Commentary

No idea he would be 'Superman'

Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf reflects on Michael Jordan's epic run with the Bulls

Updated: February 15, 2013, 12:50 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

So, Michael Jordan is turning 50. You'd think it was the anniversary of nondairy creamer or AstroTurf or something.

Even Jordan himself referred to his upcoming birthday and corresponding national observances the other day as "all the fuss," in explaining to ESPNChicago.com that he'd rather not add to it.

[+] EnlargeMichael Jordan, Jerry Reinsdorf
AP Photo/Mark EliasJerry Reinsdorf says he and Michael Jordan liked and respected each other and still do.

But Jordan turning 50 is significant. And Jerry Reinsdorf recognizes it.

"It's not that surprising that it's being made into a big deal," the Bulls' chairman said this week. "All that shows is that he's as big as ever, that he's one athlete who has never lost his Q rating. He's transcended all other athletes in that regard."

But it also hit Reinsdorf like it hit a lot of us.

"The fact that Michael is 50 obviously makes you think, wow, where did the years go?" he said.

Reinsdorf was 48 when the Bulls drafted Jordan in 1984. Reinsdorf didn't know much about the kid from North Carolina then, but when then-team owner Jonathan Kovler completed the sale of the Bulls to Reinsdorf's group the following year, Reinsdorf took control of an organization that had perhaps the most valuable asset of any sports franchise in the last century.

"If they only knew what they had, but they didn't," Reinsdorf said of the former ownership group. "And I had no idea he was going to be Superman."

If Reinsdorf ever had any real problems with Jordan, or vice versa, you will never hear it from either one of them. Sure, Reinsdorf did not love it when Jordan picked on general manager Jerry Krause. And Jordan threw a fit when friends like Charles Oakley were traded and Phil Jackson left.

Did Reinsdorf buy into the oft-mentioned belief that Jordan talked potential free agents out of coming to Chicago?

"How many more titles could he have won?" Reinsdorf asked.

The fact is, they liked and respected each other, and they still do.

"There has never been a problem between Michael and me," Reinsdorf said.

Did Reinsdorf ever envision Jordan, at age 50, as part-owner of the team?

"I talked to him early on and he was very clear that if he was going to be part of something, he wanted to be running it and there was just no room for him," Reinsdorf said. "If he wanted to be involved like Scottie [Pippen, who was recently promoted from team ambassador to senior advisor to Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf], it would be a no-brainer. But Michael was much too big for that."

Reinsdorf said he never envisioned Jordan owning a team until he became a part-owner of the Washington Wizards in 2000, but when that imploded, Reinsdorf said he knew Jordan would be back.

On various occasions over the past several years, Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, has said he would not hesitate to come to Reinsdorf for advice, but there hasn't been much of that.

"He really hasn't," Reinsdorf said, "though he did say to me once a couple years ago, and I'll never forget it, 'I owe you a lot of apologies because it's a lot harder to run a team than I thought.'"

When they see each other now, as fellow owners, it is not much different than it has always been.

"It is always very cordial, we kibitz a lot," Reinsdorf said. "I don't go to as many NBA meetings, but when I do, they always sit us alphabetically [by team], so Michael and I sit next to each other. One issue came up [recently] where I was taking a position against David Stern and I made a motion, and when it came time to vote, Michael didn't really understand the issue but he said, 'I'll support Jerry.' There has always been a mutual respect there."

Reinsdorf I don't think anybody comes close to doing everything Michael could do, not just his offense but his defense.

-- Jerry Reinsdorf

From Reinsdorf's perspective, there is absolutely no question as to who is the greatest player of all time.

"Beyond a doubt," he said. "I don't think anybody comes close to doing everything Michael could do, not just his offense but his defense. His brilliance to me was evident in his last game [with the Bulls] at Utah [Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals]. We're down one point with [18 seconds] remaining, they have the ball and you've got to foul them. But Michael realizes that the ball had to go to [Karl] Malone and made the steal. It was a brilliant play that was overlooked."

It was overlooked mostly because Jordan pushed past Bryon Russell and hit the game winner with 5.2 seconds remaining to give the Bulls their sixth NBA title.

Why is Jordan's 50th birthday a big deal?

"First of all, he played in his underwear," Reinsdorf said with a laugh. "And he had that great smile and he was the greatest player of all time. You also have to give [Jordan's agent] David Falk a lot of credit because when Michael was playing, his last endorsements were 10-year deals, which kept him in front of everybody. He's still in commercials.

"It's that smile and that personality. But you can't undersell the commercials."

You can't undersell what still sells.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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