Just imagine, Bulls owner/chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan sitting at a hotel smoking cigars and reminiscing about their historic time together in Chicago.
Well, it happened just last week at Major League Baseball owners’ meeting in Orlando where Reinsdorf and Jordan stayed at the same hotel.
“I would say we are friends,” Reinsdorf, 83, told USA TODAY Sports. “I don’t see him that often. I enjoy being with him. Just saw Michael the other night. We were staying at the same hotel. Me and Michael and (Miami Marlins owner Derek) Jeter were talking about the good ol’ days. We (Jordan and Reinsdorf) sat out there for a couple of hours just smoking cigars and talking about those days.”
Those days as in when Jordan, 56, and the Bulls ruled the NBA, winning six championships in eight seasons, including three straight from 1991-’93 and three straight from 1996-’98. The two seasons Chicago didn’t win came when Jordan, who owns the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and sees Reinsdorf at those owners’ meetings, took time off from basketball to play minor-league baseball.
They’ll have an opportunity to see each other again this weekend, with the NBA All-Star Game being held Sunday in Chicago for the first time since 1988 when Jordan was named MVP. In that game, he scored 40 points, including 16 in the final 5:51 – one day after winning the Slam Dunk Contest.
Chicago is still Jordan’s city. A statue of him sits outside of the United Center, and a steakhouse in his name is located on a prime stretch of Michigan Avenue. A downtown hotel is hosting a Jordan memorabilia exhibit this weekend. And Jordan’s exclusive All-Start party is scheduled for Friday – although invitees weren’t expected to know the location until receiving an email Thursday.
“Michael still is a God in Chicago,” Reinsdorf said. “There’s a statue of Michael in Chicago and buses pull up to that statue every day and get out and take pictures.
“This is Michael coming home.”
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When it comes to Jordan leaving Chicago, the narrative in the 20-plus years since that last title has often centered around Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause breaking up the Bulls dynasty before it had run its course.
Not true, says Reinsdorf.
“At some point it had to end,” he said. “It wasn’t going to go on forever.”
Following the 1998 championship, coach Phil Jackson told the Bulls he wasn’t returning, the roster was filled with free agents looking for a contract the Bulls couldn’t accommodate under the salary cap and the league was headed for a lockout that resulted in a 50-game season. Jordan also cut himself with cigar cutter, resulting in a severed tendon in his index finger on his right (shooting) hand.
“I knew we were going to have to rebuild,” Reinsdorf said. “Phil Jackson says he didn’t want to be part of a rebuild. And Michael said he didn’t want to play for anybody but Phil Jackson.
“If he hadn’t cut his finger, he might have come back, but we wouldn’t have come close to winning that year. Nobody with the Bulls thought we would end up getting these guys back because they were all past their peak. They didn’t have it anymore. So they all ended up leaving, and the teams that signed them to those big contracts were sorry they did.”
Reinsdorf said he saw the end coming during the Finals against Utah. Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who was on that Bulls team, recalled how physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted the Bulls were. Had the Bulls not finished the series in Game 6 with an 87-86 victory, Game 7 was Salt Lake City.
“In the last championship year, Michael carried that team on his back,” Reinsdorf said. “We didn’t even have the best team. Michael willed us to that championship. With Michael, he just wasn’t going to lose unless somebody killed him.”
Reinsdorf looks back with fondness for Jordan, who was Finals MVP in all six championships.
“I never encountered anything like him,” he said. “To beat him, you had to kill him. He just had that fantastic will to win. I once told him that he reminded me of (boxer) Jake LaMotta. He didn’t know who he was, and I explained it to him. LaMotta never got knocked down. He was always on his feet. That’s Michael. He was never knocked down. Just an amazing, amazing athlete. He had so much respect for the game.”
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