Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel billed it as a homecoming and while Monday's groundbreaking for the Bulls' new practice facility does indeed symbolize the team centralizing its operations within city limits, the construction of the building, adjacent from the United Center, also serves more practical purposes.
"A year from now, the Bulls will be totally a Chicago team," Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said, referencing the facility's intended completion of prior to the 2014-15 NBA season. "This is a historic day for us, bringing the Chicago Bulls back, totally, into the city. We've been in Deerfield now for close to 30 years, first at the Multiplex and then at the Berto Center, which was, by the way, the first practice facility that was exclusively dedicated to an NBA team.
"The mayor came to me and said that he thinks it would be a very, very good thing if the Chicago Bulls would come home to Chicago and if we are indeed a Chicago team, we belong in the city of Chicago," he continued. "I think it'll be a plus. It wasn't our first choice. My first choice was to build a bigger building in the Deerfield area. But the mayor said this was important to him and we want to be good citizens, so we went ahead and did it. But now it's growing on me.
"John [Paxson] mentioned the fact that a number of the players live downtown, but you know what I think the real positive is going to be? Not to have to fight the traffic before games. So, if we're up having a shootaround or something up in Deerfield, they've got to get the heck out of there, because you know what happens with the inbound Edens [Expressway] and so, we're going to eliminate that. This way, Tom can have the players in in the morning, they can do whatever they want, go home, come back ort they can stay here. They can stay at the facility right up until gametime if they want."
Emanuel chimed in: "The Bulls have always been at the heart of the city of Chicago and the city of Chicago has always been behind the Chicago Bulls, and now, you are finally, after 20-plus years, finally home in Chicago."
The mayor added that the facility will be a boon for the surrounding neighborhood, as plans for a new campus of nearby Malcolm X College, a renovation of the Damen Blue Line El stop and a focus on a health-care curriculum at both Malcolm X and neighboring Crane Technical High School are also in the works, aspects that pleased local alderman Walter Burnett, who was also on hand.
"This investment here in the training facility is more than an investment in a training facility," he explained. "It's this type of the investment that happened with the United Center 20 years ago that then spur a series of public and private investments that have turned the Near West Side into an economic opportunity for the entire city, commercially and residentially, and that would not have happened if not for the vision that Jerry Reinsdorf and the entire Bulls family had. And this new training facility, after 20 years coming home to the city of Chicago, will have as equal a value in economic opportunity, job creation and job growth for the entire West Side of the city of Chicago, but something that everybody, whether you live on the West Side or not, can participate in."
Paxson, the Bulls vice president, spoke about the need to compete with other NBA teams.
"I was actually playing when we opened the Berto Center 21 years ago, so I have a wonderful perspective on how important this is. As you know, we're in an unbelievably competitive business, where only one team each season ends up being crowned a champion and what we're aspiring to now, is we're making a championship-level investment in our team and in our players by this new practice facility," he said. "It's going to be state of the art, the amenities we will be able to have for our players, the resources that they'll be able to use over the years to train and get better with their bodies, and ultimately, the basketball court, are immeasurable.
"Since we've been up in Deerfield all these years, we've never been together all these years, business operations and basketball operations. This now will put us in a position to have our headquarters in one space," the former sharpshooting guard added. "I think this move is good for Chicago. You may know that many of our players currently live in the city, even though we practice up north. They've fallen in love with the city and the many things that they're able to take advantage of.
"We've had a number of players over the last several years who live downtown and decided to make the commute up to practice. The reality is, you spend most of your time at your practice facility because you play 41 games at home, so you're not really home very often. I think what we're saying is we're embracing the fact that our players want to live in the city, take advantage of it. I think the fact that, to be very honest with you, the commute has been an issue with me, when you think about when your players get in their cars on the North Shore and have to drive down to games, we all know that it can take forever and they have to play that night. That can hurt what we're trying to accomplish. I think only good things can come of this."
Gar Forman, the Bulls' general manager, concurred: "On so many different levels, it's going to help our team. Everybody talks about the commute and that has become a real hassle during the year.
"I think having our players living here and in the community--our players are very active, going to schools, going to Boys and Girls Clubs, interacting with youth throughout the city--but I think this will give them an opportunity to be even more active with those kind of things. And I think from a recruiting standpoint, having a facility like this, in a great city like Chicago, will be real beneficial also," he elaborated. "We've been working on the plans for the last year. Everything's going to be first class, from a rehabilitation standpoint, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, to having the extra court to use. We've got two full courts, an eating room, a video room."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau also listed the various benefits of the planned facility.
"We're obviously very excited about it. As Jerry mentioned, the Berto has served us very well, but we've sort of outgrown it because 20 years ago, the staffs were a lot smaller. So it's a great opportunity for our players. I think it'll help with recovery, it provides the opportunity to help them develop and I think being downtown, in many ways, helps us. We sort of get around the traffic part on gameday and driving down, but we're very, very excited because of what it means to the team," he said. "It's very well thought-out and as teams in the league have built their new facilities, we had the opportunity to go around and look at what they've done, and also some of the top college programs in the country, so then you're taking the best ideas and come up with your own plan, so we feel there's nothing that has been left out."
Paxson specified some of the priorities the Bulls had when detailing the features of the facilities.
"The biggest thing was updating everything, state-of-the-art equipment, just everything to enhance our players' ability to train and improve, and that's the most important thing because as we went around to these buildings these last couple of years and saw how people have stepped it up, you have to keep up," he explained."In terms of therapy, there's so many things that have advanced, these underwater treadmills, and if you're keeping in mind what's best for the players--let's face it, we invest a lot of money in these guys and we want them to be healthy, and we want them in an environment that they're comfortable with. But I also think it creates a situation where you have your coaches and they would be as productive as they can be. And for the entire operation, the fact that we're right across the street from the United Center."
It doesn't hurt that next summer, the Bulls are expected to be a major player in free agency, so the building should be a selling point for players interested in coming to Chicago and they'll be able to tour a nearly-completed facility, based in the heart of the city.
Thibodeau explained: "I think it's all part of it. I think when players look at different situations, they look at everything. They look at the city itself, the players that are there. Obviously the financial part is the biggest part of that, but then they start looking at the plane, they look at the facilities and when you think about your career, you want the best amenities possible, so that you can prolong and make your career the most efficient that it could be.
Reinsdorf added: "I think anytime you improve your facilities, it's a plus for free agency and one of the great things we have for attracting players is the city of Chicago itself, so this will make it easier for players to see they can enjoy the city because they're going to be right in the city."
It's a far cry from when the organization's majority owner first purchased the franchise.
"When I bought the team, they were practicing at Angel Guardian High School and I remember walking in and talking to the players for the first time, and you couldn't even stand up. I was shocked at that and then, [Bulls senior executive] Irwin Mandel came up with the [Deerfield] Multiplex and that was a major, major upgrade, going there. But the lack of privacy was really a problem. Players couldn't really shower there. If they wanted to shower, they had to shower with the public. There was no real privacy. It was [former Bulls assistant coach and Basketball Hall of Famer] Tex Winter, he came up with the idea of having our own place. There was a tennis club, I think on Route 22. Tex suggested that maybe we ought to look into buying it and converting it, and when I did, I thought maybe it would be a lot simpler just to build something, so that's how Berto got built."