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Jerry Reinsdorf's 'mellowing' helped bring 2020 NBA All-Star Game to Chicago

K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Basketball

Adam Silver was a law student at the University of Chicago when Chicago last hosted an NBA All-Star Game in 1988, which Silver attended at Chicago Stadium.

The dunk contest for the ages that Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins staged still resonates with the NBA commissioner, who sat up high then but front and center Friday, when he officially announced the 2020 All-Star weekend will come to the United Center.

"I'm looking forward to better seats," Silver cracked.

He'll get them. But so, apparently, should Joey Reinsdorf, son of Bulls President Michael Reinsdorf and a junior studying economics at Northwestern. Joey's grandfather, Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, long had opposed hosting another All-Star Game because it displaces season ticket holders.

But when Michael and Joey attended last season's event in New Orleans -- a game the Bulls tried to get when Silver pulled it from Charlotte over North Carolina's anti-LGBT law -- 20 years of traveling to All-Star Games prompted an observation.

"Joey turned to me and said, 'Dad, since we've been going to these games, it's been in Houston twice, New Orleans twice. It's even been in Vegas, and they don't have a team,' " Michael recalled. " 'So when is it going to be us?' "

The United Center, which opened in August 1994, will get its turn after Los Angeles in 2018 and Charlotte in 2019. The league announced the new Wintrust Arena will host the Saturday All-Star celebrity game and Rising Stars and All-Star practices. Fan-focused events will be staged at Navy Pier.

"I can't think of a better town to have an All-Star Game," Silver said. "Chicago is iconic when it comes to sports and basketball. Some of the best basketball that has ever taken place has happened here."

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg's nickname may be "The Mayor," but the real one also played a crucial role.

"We all know Rahm (Emanuel) doesn't take no for an answer," Michael Reinsdorf said.

Spurred by the economic impact of landing the NFL and NHL drafts, Emanuel pestered Silver enough to help Chicago win the bid over, in Silver's words, "a lot of competition."

"Mayor Emanuel was very persuasive," Silver said with a smile. "He called regularly. He was very enthusiastic about bringing the game here."

On Friday, Emanuel offered a pledge to Silver.

"When you get on that plane, you're going to say, 'Why didn't I do this earlier?' " Emanuel said. "We're going to fulfill it."

Silver admitted the United Center would've landed the game earlier if not for Jerry Reinsdorf's opposition. In their conversations when the league considered Chicago before settling on New Orleans last year, Silver said Jerry Reinsdorf "had mellowed a bit."

But the genesis for his opposition is legitimate. Michael Reinsdorf said the Bulls will be lucky to get "a couple thousand seats" in a 22,000-seat arena.

"The NBA controls it all," Michael Reinsdorf said. "Unfortunately, a lot of our season ticket holders won't be able to buy tickets."

Silver said events such as the Rising Stars Challenge and NBA Jam Session are alternative ways to placate season ticket holders.

"We're bringing in people from all over the world. We of course need those seats," Silver said. "But my sense for the season ticket holders, many of whom I've talked to, I don't think their ultimate deal is, 'We'd rather not have it all if we can't have our same seats.' I think they still appreciate what it means for the community and team to bring All-Star festivities to Chicago."

Ultimately, that spirit motivated Emanuel and the Reinsdorfs despite Michael saying the event "may even cost the United Center dollars" because it's used for the week.

"We understand the economic and cultural impact that bringing the All-Star Game provides the city of Chicago," Michael said. "We're ready here at the United Center. Our campus has expanded tremendously over the last several years."

Back in 1988, only the Stadium existed. Over time, some controversy developed over whether Jordan -- now majority owner and chairman of the Hornets -- received some hometown judging to beat Wilkins. So who won?

"Michael is one of my bosses," Silver deadpanned.

(c)2017 Chicago Tribune

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