Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf Monday was named to be part of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2016, one that will likely be regarded significantly in NBA history.
That’s because Reinsdorf will be inducted along with storied NBA figures, including Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming. Also among the honorees are Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, referee Darrel Garretson, WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes, ABA star Zelmo Beaty, pioneering coach John McLendon, baseball Negro leagues star Cumberland Posey, who played basketball at Duquesne and 10-time AAU National Champions Wayland Baptist University.
In a TV interview in Houston, where the announcement was made at the Final Four weekend, Reinsdorf said, “It’s very humbling. When I first found out I wasn’t sure why. I’m still not sure because I have been helped by so many people.
“This is really a tribute more to the people who have done things for me along the way, and a lot of luck that I had,” Reinsdorf said. “An awful lot of people, including Jerry Krause and Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson and a fellow named Jordan, but an awful lot of friends, friends in my personal life who were mentors to me. I think it’s a culmination of all the things I got from other people that has put me where I am today.
“It has to be humbling,” Reinsdorf said. “I didn’t play the game, I didn’t coach the game, I didn’t referee the game, so I’m really on the periphery of it. The Hall of Fame is the top individual honor you can get in any sport. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling.”
Though, as Reinsdorf said, he wasn’t an active participant in the game, he has been the leader with a Bulls franchise that has become under his direction one of the most successful in the history of the NBA and has been a starting point for some of the top figures in the game.
The Bulls under Reinsdorf’s tenure won six NBA championships, the third most in NBA history with Reisndorf currently the senior ownership figure in the NBA after having put together a group to purchase the Bulls in 1985. They had never been to the NBA Finals previously.
Reinsdorf’s Bulls, in partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, also financed and built the United Center, one of the few privately financed NBA arenas. They also have built two team-owned practice facilities with the Sheri Berto Center one of the first such in the NBA.
Under Reinsdorf, top NBA coaches like Jackson, Doug Collins and Tom Thibodeau got their start as NBA head coaches with their first jobs.
The Bulls also created the CharitaBulls foundation, which donated $4.5 million for the construction of the James Jordan Boys and Girls Club near the United Center in memory of Michael Jordans father. The club is part of the Chicago West Side redevelopment inspired by the United Center construction. It includes a Bulls College Prep School and more than $1 million to the Chicago Park District.
Reinsdorf received the 2012 Steve Patterson Award for sports philanthropy. In response to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration call to service, Reinsdorf created a volunteer corps in which players and staff help in schools and parks. Reinsdorf in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. was among 18 honorees in 2011 including Ruth Bader Ginsburg to receive the Jefferson Award, which is regarded as the Nobel Prize of public service. Under Reinsdorf, his teams started the Bulls/Sox Academy for sports instruction.
Reinsdorf also has been honored by the Chicago Jewish Sporting Hall of Fame, National Jewish Sporting Hall of Fame, Chicago Sports Hall of Fame, Chicago Historical Society, Operation PUSH, Chicago Park District and with the Chicago Mayor’s Medal of Honor.
Reinsdorf comes from humble roots, born in Brooklyn, the son of a sewing machine salesman. He attended George Washington U., in Washington D.C. He left Brooklyn in 1957 and studied law at Northwestern U. He worked for the Internal Revenue Service and eventually went into the real estate investment business. Eventually, he sold his Balcor company and put together a partnership to purchase the Chicago White Sox baseball team in 1981. He still is managing partner and they ended a long title drought in 2005 by winning the World Series.
Reinsdorf’s success with championships in two major American team sports is rare in the sports world. When the Reinsdorf group assumed ownership of the Bulls in 1985, they were among the most disorganized in the NBA. They had made the playoffs just one time in the previous seven years and were among the lowest in the league in attendance. With the drafting of Michael Jordan, which came the spring before the Reinsdorf group assumed ownership, the Bulls went on to make the playoffs from 1985 through 1998 and win six NBA championship and become the premier franchise in American sports.
After sustaining a down period through 2004 after Jordan’s retirement, the Bulls have made the playoffs 10 of the last 11 seasons going into the 2015-16 season. Jackson, Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman previously were enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Among the inductees O'Neal was a four-time NBA champion, the 1992-93 Rookie of the Year, the 1999-2000 league MVP, a three-time NBA Finals MVP, a two-time scoring champion and a 15-time All-Star. Iverson was the 1996-97 Rookie of the Year, the 2000-01 league MVP, a four-time scoring champion and an 11-time All-Star selection. Yao was an eight-time NBA All-Star and remains one of China's most decorated and famous athletes.
Michigan State head coach Izzo has a 524-205 record and has led them to 19 straight NCAA tournament appearances. The school won the national championship in the 1999-2000 season and has reached an seven Final Fours under Izzo. Swoopes was a four-time WNBA champion, three-time league MVP, a two-time scoring champion and a six-time All-Star selection.
Beaty was a three-time ABA All-Star and two-time NBA All-Star and was an ABA champion in 1971 with the Utah Stars. Garretson was an NBA referee for 27 seasons and the NBA supervisor of officials for 17 years. Posey was considered the top African-American player of his time, playing from the 1900s through the 1920s. McLendon was an African-American coach who broke barriers at the college and professional levels.