Phil Jackson understood he wasn’t everybody’s choice, or really anybody’s, in 1987 when he was hired by the Bulls as an assistant coach, and then in 1989 when managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf agreed he was the right person to succeed Doug Collins and lead the Bulls and Michael Jordan.
It was an ultimate crossroads for the franchise. Jordan was growing frustrated and angry about repeated playoff disappointments, uncertain about teammates and unaware of Jackson. But Phil said Jerry Reinsdorf showed confidence, resolve and support.
“It wasn’t the political or secure choice; it was a risk,” admitted Jackson in an interview this week about his first NBA head job. “But Jerry was about risk/reward. That was a big part of how he approached business and made a great name for himself as an owner. Players who have been in the process with him have appreciated his stance, how he handled the business aspects of this game. He allowed me to coach, allowed people who work for him to do their job. He was maybe not a (league) favorite all the time, kind of an outlier and maverick in that regard. He was one of the owners who had a big part in the development of where this league was going.”
For that and helping turn the Chicago Bulls into one of the elite franchises in pro sports, Reinsdorf Friday will be enshrined as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Jackson will be a ceremonial stage presenter for Reinsdorf along with former Bulls star Scottie Pippen.
Only members of the Hall of Fame appear on stage with the enshrinee as presenters. They accompany those honored but do not speak.
The Friday enshrinement ceremony from Springfield, Mass. Symphony Hall is the highlight of the three days of events of Hall of Fame week in the home of basketball. It will be televised 6:30 p.m. (Central) on NBA-TV.
Reinsdorf joins one of the most consequential classes in Hall of Fame annals. Featured inductees for the Class of 2016 will include Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, referee Darell Garretson, WNBA player Sheryl Swoops, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, former NBA and ABA player all star Zelmo Beaty, NAIA coaching pioneer John McLendon, early 20th Century black star and baseball Hall of Famer Cumberland Posey and Reinsdorf.
It will be an impressive roster of presenters with Lenny Wilkens for Beaty, David Stern for Garretson, Larry Brown, Julius Erving and John Thompson for Iverson, Wayne Embry, Sam Jones and Isiah Thomas for McLendon, Julius Erving, Bill Russell and Alonzo Mourning for O’Neal, Earl Monroe for Posey, Nancy Lieberman for Swoops and Russell, Bill Walton and Dikembe Mutombo for Yao.
The Hall of Famers will be presented with a special sport coat at a Thursday event and press conference.
There will be a dinner Thursday night to introduce the enshrinees and present Hall of Fame awards.
The recipients of the special awards this year with be David Aldridge of TNT and NBA.com for the Gowdy media award for print and Jay Bilas of ESPN for electronic. The Mannie Jackson Human Spirit awards will go to Chris Paul of the Clippers, former NBA player and now ESPN analyst Jalen Rose and U. of Memphis coach Tubby Smith.
Jackson also will be present to salute his former center, O’Neal. Jackson said in many ways O’Neal changed the game in addition to his role with four championship teams, three with Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He went ahead and made the jump to another team,” noted Jackson of O’Neal being one of the first big stars to change teams in free agency. “Now we’re seeing it in our league with Kevin Durant, but (then) it was kind of an outlier for players to leave. Shaq was willing to take a risk and leave his original home.
“With that,” Jackson said, “Shaq brought us the kind of transfer the power from the East to the West. There was a real transfer and suddenly the West had a group of teams, Sacramento, San Antonio, Houston, Utah, L.A., that really transferred this whole direction of where the power was in the league (which in the 80s and 90s was in the Eastern Conference). He changed the direction of how a big man (acted). He’s the first guy who you really saw the outward joy this guy played basketball with. We always had these sulking centers, (Bill) Russell and Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. All of them seemed to have a chip on their shoulder, the Goliath attitude Chamberlain talked about, that no one roots for Goliath in a fight with David. Shaq was guy who played with joy and humor and enjoyed the levity he could bring to the game.
“The dunk, too,” added Jackson. “For Shaq it was a moment of joy, a gymnastic move, tearing down rims. He wasn’t the first one, but continued multiple times that (reflected) his size and speed and quickness.”
Jackson also said in his way as an owner Reinsdorf set standards and was crucial to the success of the team and its coaches, especially the way he entrusted and supported them.
“Coming in from baseball, I think he felt, ‘I’ll let the experts deal with this,’” said Jackson. “He had an idea what sports business was like and the group that was behind him had confidence in him. He had the means to do this and did some things that we regard as forward thinking. He was the first to admit, ‘I do know something about baseball, but basketball, I want to defer to the people who know this game.’ In that regard he was able to give solid reasoning and judgment that was non biased, which was fortunate for us and the team. He also made the contributions, like Dr. Jerry Buss and Bill Davidson (other owners in the Hall of Fame) who brought changes to the game.”