By Bruce Levine–
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (CBS) — The humble beginnings of what drove Jerry Reinsdorf to success may have been a brief conversation he had with his mother. As a 10-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, Reinsdorf gave his fifth-grade report card to his mother and smiled. The grades were mostly B’s with a couple of C’s rolled in.
“That’s nice,” she told her son. “Is this what you expect from yourself, or is there more you can do?”
The young Reinsdrof never forgot that subliminal message from his biggest supporter. Now 70 years later and the chairman of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, Reinsdorf has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, with the ceremony taking place Friday in Springfield, Mass. Reinsdorf never scored a point or grabbed a rebound, but his contribution to the NBA may have been as great off the court as his best player Michael Jordan was on the hardwood.
For those who will find that difficult to believe, try to remember this: 18 years after the Bulls had their final championship run and Jordan had left, the Bulls are still selling out the United Center and are considered a model franchise of the league. Under a great marketing plan now led by his son and team president Michael Reinsdorf, the business and basketball plan still flourish.
Before Reinsdorf and his partners bought the Bulls in 1985 for $21 million, Chicago wasn’t a proven NBA city, having lost two franchises. The average crowd fluctuated from 9,000 to 12,000 fans per game. The Jordan era and the Reinsdorf/Jerry Krause-led Bulls changed Chicago and NBA history in their tenure. To this day, the 80-year-old Reinsdorf still plays a big role when it comes to big decisions for the Bulls.
While Jordan was in the organization when Reinsdorf and his group purchased the team, hiring hiring a great general manager in Krause was key to the management success model he had in mind to run the basketball operation. Longtime friend John Reyes was in the lobby working for the Chicago Defender newspaper when Reinsdorf came out of the meeting as the new managing partner of the Chicago franchise. Reyes told Reinsdorf that the rumor on the street was he was going to hire Krause, who had been a top scout in both the NBA and MLB. Reyes that word was was Krause was tough to get along with.
“I don’t care about what other people say,” Reinsdorf told Reyes. “As long as Krause and I communicate — and we will — we are going to win championships here together.”
The exact number was six NBA titles. During the 1990s growth of the NBA product, big revenues from TV packages and the marketing of players and merchandise went through the roof. A top team and well-run, the Bulls took that product on the court to new levels in the sports industry.
Reinsdorf always gives credit to the people who worked for him. A humble man from a humble background will often say, “If I was good at anything, it was hiring good people who worked hard.”
The only two new sports arenas in Chicago built since 1928 were completed with Reinsdorf’s leadership and skill of putting groups together and making history. Along with the Wirtz family, they raised money from Japanese leaders to build the United Center. The co-owners paid off the loan in three years. Today the Untied Center hosts more than 200 events a year and is worth an estimated $1 billion.
With the help of former Illinois Gov. James Thompson and Chicago mayor Harold Washington, what’s currently known as U.S. Cellluar Field was erected 1991.
Reinsdorf’s relationships are built on loyalty and the unspoken word. If you are friend of his, then you have a person who will go to the wall for you in times of trouble or need. He’s unique in the fact that he has no caste system of rich people or clout heavy politicians being more important than the average person he calls a friend.
Many people have been bailed out and put forth in new directions by the Reinsdorf’s generosity and kindness. This Hall of Fame honor gives his friends and family a chance to celebrate his accomplishments while he can still enjoy it.
“My main goal is to help people and be a good person every day” Reinsdorf said in March.
The Naismith Hall of Fame made a great choice in honoring a humble man in Reinsdorf, who has helped the NBA grow to new heights. He did it through dedicated work, great instincts and a willingness to take chances others would usually pass on.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.