All Jerry Reinsdorf ever wanted was a car.
Steve Aschburner of NBA.com just published a fantastic article that takes a look at all of Reinsdorf's accomplishments and ownership style just a week before he is set to become a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. It's a neutral take on someone that has been a pretty significant, albeit lowkey, figurehead in two of the four major American athletic associations for the last thirty-something years. If nothing else, it will make you respect Reinsdorf for all of his business accomplishments in sports.
Some highlights include:
- Reinsdorf is one of the only owners to ever win championships for teams in different sports, and of the eleven owners/ownership groups that currently own multiple sports franchises, he remains the only one with titles during his tenure for all of those he owns.
- When looking at the whole picture, Reinsdorf's story is one of the better examples of the American Dream in action. He grew up in Brooklyn as the son of a man that at one point worked as a mechanic, a cab driver, an ice cream truck driver, and even a middle-man for reselling sewing machines in Mexico. He dreamed of becoming a lawyer from as young as the tender age of eight, and went on to start the Balcor Company in 1972 that he sold a decade later for $100 million.
- Reinsdorf's involvement with the Chicago Bulls began over a dinner with former Bulls-investor George Steinbrenner.
"He's moaning and groaning he's got to write checks every year for the Bulls," Reinsdorf recalled. "I told him, 'George, the reason you're not making money is your [primary] owners are not personally invested in the operation.' These were giants of industry, they didn't have time for the Bulls.'
"About a week later, one of his partners called and said, 'Do you want to buy everybody out?' There were two partners who wanted to stay in, but everybody else wanted out."
- Jerry Krause got the job as the Chicago Bulls' general manager because he was already a White Sox scout and called Reinsdorf to inquire about the position. When Krause told Reinsdorf exactly what he wanted to hear (essentially make a replica of the 1970s Knicks teams), the latter took a chance on the former and the rest was history. Reinsdorf maintains Krause should be in the Hall of Fame.
The second half of the article details the three core principles of Reinsdorf's ownership style:
find good people, delegate responsibility, and stay loyal to your employees.
Reinsdorf has been known to cut longtime employees sizable checks upon their retirement, several multiples of their annual salary. But maybe more impressive, he made sure to bring front-office staffers to The Finals or the World Series and seemed to think it odd that anyone else might think it was odd.
But... the flipside of that is relentless loyalty can conflict with "find good people" when the people found turn out to be not that good. From the perspective of the Bulls, while John Paxson has had some hits and misses, it is getting increasingly difficult to defend keeping Gar Forman around. Reinsdorf's infatuation with Jerry Krause also ultimately led to the end of the Jordan Dynasty and the birth of the miserable Baby-Bulls era. The GarPax-over-Thibodeau era is still being written, but the prognosis certainly isn't great.
However, when you look at the full scope of Reinsdorf's accomplishments without merely asking, "what have you done for me lately," its hard not to conjure up a portrait of a man that deserves a tremendous amount of respect. 7 Championships over two sports, and he helped turn the United Center into one of the greatest indoor venues in America, and cultivated Comiskey Park into a very profitable and popular sports arena in its own right. He did all of this while maintaining transparent communication and unwavering loyalty throughout his organizations, which from a business perspective is not only quite difficult but also extremely commendable.
Fans have a tricky relationship with the teams they know and love. When a controversial move is made, it's usually met with criticism from at least some of the fanbase, and its hard for most of them to not feel some type of way given the time and emotion invested in supporting a franchise. What's often lost in this equation--albeit frequently referenced--is that at the end of the day, sports are a business. In a perfect world perhaps it wouldn't be so, but perhaps the greatest cost of having professional athletics is that they must behave as businesses first and sports teams second in order to survive.
In that sense, Jerry Reinsdorf is one of the very best owners around. He took a baseball team gasping for air following a work-stoppage and revitalized their popularity while ending a nearly century-old city-wide baseball curse. While he without question lucked into the greatest basketball player of all time, Reinsdorf turned a Bulls franchise that was desperate to sell into an athletics leviathan that has consistently been one of (if not the) most profitable franchise in its respective sport. Throughout all of that, I would be extremely surprised if there was a single front-office staff member that worked for the man that had anything bad to say about him as a professional.
If you choose to blame Reinsdorf for the current state of affairs that the Bulls are in, just don't forget about all the sports success he's helped build up in Chicago during his time as an owner. He will be a figurehead in the city forever, and he absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.