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NO 25TH ANNIVERSARY BASH FOR THE BULLS? HOW SAD AND WRETCHED
The Jordan Dynasty remains the most compelling and theatrical in sports history, but a franchise that has crashed since the gang was torturously dismantled has no plans to celebrate epic memories
A city that needs to smile should be having a party sometime soon. This, after all, is the 25th anniversary of the sixth and final NBA championship of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Chicago is a place with too much tragedy and traffic, an abundance of subterfuge and slush, and a sports scene that should comfort the good people continues to be colder and gloomier than Lower Wacker Drive during a polar vortex.
So, when’s the big bash? Will it be done in Grant Park as it always was, before Barack Obama and Lollapalooza overtook the lawns? Isn’t it simple, bringing back Michael and Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson and a smashed Dennis Rodman — and, if he insists, Kim Jong Un — for one final salute? Book it, Jerry Reinsdorf. Cue the Alan Parsons music. Tell Benny the Bull to behave himself. Invite millions. Prepare for a civic hug-a-long.
Yeah, hug this.
The Bulls Dynasty has devolved into something sad and wretched. The strife that tore apart the most compelling sports team ever — extending to global reaches otherwise unfamiliar with Chicago — cannot be soothed. It spilled into public view during “The Last Dance” docu-series, which was all very true and very avoidable with any sort of ownership savvy. And unless Reinsdorf is planning a surprise, unlikely for a dismal businessman who is acting every hour of his 86 years and 11 months, there will be no outdoor celebration, no ceremony in the United Center, not even a mention on the Bulls’ promotional schedule.
They’re having a night toasting Benny’s birthday. They’ve having a FanDuel betting night, with no one wagering smart money on a team that is 24-27 and looking at its latest rebuild since the dynasty was torturously dismantled by the Jerrys, Reinsdorf and Krause. They’re giving away bucket hats and fanny packs and headbands and bobbleheads and White Sox jerseys, none of which will feature the name and number of Tony La Russa, whose managerial crash defined Reinsdorf once and for all as an abysmal owner.
But unless you drop by the Jordan statue, which was unveiled outside the arena more than 28 years ago, there is no real nod to the most resounding and theatrical of all sports powerhouses. That’s because Reinsdorf and his minions have succeeded in burying the dynasty’s every emotional trace, still bitter about the potshots hurled by Jordan, Pippen, Jackson and local media opinionists such as me. Long before “The Last Dance,” in 2011, the Bulls staged a 20-year anniversary of their first title. But the ESPN blockbuster did more than entertain pandemic shut-ins. It widened the gulf and reminded the world that Reinsdorf broke up the gang when two more championships, at least one, were winnable by simply paying four Hall of Famers what they were worth. Instead, he pocketed the money he wasn’t required to pay them, let Krause hire a fishing buddy named Tim Floyd, and the rest is infamy.
The dynasty was ruined by avarice and business ego, the obnoxious idea that the Jerrys could create their “own dynasty,” as Reinsdorf liked to say. Since the teardown, the Bulls have missed the playoffs 12 times — with a 13th exit possibly coming — and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals only once, in 2011, back when Derrick Rose was a hopechest from God and the savage streets of nearby Englewood. The next dynasty turned out to be a travesty. Reinsdorf, who always savored his one World Series title over six NBA rings, handed off day-to-day control of the Bulls to his son, Michael, who is less pigheaded but just as incompetent. The bottom line: Without Jordan, in a fifth decade of double-franchise ownership, father and son have one championship to show. ONE, a fluky Sox triumph in 2005. And yet, the old man couldn’t wait to run off the legend who made him a billionaire.
So, no, Jordan wouldn’t be showing up for a ceremony unless Reinsdorf called and begged, which won’t happen until palm trees appear in the Loop. And no, Pippen wouldn’t be showing up, especially after Jordan minimized his vital importance to the era in “The Last Dance.” Hell, that relationship is so traumatic for Pippen, it seems his ex-wife, Larsa, now is dating Jordan’s son, Marcus, which means Michael conceivably could become a grandfather via Pippen blood. If that isn’t the ultimate diss of the sidekick, I’m not sure what is, other than the Jordan Brand selling “Larsa Loves Marcus” swag.
Everyone has moved on. Jackson continued to win more titles by uniting Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, then motivating Kobe to win two more after Shaq’s big rump was traded. He tried a management role with the Knicks, flopped, and has disappeared to Montana while losing his former girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, to comedian Jay Mohr, who looks nothing like the blond smartass who played Bob Sugar in “Jerry Maguire.” Steve Kerr, entrusted by HIs Airness to take a jumper to win a title, continues to win rings (four as a coach, five as a player) and owes a substantial Jordan tax bill — as the dynasty link who has profited most, beyond Reinsdorf, from his association with Michael. Rodman continues to protect us all from nuclear annihilation, as long as he doesn’t piss off Kim Jong Un. Worm Diplomacy might be more important than ever, seeing how his friend, the North Korean leader, is threatening “overwhelming nuclear force” as the U.S. doubles down on its military alliance with South Korea.
What’s crazy is, Rodman can save the world from blowing up but can’t bring together the Bulls. When the New England Patriots gather for various future anniversaries, be certain that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and everyone else will share gratitude to the roars of thousands. When the New York Yankees gather in two years for the 25th anniversary of a Major League Baseball three-peat, be certain that Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman and the boys will have a Bronx love-in.
But not the Bulls. Jordan is the king of the sneaker world, if still an also-ran as owner of the piddling Charlotte Hornets, and he has no interest in interrupting his Florida tee times to freeze his ass off — always possible in Chicago in May — while Reinsdorf sneers at him and Pippen threatens to throw him in the lake. Kerr is busy trying to save the Golden State Warriors from a similar explosive breakup, as general manager Bob Myers wants more money from a reluctant owner and Draymond Green eyes an escape hatch after slugging teammate Jordan Poole. Even so, I assume Stephen Curry, in his second term as U.S. President, will be persuasive enough to organize a heartfelt 25-year reunion come 2047.
Everyone else gets over the bullshit. Not the Bulls.
I keep thinking back to my personal sessions with Jordan, outside a gym on Chicago’s west side, in the summer before he made his NBA comeback with the Washington Wizards. “Why?’’ I kept asking. Every time I suggested he was returning out of spite — so he could go out on his own terms, not the owner’s — he nodded and elaborated about the raw truth of it all.
Alan Parsons? I’m thinking “Fool On The Hill,’’ for Reinsdorf, who lives in the foothills near Phoenix and fumbles away a franchise that has wasted the greatest single resource known to sport. Sorry, fans, but the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s exist only in memories and on an ESPN video stream. The owner killed them. The dynasty died nasty.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.