SBJ/May 20-26, 2013/Events and Attractions

Bulls’ boss finds different need, role in NBA

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It is no secret that Jerry Reinsdorf has been less engaged at the league level in basketball than he has in baseball. He attributes that mostly to the fact that the leagues operate differently, largely, he says, because of the styles of the respective commissioners, Bud Selig and David Stern.

Reinsdorf remembers getting the first clear view of that dynamic not long after he bought the Chicago Bulls, when he served on the negotiating committee during labor talks in 1988. He dedicated himself to the process so deeply that, when his father died that year, he took a red-eye flight to New York after the funeral. They made no progress and Reinsdorf went home.

A week later, Stern met with union head Larry Fleisher and made a deal.

“He does it all by himself,” Reinsdorf said. “I never really enjoy being part of the industry in basketball, because I had no influence. Nothing to say about anything.

“You go to NBA meetings and David Stern tells you what to do.”

Reinsdorf went out of his way to stress that he and Stern have maintained a cordial relationship, and that he doesn’t mean his observations about the commissioner as a criticism. Teams were bleeding money when Stern took over the league. By navigating so dramatic a turnaround, Reinsdorf figures, Stern earned the trust and support of the owners.

It is something he and the commissioner have discussed many times. Reinsdorf doesn’t begrudge him that. “It just never gave me the same opportunity to be involved,” he said.

If Reinsdorf already was less engaged in NBA matters as a result of his early days as an owner, that distance only grew in 1990, when the league tried to block him from airing Bulls games on WGN, a superstation that did not hold NBA broadcast rights. Reinsdorf said he suggested a compromise in which he’d limit the number of games that aired, but the league wouldn’t budge.

So Reinsdorf took the NBA to court.

“I said, ‘David, please don’t make me do it,’” Reinsdorf said. “It killed me to have that litigation. But without it we would have gone broke. So that’s what I was forced to do.”

Stern said he doesn’t recall Reinsdorf using those words. But he does remember Reinsdorf saying as much to his fellow owners. For the most part, they sided with Stern. Reinsdorf remembers sitting at dinner at an owners meeting when Jim Fitzgerald, the former Milwaukee Bucks owner who was a friend before Reinsdorf got into basketball, came over and asked how anyone could sit with him.

“I was a pariah,” Reinsdorf said. “After that, I stopped going to meetings.”

Reinsdorf says he is on better terms with the league these days. The family succession plan calls for the Reinsdorfs to retain their stake in the Bulls, while selling the White Sox. Michael Reinsdorf will take his father’s place. Jerry Reinsdorf said he doesn’t think there’s any baggage left from his disputes with the league.

“David and I patched things up,” Reinsdorf said. “We get along real well now. But I act sort of irreverent to him. I think I’m the only guy who busts his balls from time to time.”

Stern laughed when told of Reinsdorf’s assessment.

“Actually, he’s quite wrong — he has much company in that respect,” Stern said. “His fellow owners have also broken the code, because they know I enjoy it. It makes me better to spar.

“We enjoy a good poke back and forth, and we also have a good friendship and we share good memories of very good years.”

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