The Chicago Bulls are one of the most valuable franchises in the NBA, in all of sports actually. But things weren’t always that way. When Jerry Reinsdorf first began negotiations to buy the Bulls in the summer of 1984, nobody could foresee what the future held. Michael Jordan had just finished up his career at North Carolina and led Team USA to a gold medal at the Olympics that summer.
Chicago selected him with the third overall pick in the NBA draft and what transpired over the next 14 years was nothing short of incredible. Even in the time since Jordan and Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson, the Bulls have continued to be one of the most valuable brands in the NBA.
Jerry Reinsdorf bought the Chicago Bulls in 1985 for $16.2 million
In 1984, the Chicago Bulls were struggling. They were coming off three straight losing seasons and fans just weren’t interested in showing up to Chicago Stadium to see them play anymore. In fact, more people were showing up to indoor soccer games than NBA games in the Windy City and that was a major problem for ownership, which happened to include one of the most famous owners in the history of sports.
Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf saw an opening and he jumped on it. He knew what the problem was and he swooped in. He put a team together and started negotiations in the summer of 1984, right around the time the Bulls had drafted Michael Jordan. Of course, nobody knew the impact that a young kid from North Carolina would have and the deal was finalized in February 1985 for $16.2 million. Nobody knew at the time that Jerry Reinsdorf had just essentially stolen the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls became the biggest thing in sports during the Michael Jordan era
When Michael Jordan came to the NBA, he immediately turned the Chicago Bulls around. He easily won the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1985 and turned the once-struggling franchise into a must-see event, at home and on the road. When Jerry Reinsdorf bought the Bulls, Chicago was averaging just a little over 6,000 fans per game. That turned into a season-ticket waiting list of more than 8,000 people in just a year. General manager Jerry Krause helped build a team around Jordan, including adding both Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in 1987, and things took off from there.
Beginning in November 1987, the Chicago Bulls sold out every home game for a dozen years between Chicago Stadium and the United Center, which opened in 1994. Michael Jordan & Co. went on to win six NBA titles in the 1990s and were the center of the sports universe. Jersey sales went through the roof. Anything that had the Chicago Bulls logo on it was absolute gold. While Krause is often looked at as a villain, he played a major part in the Bulls’ success in those years and Reinsdorf became one of the most influential owners in the game. Both are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The team is worth $3.2 billion today
Even when the Michael Jordan era was over, Jerry Reinsdorf still made sure that the Chicago Bulls made money. The on-court product suffered for quite a while but nostalgia is always a thing and merchandise sales continued to be profitable. The team finally got another major star in 2008 in Derrick Rose, who won Rookie of the Year and just two years later won the NBA MVP while leading Chicago back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in more than a decade. Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler also became popular players over the next few seasons, which certainly didn’t hurt ticket and merchandise sales. The TV deals that Reinsdorf has made over the years hasn’t hurt either.
According to Forbes, as of February 2020, the Chicago Bulls are worth $3.2 billion, the fourth-highest amount in the NBA behind only the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Golden State Warriors. Just think about that. $3.2 billion! That’s 197.53 times more than the $16.2 million that Jerry Reinsdorf paid for the franchise in 1985. I’d say that’s a pretty decent investment.