Reinsdorf’s Challenge: Another Bulls Title

In the world of sports, Jerry Reinsdorf has had quite a run, experiencing the ultimate goal in hoops (six times, no less) and, more recently, baseball (his true passion).

However, he hopes it is far from over. Despite being part of the Bulls' magnificent run to six NBA titles in the 1990s and the White Sox rampage to the world championship last year, Reinsdorf has at least one more goal he’d like to achieve. His new challenge? Seeing the Bulls win it all in the post-Jordan era. met with Reinsdorf to discuss a return to the NBA Playoffs, Chicago’s men in charge, and the team’s future. How satisfying is it for you to see the Bulls make a second consecutive trip to the NBA Playoffs?

Jerry Reinsdorf: “It’s particularly satisfying because of the way that they got there—coming on at the end and winning all those games after everyone had written them off. They continued to play hard in every single game, and I believe that says a lot about the club. It also speaks volumes about the culture that John and Scott have implemented.” Did the resiliency of the club, which was 10 games below. 500 earlier in the season, impress you as much as it did most fans?

Reinsdorf: “It certainly did. I think that it was a tribute to the coaching staff and to the players. The team never really had a game all season long in which they did not play hard. It’s particularly difficult to play hard when the whole world thinks that you aren’t going to make the playoffs, but this group did just that. They believed in themselves, they kept working, and it paid off.” You have made it clear however, that simply making the playoffs wasn’t the goal for the franchise.

Reinsdorf: “That’s right. Making the playoffs is nice, but it’s merely a minimum goal. However, it was still very encouraging to see them make the postseason for a second consecutive time—it signals that the organization is on the right path. A winning atmosphere has been re-established. Of course, the ultimate goal will always be to win another championship. I don’t think anyone is satisfied just to make the playoffs.” How important is it for young players like Ben Gordon and Luol Deng to get postseason experience early in their careers?

Reinsdorf: “It’s important for every player to have playoff experience because playing in the playoffs is totally different than playing in the regular season. There is no substitute for experience. It’s very difficult to play well the first time you’re in the playoffs, so every opportunity that you get to feel what it is like to be in the postseason is one in which you need to take full advantage of.” John Paxson has done a tremendous job in turning the direction of the franchise around in a shorter than expected amount of time. How satisfied are you with the job he’s done?

Reinsdorf: “John has done a wonderful job. He’s turned out to be everything that I expected him to be when he was hired and probably even more. John has dealt with some adversity and difficult situations and he’s handled it all very well. I couldn’t be happier to have him as our general manager.” What characteristics do you feel make John successful?

Reinsdorf: “He’s a man with a lot of integrity, which you can’t say enough about. He’s also an extremely hard worker. And, he’s smart—he’s got brains.” Paxson’s first draft pick, Kirk Hinrich, has quickly turned into a leader for this young Bulls team. What kinds of things do you feel Hinrich brings to the table for this club?

Reinsdorf: “Kirk epitomizes everything that we want the Chicago Bulls to stand for. Not only does he have a high skill level, he has a tremendous heart and passion for the game. He always plays hard and leaves everything out on the floor.” Was Scott Skiles performance this season exactly what you envisioned when you signed him to his contract extension last summer?

Reinsdorf: “I felt that when we extended Scott’s contract last year, we had one of the best coaches in the NBA. When we got into the playoffs, I told him that there were not many coaches that could have taken this team to the playoffs. He’s done a phenomenal job since he’s been here.” Why do you feel Skiles is the right man to take this team to the next level?

Reinsdorf: “Scott has an extremely intelligent basketball mind. For him to have the opportunity to coach our team as they develop and mature, it makes it much easier because he’ll have a better feel for exactly what they can do as players and as a team. The most important thing for a coach to do is to put players in positions where they can succeed rather than one in which they may fail. By growing with our players, Scott will be in a position to know what they are capable of and what they are not capable of in the game of basketball.” This summer the Bulls will have a top-five lottery pick courtesy of New York, another mid-first round pick of their own, and an abundance of spending money under the NBA’s salary cap. Do you feel next year’s team will be significantly better with all of the options and flexibility?

Reinsdorf: “I would certainly hope so. We certainly have assets and we have ways to get better, whether it is by keeping our picks or trading our picks. Obviously, this offseason will be a very important one for the franchise. I expect next year’s team to take a step forward—by how much, remains to be seen. It will depend on the avenues we take this summer. No matter what the offseason holds, I’m extremely excited and optimistic about the team’s future.” How involved will you be during the team’s offseason?

Reinsdorf: “I actually have very little to do with the selection of players or the trading of players. I do serve as an advisor, and I imagine that I’ll talk to John on a regular basis over the summer. I like to be involved in the discussions, but the final decisions on our roster make-up have to come from the general manager.” Some believe that the Bulls are lacking a “franchise” player. Do you feel that the team needs to obtain a star-caliber player to take the next step?

Reinsdorf: “Not necessarily. The Detroit Pistons won the NBA Championship without one premiere player. It is certainly good to have a star player, but only if he makes the players around him better. You’re doomed to failure if you have a star player who thinks he has to win everything by himself. Having a top-caliber player is great, but only if he fits in well with his teammates. In looking back at Michael Jordan’s career, when Michael tried to do everything himself, we didn’t win. When he learned to trust his teammates, he made them better, and that, in turn, made him better.” What have you learned about Chicago as a sports town over the years?

Reinsdorf: “The biggest thing that I’ve learned about Chicago is that while the fans want you to win, more than anything they want you to play hard. There is a blue-collar work ethic in this town and the people here really expect their teams to really go all-out trying to win. If a team fails to win but gives 100 percent, the fans, for the most part, will go home satisfied.” What can you say about Bulls fans over the years?

Reinsdorf: “Bulls fans have to be the most loyal fans in any sport. They suffered through a period of six years of abject failure, but they never gave up. They always realized that there was a plan. They stayed with us, and now they are being rewarded. Hopefully it is just the beginning for them.” You experienced an amazing Bulls run during the 1990s and enjoyed the White Sox’s run to a world championship last season. What is left for you to accomplish?

Reinsdorf: “There are always challenges. The number one challenge is for the Bulls to win a title in the post-Jordan era.” Is it possible to imagine how a post-Jordan championship might compare to a title from the dynasty?

Reinsdorf: “I think so; I’m going to have to wait until that happens to really know. There is no way to anticipate the feeling you get from winning a championship. Each one is different and the feeling is different.” How do you compare the White Sox world championship with the Bulls titles?

Reinsdorf: “Basketball is a bigger sport than baseball internationally. That being said, on an international level, the Bulls were larger than anything that has ever happened in sports. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls are known all over the world—even in some of its most remote areas. I’ve had people send me pictures from Tibet and Outer Mongolia and places like that showing people wearing Bulls jerseys and hats. I don’t think anything that has ever happened in sports has been as worldwide as the Bulls. That being said, in this country and the city of Chicago, in particular, baseball is bigger. The impact on our community after 88 years of starvation was incredible. I’ve never seen people as happy for any reason as I did when the White Sox won the World Series.”