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Mariotti: Keep Bulls Jerry Reinsdorf Out Of The Basketball Hall of Fame

Presumably because Benny the Bull wasn’t available, Jerry Reinsdorf has been nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame. I count exactly one reason why this man should be anywhere near a shrine of hoops royalty: the ink in the pen with which he signed Michael Jordan’s paychecks. Otherwise, I’d prefer voting for another nominee, Red Klotz, who lost more than 13,000 times to the Harlem Globetrotters with those assclown Washington Generals, but at least created his own niche in the sport.

Reinsdorf is a basketball charlatan who straddled Jordan’s cape to prominence and riches but never acknowledged doing so, an interloper who said he values his lone World Series title as White Sox owner more than a monster six-pack of championships with the Bulls. And yet the headline on an NBA.com story this week grouped Reinsdorf with the worthy Gary Payton and a former league executive, Russ Granik, as leaders of the 2013 class. Imagine inducting someone into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame who not only disses basketball but minimizes one of the epic accomplishments in team sports.

Please do your research, voters.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Wikimedia Commons)

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Wikimedia Commons)

People outside Chicago don’t understand that Reinsdorf did more to sabotage The Jordan Era—capital T, J and E—than help it. Only because of Jordan’s indomitable will was he able to defeat his own owner, too. It was Reinsdorf who refused to tear up and re-do Jordan’s ridiculously obsolete contract—eight years, $24 million—during the NBA’s boom era while other owners were happily restructuring the contracts of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, and others. It was Reinsdorf who let dysfunction run wildly throughout the dynasty, unable and often unwilling to soothe long-held tensions between warring factions—Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson vs. the management migraine they loathed, Jerry Krause. It was Reinsdorf who finally, upon the expiration of Jordan’s contract after multiple titles, only agreed to pay market value with a caveat that he hoped he didn’t regret the investment. It was Reinsdorf who let Krause, in his most laughable attempt to take credit for the dynasty, make the ill-timed potshot at Jordan before the final championship season that “organizations win championships.” It was Reinsdorf who said, foolishly, that he looked forward to starting his own dynasty with Krause while allowing The Jordan Era to crumble with, by my measure, at least two more rings left in it.

And it was Reinsdorf and Krause who could not attract any major free agents in the summers that followed—not Grant Hill, not Tim Duncan, not Tracy McGrady—and produced a humiliating 119-341 record over the next six seasons, among the worst stretches ever in American sports. In that span, coach Tim Floyd was hired and famously fired on Christmas Eve while his wife and daughter sat on the floor of the Berto Center during a sparsely attended press conference (during which Krause yelled at me to “wipe that smirk off your face” as I entered the building covered in snow.) Not until Reinsdorf got lucky and won Derrick Rose in a lottery—though not before the franchise seriously considered taking Michael Beasley—did the Bulls have any chance to be a real contender again. And even now, as we await Rose’s return from knee surgery, it’s possible the front office has left the supporting cast too short of talent and offensive firepower to contend in a winnable Eastern Conference.

Such is Reinsdorf’s real legacy as an NBA owner: hollow and flim flam. He had nothing to do with Jordan’s arrival in Chicago, having led the purchase of the team in 1985, a year after Jordan was drafted by Rod Thorn. He squeezed everything he could financially from the Jordan phenomenon, using it to help build the United Center with Bill Wirtz and plotting 216 suites for the cavernous arena, including nosebleeds that are decent only for hockey—which would have been fine had he paid Jordan what he deserved instead of making him wait the full eight years. Then Reinsdorf and his partners pocketed megaprofits from those ugly, low-payroll, post-Jordan seasons because fans still filled the UC, finally able to land seats after being shut out by the corporate sector during the dynasty. It was a consumer scam, and in the final salvo, Reinsdorf didn’t give Jordan the piece of ownership he would have liked, which frustrated Jordan and led him to cut a player/management deal with the Washington Wizards, an unfortunate chapter that also, when you think about it, didn’t help the sport of basketball.

So why would anyone elect Jerry Reinsdorf to the Basketball Hall of Fame?

I have a measurement called the Jordan Tax, which, in my goofy world, is assessed annually to those whose careers and lives have been bettered via their associations with Jordan. The highest tax should be paid by Steve Kerr, who arrived as a journeyman, thrived with Jordan as a spot-up shooter, hit a shot to win a championship, won a total of five rings, then went on to a career as an NBA general manager and TNT analyst. Reinsdorf also would be very high on the Jordan Tax list. He used Jordan and tried to claim he and his partners had something to do with the six titles, only to dump MJ while hallucinating that he and Krause could win their own six. In truth, these last 14 mostly empty seasons only have exposed Reinsdorf as a basketball fraud.

Certainly, the Hall has a small but notable collection of team owners. Foremost is Jerry Buss, who was smart and diligent enough to demand sustained excellence from the Los Angeles Lakers and, with Jackson as coach, produced two more championship runs after their Showtime dynasty of the 1980s. A Chicago native, Jerry Colangelo, not only launched pro basketball in the Arizona desert and maintained success there but saved USA Basketball from itself in international competition. Oh, how much easier and smoother things would have been if Jordan had been in their realm. Much was revealed when Bulls management, as outlined in a recent ChicagoSide piece, wouldn’t let the beloved public-address announcer, Ray Clay, perform his world-famous booming introduction of Jordan when he returned to Chicago with the Wizards. It showed, again, that Reinsdorf was trying to fight Jordan more than appreciate the incredible blessing of having him.

I could make a better Hall of Fame case for Krause, who also is on the ballot. At least he unearthed Pippen and Horace Grant, traded for Dennis Rodman and assembled a cast that was good enough to accompany Jordan for six titles. All Reinsdorf did was smoke his cigar, rake in the profits, let office politics turn into rat poison, and show up for a Bob Costas interview after every championship.

In truth, Benny the Bull was a bigger part of it. I’d nominate him, but he’s currently preoccupied doing commercials for a new Liam Neeson movie. Weird? Not nearly as much as Jerry Reinsdorf being enshrined by a sport that should whistle him for, um, flopping.

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