“The Last Dance” documentary took it too easy on Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
And he still sounds offended.
In the final episode, Michael Jordan explained why the Bulls should have kept their core together for 1999.
Reinsdorf, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:
“I was not pleased. How’s that?” Reinsdorf told NBC Sports Chicago in a phone conversation, when asked for his reaction to the scene. “He knew better. Michael and I had some private conversations at that time that I won’t go into detail on ever. But there’s no question in my mind that Michael’s feeling at the time was we could not put together a championship team the next year.”
You can read Johnson’s article for more from Reinsdorf.
The problem: Reinsdorf begins his timeline in July 1998, when he attempted and failed to convince Phil Jackson to return. Jordan, who previously said he wouldn’t play for any other coach, then retired.
But this ignores Bulls general manager Jerry Krause – under Reinsdorf’s watch – trying for years to replace Jackson. Entering the 1997-98 season, Krause even said Jackson could go 82-0 and still have no chance of returning. No wonder Jackson was ready to depart in the 1998 offseason, even despite Reinsdorf’s last-ditch effort.
If Reinsdorf had better managed the team earlier, perhaps Chicago never would have faced such a contentious situation.
Ultimately, Reinsdorf ran the franchise as he saw fit. He didn’t want to spend to keep the championship core intact. That was his right.
But Reinsdorf is also claiming Jordan’s present-day statements don’t match Jordan’s feelings at the time. That’s dicier.
I don’t know what Jordan told Reinsdorf privately. I don’t know what Jordan thought in his own head. But after Chicago won the 1997 championship, Jordan said: “We’re entitled to defend what we have until we lose it.”
Maybe his perspective changed after the 1998 championship. Jordan was older and more worn down. Years of title contention are exhausting. Jordan simply retired rather than raising a fuss or threatening to sign elsewhere.
However, this was before players became comfortable flexing their power against owners. As much as he pressed Reinsdorf over the years, Jordan might have felt he had little recourse here. I could definitely believe Jordan preferred to return and chase another championship – but not if he had to mount a huge fight just to keep the team together.
Reinsdorf had disinclination toward spending and a general manager eager to rebuild. That was enough to convince the owner of the path the Bulls took – no matter what Jordan said at the time.