Jerry Reinsdorf Explains Meeting with Michael Jordan to Pitch Return to Bulls

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 18, 2020

Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf talks on the field before a baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox Saturday, June 29, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

While Jerry Reinsdorf contends the Chicago Bulls made the prudent decision in breaking up their team after the 1997-98 campaign, he did sit down with Michael Jordan and pitch him one last season.

Reinsdorf told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne he and Jordan met July 3, 1998, with the Bulls owner saying he would attempt to bring the team back together—starting with coach Phil Jackson.

"Don't say anything now," Reinsdorf told Jordan. "We're in a lockout. We don't know how long this lockout is going to go. Let's get to the end, and maybe I can talk Phil [Jackson] back into it. Maybe after ... maybe he'll change his mind. So don't say anything."

Jackson was the key to potentially unlocking a continuation of the dynasty. Without Jackson, there was no Jordan. Without Jordan, there was no point in doing anything but blowing it up and starting the rebuild.

For Jackson, returning was a nonstarter.

"I asked Phil to come back," Reinsdorf said. "And he says, 'No, it's time.' That was the expression he used, 'It's time.'"

By the 1997-98 season, Jackson's relationship with general manager Jerry Krause had deteriorated to a "him or me" Cold War. Krause famously said the legendary coach would not return after the 1997-98 season, even if the Bulls went 82-0.

"When he made that comment, 'Phil goes 82-0, he's not coming back,'" Reinsdorf said of Krause. "I told him that was ridiculous, he had no business saying it. He realized it. But he couldn't walk it back."

It's unclear if Reinsdorf ever offered to fire Krause in exchange for Jackson (and thus Jordan) to return. Jordan and Scottie Pippen both had sour relationships with Krause that lasted decades after their departure from Chicago. Anyone who watched The Last Dance could clearly see Jordan himself blames Krause for the premature breakup of the team.

Reinsdorf noted that there were several other reasons, mostly the tens of millions of dollars he would have had to pay to retain the Bulls roster. Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr (among others) were all up for new contracts, ones Reinsdorf believes would have been overpays. 

History proved him right in most of those cases, but 22 years and zero Finals appearances later, odds are it probably would have been worth it for one more run.