’s dream always was for him to play baseball and how could I tell him not to chase his father’s dream. I didn’t try to talk him out of it other than saying, ‘You can’t do this unless you talk to Phil.’ He said he didn’t want to because, ‘Phil will try to talk me out of it.’ I said he still had to do it.”
—- “I kept trying to remind myself it wasn’t going to last forever, so enjoy it. Every (title year) was different. People forget we were down 0-2 to the Knicks in the (1993) conference finals. The Knicks had a better record and we didn’t have home court advantage in the conference finals and Finals and I think Michael got burned out on that one. I remember leaving New York on the way to the airport (after being down 0-2) and talking to Phil and saying, ‘If we lose we have to lose with dignity, let’s not do it like the Pistons did.’ He assured me if we did in fact lose it would be with class, but we never had to find out.”
— “I think I said, ‘You want to bring Dennis Rodman here? Remember what he had done to Scottie in Detroit?’ But I remember Phil saying after we lost to Orlando (in 1995) we needed someone, in his words, ‘to fetch the ball.’ We spoke to Michael and Scottie and they were all for it; we wouldn’t have done it if they were against it.”
And so a new era begins again next season, perhaps without the excitement or expectations there were in 1995. Because there is no Jordan. But Reinsdorf said he is optimistic about the additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo.
“I thought sure he (Wade) would go back to Miami,” Reinsdorf admitted. “It’s a tremendous addition not only as a player but the culture. Right off the bat he wanted to know what he could do in the community. He has his own plans and so does Rajon. I think these guys will be a real plus. We also have a pretty young team with the older players who’ll be great mentors for the seven guys with three years or less of service.
“I had high hopes for the last group,” Reinsdorf admitted. “I thought they could contend for titles, maybe win, but certainly contend. It was certainly disappointing, all those injuries to Derrick (Rose). It certainly didn’t work out. It’s not easy to win. Doug Collins told me, ‘It’s not solitaire; other people are trying to beat you.”
Sitting near Reinsdorf Thursday afternoon as the Hall of Famers-to-be spoke with reporters, O’Neal was asked about Reinsdorf, with whom he’s become close in the many Hall of Fame preliminary meet-and-greet sessions.
“I knew he was an excellent businessman, that he was a great owner and leader,” said O’Neal, the featured celebrity in the 2016 enshrinement. “I knew he was a great puzzle (solver); he knew how to put pieces together. I knew he was the type of guy who was not a micromanager. In order to tolerate a guy like Rodman you have to be able to sit back and say, ‘Phil, you do what you do.’ You have to respect a guy like that, smart guy. We had some conversations, honest guy. What I like about business you have to be honest. I’m used to the old school. You want to do this, ‘OK, shake your hand it’s done.’ Nowadays, you’ve got to get attorneys involved, you have to get it notarized. I don’t like that kind of business. Reinsdorf doesn’t seem to be that type of guy.”