When Michael Reinsdorf wanted to work for his father's sports teams fresh out of the University of Arizona, his dad said no. Almost two decades later, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf did the asking.
The conversation didn't last long.
The son responded: "Let me think about it — yes."
Michael Reinsdorf laughs now at his own eagerness at his dad's offer to manage the Bulls.
The younger Reinsdorf, 46, is seen as the heir apparent of the franchise his father gained control of in 1985, when he led a group to purchase a majority of the team for $9.25 million. He took it from mediocrity to the pinnacle of sports during the Michael Jordan era, and the Bulls are now worth an estimated $800 million, according to Forbes.
The previous ownership consortium included Philip Klutznick, the late U.S. Commerce Secretary; George Steinbrenner, the legendary New York Yankees owner; Walter Shorenstein, the late billionaire real estate developer and investor; and the estate of the late Arthur Wirtz, the Blackhawks' owner, according to court records. The team's chairman at the time, wealthy industrialist Lester Crown, remained an investor after selling the team to Reinsdorf.
The basketball team's board of directors now numbers 10 and includes many of Reinsdorf's White Sox investors, as well as Lester Crown's son, Steven, and Michael Reinsdorf. As with the White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf has complete control of the Bulls through a general partner, a corporation that runs the team. And in this case, unlike with the Sox, Reinsdorf owns 100 percent of the Bulls' general partner.
Since 2010, Michael Reinsdorf has been the franchise's president and chief operating officer, positions created for him to oversee all business affairs. Vice president for basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman still report to his father. For about eight years, Michael Reinsdorf had been representing the Bulls at NBA Board of Governors meetings.
Both Reinsdorfs said Michael's involvement in the Bulls — and not the Sox — is due to Jerry's schedule. Jerry snowbirds in Arizona during basketball season and is heavily involved in daily operations with the baseball team.
"I found that I was unable or unwilling to devote the time to the Bulls that needed to be devoted," Jerry Reinsdorf said. "He was fully ready to step into that position. And I always felt that I undermanaged the Bulls by not being there on an everyday basis."
Said Michael: "I think there was a little bit of a feeling among some people that, well, Jerry's passionate about the White Sox but not passionate about the Bulls. And I think having myself involved here makes it clear to the people inside the office and the people outside the office that the Chicago Bulls are incredibly important to my father."
His father's earlier rebuff didn't stop Michael from getting involved in sports. He worked in real estate and then co-founded a stadium-consulting company, International Facilities Group LLC. Among its ventures, IFG sought work in Stockton, Calif., which wanted to build a city-owned arena for minor league sports.
"We were hoping we could manage the building, and the city manager pushed, 'We'd love to have you manage the building, but what we really want is for you to own the teams,'" Michael Reinsdorf said.
Independent of IFG, he purchased a minor league hockey team in Atlantic City, N.J., and moved it to Stockton, renaming it the Thunder; the team led its league in attendance for four years. He also started the Stockton Lightning, an arena football team.
But problems mounted in Stockton. The arena lost millions annually and Reinsdorf's company was criticized for not bringing in enough activity, according to interviews and city records.
"Reinsdorf's company did not deliver," said Ann Johnston, the city's mayor from 2009 until last year, one of several city council members who said Reinsdorf's contract was too favorable. "They did, frankly, nothing. I can't fault Michael Reinsdorf for getting the best deal he could at the time. He negotiated and got a lot — a ton."
Jim Rachels, who co-owned an indoor soccer team, the Stockton Cougars, that played in the arena for three years, said of Reinsdorf: "He's a businessman. When you're negotiating a contract as a business, don't you want to do what's best for your business?"
The city, which paid $3.2 million to IFG for services in its last year, bought out the management contract for an additional $2.2 million. Management of the arena was subsequently taken over in early 2011 by SMG, one of the world's largest facilities management companies.
Reinsdorf sold the hockey team, shuttered the arena football team and left Stockton altogether in late 2010, saying he wanted to be closer to his family in Chicago.
"Unfortunately, the arena had trouble competing with other bigger venues in Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco for music acts," said Reinsdorf, who lives in Glencoe. "The city felt that by bringing in SMG to manage the arena, they would book the building more than IFG, so the city bought IFG out of its contract."
For Reinsdorf, sustainable success has come in baseball. In 2007, he led a group that purchased the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals, for $13.25 million. The team's ballpark in Pennsylvania underwent a publicly funded $37 million renovation in 2008, set a single-season attendance record in 2010 and won a division title in 2011. Reinsdorf remains the controlling owner.
But baseball, the elder Reinsdorf has said, is a far tougher business than basketball, and he has recommended that the Sox be sold after he passes. He has made no such pronouncement about selling the Bulls.
"I think he's more involved in the Bulls now from a business perspective, now that I'm here, because I talk to him on a daily basis," Michael Reinsdorf said. "There are times I try to push off decisions to him, and he pushes it right back to me."