Commentary

Reinsdorf speaks out of turn

Chairman's boastful comments undermine what the Bulls are all about

Updated: March 10, 2011, 9:30 AM ET
By Michael Wilbon | ESPNChicago.com

Jerry Reinsdorf ought to know better.

He is too smart an owner, has been around professional sports for too long to suggest that his Bulls, because they are led by a special young player and are particularly well-coached, should win four NBA championships.

It's plain dumb to predict or presume multiple championships, especially when the team you have now hasn't won as much as a playoff series, when the franchise you own has won titles only when led there by the greatest player in the history of basketball.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reinsdorf
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJerry Reinsdorf has seven total championships as chairman of the Bulls and White Sox. He sees a few more on the horizon.
In case you missed it, Reinsdorf, the team's chairman, told the Chicago Sun-Times, "If you don't see something special in Derrick Rose, then you're blind. We have an outstanding coach, an outstanding bunch of young players, the team is deep, and if we stay healthy we have an awfully good chance to win at least four championships."

Almost everybody, except a few goofballs who aren't worth acknowledging, sees Rose is something special, which is why he's way out front in the race for the league's MVP award. And almost everybody recognizes Tom Thibodeau, while in only his first year, is an outstanding head coach, which is why he has a reasonable chance to be voted the NBA coach of the year.

Praising Rose, Thibs and the rest of the team is where Reinsdorf should have stopped.

Has he not turned on the television since July? Has he not seen the clip of LeBron James at that rally in Miami days after he took his talents to South Beach saying the Heat would win "not four, not five, not six, not seven … " NBA championships? Is it possible Reinsdorf is unaware of how much that boast has led most people who watch professional basketball, including current players and coaches, to hate the Miami Heat? LeBron is a smart young man who, when caught up in the moment of a public rally that never should have been held, said a very dumb thing. After winning zero championships in his first seven years in the league, he's going to win eight in, what, the next eight to 10 years?

One of the reasons people all over the country are falling in love with Rose -- just listen to the MVP chants on the road when he's at the foul line late in the game -- is they appreciate his humility. Actually, they crave the kind of humility he exhibits. Did you see Rose's postgame interview with ABC/ESPN's Heather Cox in the moments immediately after the Bulls beat the Heat in Miami on Sunday? Cox wondered why Rose, who had led his team to a thrilling, last-second victory, hadn't yet smiled. Rose responded that he was disappointed because he nearly cost the Bulls the game with a turnover and a bad shot that resulted in an air ball.

It's precisely that trait, that graciousness that endears Rose to so many people, folks beyond Chicago. It's why you can barely find Rose jerseys online or in stores where other stars' NBA jerseys are plentiful. Rose, bless his heart, hasn't said one out-of-line thing or made a single dumb utterance all season … or in his entire career that I can recall. Doesn't boast, doesn't presume, doesn't post stupid tweets or put dumb stuff on his Facebook page. I asked Rose last week whether he would acknowledge he's the leader in the MVP race, and he said, "Please … don't say that … ." The kid is rock-solid.

So what does Rose get in exchange for being the dream employee? His owner undermines him by saying something really, really stupid.

Rose is a great player and not yet a finished product. GM Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson have done a good job putting complementary players all around him. With that, the Bulls have every reason to be optimistic about their chances now and for as long as Rose is in a Chicago uniform, which hopefully is for the next dozen years or so. But … if big talent plus great coaching automatically equals multiple championships, how come Jerry West, the great Jerry West, has only one championship to his name? That's one. One!

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose has remained humble in his words. His boss should've done the same.
If Rose goes on to have a career as great as another Chicago point guard, Isiah Thomas, he'll be a Hall of Famer. Isiah has two titles. Not four, two. John Stockton -- you think he played the position pretty well? Played with Karl Malone, another Hall of Famer, and was coached by Jerry Sloan, a truly great coach. Stockton and Malone? Zero NBA championships.

Elgin Baylor? Zero titles. Wilt? Two. Hakeem Olajuwon? Two.

You can win multiple championships in professional basketball, yes, but you certainly shouldn't try to predict them. It's fine for Reinsdorf to feel his team is in terrific position to win, but not fine to say it. If anybody should know how much trouble somebody's mouth can get a person into, you would think Ozzie Guillen's boss should know.

One of the great advantages the Bulls have enjoyed this season is playing all of it -- until now -- under the radar. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have played with all the pressure. The Bulls have very quietly and professionally, largely thanks to Thibodeau and Rose, gone about their work without calling any unnecessary attention to themselves.

Then Reinsdorf opened his mouth. You'd think Reinsdorf would be happy for Miami to be in the intense spotlight all by itself right now. What good could it possibly do to tell, say, the Celtics, "You can't beat my boys!" Just let the Celtics find that out, if the Bulls are good enough, in late May and early June. Even worse than a player running his mouth is an owner doing it.

The Bulls have done a wonderful job so far of being the most earnest and hard-working team out there. Nonetheless, Rose's Bulls aren't Michael Jordan's Bulls. Rose isn't Jordan. Perhaps Reinsdorf has noticed this. While Rose does seem to share some characteristics with Jordan -- they both are unimaginably strong-willed and both take losing intensely personally -- they couldn't be more dissimilar in demeanor. Jordan's ferocity came to him as naturally as Rose's humility. Maybe Reinsdorf was having a flashback to the late 1990s and thought it would be OK to load up Rose with expectations as he could have Jordan.

What I hope not to hear in the coming days is Reinsdorf say he was misquoted or taken out of context. What he ought to do is publicly say, "That was a stupid thing to say; I should know better. We'd be thrilled for Tom and Derrick to lead the Bulls to one championship in the coming years, and I ought to know better than to overload my guys with unreasonable expectations."

Reinsdorf has been a terrific owner; how many owners have seen two teams in two sports win championships? You don't build successful organizations by underestimating the opposition or by overstating your team. The Bulls, for the foreseeable future, will be playing in a conference with a Celtics team that has been to the Finals two of the past three years and believes it will be viable a little longer, a Knicks team with two superstars and the desire to add a third, and, of course, a star-stacked Miami team that we'd be silly to dismiss even as it now struggles mightily.

Winning championships, even for the NBA's greatest stars, is never a given. Let's hope Reinsdorf remembers the difference between believing in his team and unnecessarily burdening it.

Michael Wilbon is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Michael Wilbon | email

Pardon the Interruption co-host
Michael Wilbon is a featured columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is the longtime co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN and appears on the "NBA Sunday Countdown" pregame show on ABC, in addition to ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter: @RealMikeWilbon

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