Jerry Reinsdorf’s tenure as owner of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls has garnered renewed scrutiny in recent days due to airing of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary series detailing Michael Jordan’s final season with the franchise.
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A former tax attorney who built his fortune in real estate, Reinsdorf purchased a controlling stake in the Bulls for just $9.2 million in 1985, according to Forbes. He gained control of the team just as Jordan was rising to basketball superstardom.
The Reinsdorf-owned Bulls won six NBA titles in the 1990s, culminating in the pivotal 1997-98 season that proved to be Jordan’s last campaign with the franchise. Tensions between the Bulls’ aging roster and a front office led by Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause grew so intense that the owner nearly enacted a full rebuild prior to winning the sixth title.
“After the fifth championship, which was ’96-’97, we were looking at this team and realizing other than Michael (Jordan), the rest of the guys were probably at the end of their high productive years,” Reinsdorf said in “The Last Dance.” “We had to decide whether we keep the team together or not. And we realized maybe this was the time to do a rebuild and not try to win a sixth championship.”
Ultimately, the Bulls front office decided to keep the roster together for the 1997-98 season, despite the impending departure of head coach Phil Jackson, star forward Scottie Pippen’s dissatisfaction with his contract and discord between Jordan and Krause. Reinsdorf’s role in the saga drew criticism in the early episodes of “The Last Dance.”
An underpaid Pippen was so frustrated with his contract situation that he delayed a surgery until shortly before the 1997-98 season during a spat with management. Reinsdorf defended his handling of the situation, arguing that he advised Pippen against signing a five-year extension because the deal was too long.
The Bulls dynasty broke up after the season with Jackson’s exit, Jordan’s retirement and Pippen’s trade to the Houston Rockets.
While Reinsdorf has drawn the ire of Bulls fans on several occasions in the last few decades, the team is considered one of the NBA's most valuable franchises.
The Bulls are worth an estimated $3.2 billion as of this year, according to Forbes’ calculations. Reinsdorf, 84, also owns MLB’s Chicago White Sox.