Bulls' new downtown training home: The Advocate Center

Shortly after it was announced that the Bulls’ new practice facility will be named the Advocate Center as part of a multi-year agreement, the team hosted 13 members of Advocate Health Care’s leadership group for a luncheon. Afterwards, the group went on a behind the scenes tour to see the work in progress. 

Some talked about the benefits of having the facility downtown across the street from the United Center. Others highlighted the significantly larger space—nearly twice the size of the Berto Center—and openness. All came away impressed and excited about the team’s future in the new building. 

Given the Bulls have practiced at the Berto Center in Deerfield since 1992, the new facility’s new name will take some getting used to. But Michael Reinsdorf, President and COO for the team, believes the identity will catch on quickly. 

“I really like how the name flows,” said Reinsdorf. “The Berto Center had a great ring to it, and Advocate Center also has a great ring to it. I’m really excited about our partnership with Advocate and we don’t really look at it as a naming rights deal. It’s truly a partnership that is with one of the leaders in the healthcare industry. They want to make a difference in the community, just as the Bulls want to make a difference in the community. We’re hoping to partner together to come up with incredible programs that will make a difference in the lives of so many people.” 

Jim Skogsbergh, Advocate Health Care’s President and CEO, shared Reinsdorf’s sentiment and reiterated that their partnership with the Bulls is about much more than the practice facility.

“It looks like it’s going to be a first class facility, which is appropriate, given it’s a first class organization,” said Skogsbergh. “We’re so proud to have our name associated with the Bulls, a great organization that is not only competitive in its arena, but also gives back so much to the community, which is where our heart is. We’re excited about what this partnership is going to mean for the communities which we care so much about and we’re anxious to serve. It’s a great day for us and a great facility. I can’t wait to see it when it is finished.” 

With Advocate set to enter its third season of partnership with the Bulls as 2014-15 gets underway, Skogsbergh said it was how well the first two years went that made it appealing to take the relationship to another level. 

“The things that have meant so much to our patients mean just as much to us,” Skogsbergh explained. “There have been on-court experiences at games and it’s just awesome for those kids, the patients, and the families. Players have come to our campus as well and that’s huge, just huge. We also did a lot of work around breast cancer and we know that there are more opportunities like that as we take this relationship deeper. There are a lot of good things to come.” 

Kelly Jo Golson, Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer for Advocate, recalled how early on in the partnership, she could see that many of the same shared values existed between her company and the Bulls. And while the naming opportunity is a significant part of their relationship, she looks at it more so as two organizations coming together to improve their community. 

“They’ve been phenomenal,” said Golson. “The Bulls have not only been open to us coming to them and saying, ‘Here’s an idea we have,’ but for them to reach out to us about how we can make a greater impact. Sometimes when players come to the hospital for a visit, they’ll request that media is not there. They just want to brighten the day of some of our younger patients.” 

The significance of the team’s corporate partners is certainly not lost on John Paxson, Executive VP of Basketball Operations for the Bulls. 

“It’s always great when someone looks at an opportunity and says we want to partner with the Bulls,” said Paxson. “All of us, including myself in this position, we don’t take that lightly. We know the commitment they are making and we know they want to get value out of this. For years, ‘Berto Center’ has rolled off people’s tongues. They know that’s where the team has practiced. It’s going to be the same thing with the Advocate Center. It’s going to be a beautiful building and they’ll have a lot to be proud of.” 

Though there are a few months of work left to be done, it won’t be long before the Advocate Center’s doors are open and another season is right around the corner. But for now, as guests sport hard hats rather than practice jerseys, everyone was imagining how nice it is going to be. 

“When I’m standing on the basketball court in that big space, that’s really exciting,” said Reinsdorf. “But then you walk around through the weight room, locker room and offices… every area in the new facility has been well thought out. It’s literally across the street from the United Center, which will allow greater interaction between our business side and our basketball side. I couldn’t be more excited.” 

For most of the people on hand Wednesday, it was their first time touring the structure which will house the team’s basketball operations and coaching staffs when it opens prior to the 2014-15 season. 

Paxson holds the unique perspective of having been with the organization since 1985 as both a player and an executive. While being downtown is a key element, he feels the team simply outgrew the Berto Center and the time was right for the team to upgrade. 

“Our players have wanted to live in the city for quite a while,” explained Paxson. “Being up north, as much as we’ve loved the Berto Center, it’s been difficult when you think about guys traveling downtown on gamedays. This is going to allow our players to live in the city and be part of the community. 

“It will shorten a lot of things—commutes to practices, home after games and so on,” Paxson continued. “All the things we worry about in terms of rest and preparation will be alleviated. On top of that, our players are going to have access to everything state of the art in terms of conditioning, fitness and rehab. You’re always trying to stay current or ahead of the curve and we think we’re doing that.” 

Paxson also views the building as a re-energizing vehicle, an inspiring next step for the organization. He also likes that long-term, it will be another tool for the Bulls to use when recruiting free agents. 

“They all know the organization’s great reputation, but now you can sit down and say, ‘Look, here’s what you have access to: the city, the practice facility, everything is here and it is close.’ I think it is going to help,” stated Paxson. 

Paxson was part of a group that traveled to see several newer training facilities on both the professional and collegiate levels. They took ideas from all of them in an attempt to create a building in which every aspect will be improved. In short, it’s a place where the team’s players can come to work on their games, improve as a team, and be comfortable while doing so. 

When asked what jumped out at him after seeing the interior of the building, General Manager Gar Forman cited its size and layout. 

“We spent a lot of time planning, but to get inside and see the framework of what it’s going to look like shows us how much of an upgrade it will be from where we’ve been,” Forman said. 

At the end of the day though, for Forman it comes down to putting the team in the best possible position to succeed. 

“It’s the chance to have a world class facility for our players to train,” said Forman. “The building is going to be great—the flow of it will result in increased interaction. As players go from the training room to the weight room to the gymnasium, they’ll get to see that openness and they’ll be very comfortable. We think it’s a place where they are going to want to spend a lot of time.” 

Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau was equally pleased with what he saw. 

“We’re thrilled and we couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Thibodeau. “It’s going to be a great facility with everything state of the art. It’s going up very quickly and I know our players are very excited to get down here.” 

Thibodeau also likes the thought of allowing his players to get in additional rest on gamedays. 

“It will be huge with how we practice and prepare and in terms of recovery,” said Thibodeau. “It’s going to be the best. There’s no question about it.”