Michael Jordan was all but begging Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to keep the Bulls intact so they can make one last run at one last NBA title.
"I think this team is entitled to have an opportunity to continue to be successful," Jordan said after the Bulls' title-clinching victory Friday against the Utah Jazz. "I'm not saying Jerry Reinsdorf is the richest guy in the world, and I'm not saying that all of his partners can financially support what this team needs to maintain and be successful."But we're entitled to defend what we have until we lose it. If we lose it, then you can look at it and say, `OK, let's change.' But we've done a lot for this organization, and we've put it in a situation where it can be highly valuable."
The Bulls are highly valuable because Friday they captured their fifth NBA championship in seven years by winning the best-of-seven NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, four games to two. In the two seasons the Bulls didn't win during that span - 1993-94 and '94-95 - Jordan was off trying to hit curveballs in the minor leagues.
Whether the whole Bulls gang will be back next season to try to win another title is left in the hands of Reinsdorf, who is not a popular guy in this town. Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Bulls coach Phil Jackson no longer have contracts with the Bulls, and Scottie Pippen will be a free agent after next season.
Reinsdorf faces a serious dilemma, because Jordan said he would rather retire than play for a coach other than Jackson. Jordan also said Pippen should be paid the same $30.1 million salary Jordan made this season.
But Reinsdorf doesn't sound like a guy who can be persuaded by Jordan.
"Michael is the greatest player that ever played any team sport," Reinsdorf said. "His approach, or his views, are short-term. My obligations are long-term.
"Maybe after I sort it all out, Michael and I will be on the same page. I certainly hope so."
So do Bulls fans across the world. And so does the man of which Reinsdorf speaks - Jordan.
"Maybe (Reinsdorf) has to mortgage his home or leverage this team against whatever bank notes that he may have," Jordan said. "But I think we're entitled to defend what we have, and Phil should be the head coach, and I shouldn't be put in a position where I have to make a choice to play for another coach other than Phil Jackson. It's as simple as that."
Reinsdorf wishes it were that simple.
"I want to put together an organization that wins," he said. "But I have a responsibility not to think only of one year. My responsibility is to do what's in the best interest of the fans, not only for next year but for a long run.
"That's why I've got to take my time, I've got to get my facts straight, and as we go along, hopefully we'll make the right decisions."
Jackson wants to coach one more year with the Bulls, then take off at least a year, in which he'll have hip surgery. But even he is unsure about his immediate future.
"I've told everybody during the course of the playoffs that we would discuss my contract situation and my permanence and impermanence with this basketball club when the season ended," Jackson said. "I think there's still some time left before I can gratefully thank you for all of your patience, and say that in a few days we'll be able to meet and talk this over and get an idea of what's going on."
Pippen, entering the last year of a five-year, $18 million contract, has often been mentioned as trade bait. However, he said he believes that the Bulls will all be back together again next season.
"I had my hands, my fingers and everything crossed that we were going to win the championship, and I think everybody will be back and we'll be a happy family again," he said. "We want an opportunity to show that we're the greatest of all time."
The thought of no longer playing for the Bulls brought tears to Rodman's eyes during an NBC interview before Game 6.
"I would love to come back to Chicago, no matter if the people want me back. But I can't decide that."
At least Rodman, who made $9 million this season, has Jordan's endorsement.
"His dresses don't bother me, and his hair doesn't bother me," Jordan said. "Sure, he's going to go wacko every now and then, but we've come to live with that, and we have come to accept that.
"Dennis already said he'd play for free, so money's not an issue."
"For once, don't look at the bottom line," Jordan said.