Longtime NBA veteran and three-time All-Star Antoine Walker joined 670 The Score on Tuesday to discuss his hometown of Chicago and his friendship with Michael Jordan. With the successful ten-part documentary ‘The Last Dance’ closing it’s final chapter this past Sunday, Jordan has once again been the talk of the basketball world. The documentary has opened the floodgates to opinions from friends, foes, and former teammates, but few have been as directed as this quote from Walker during the McNeil & Parkins Show.
While it’s fair to assume that the former Boston Celtics’ power forward was directing this quote towards Chicago Bulls’ owner Jerry Reinsdorf, one has to wonder if Walker believes that the city itself doesn’t appeal to top-level free agents. Despite the Bulls missing out on players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom showed initial interest in the team, fans in the city continued to show up to the United Center. According to Statista, the Bulls managed to average at least 20,000 fans per game from 2006 to 2019, including a sellout streak that lasted 315 games between 2009 and 2017. It’s a fair question to ask how a team with such a decorated history of championships and fan support can miss out on top-level free agents so consistently.
The Bears haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, the Blackhawks waited 49 years between Stanley Cup Championships, and the Cubs drought lasted over a century. What do all these teams have in common? They continued to attract top-level free agents despite poor performance, daunting championship droughts, and sometimes weak attendance. In the last ten years, the Bears have signed players such as Julius Peppers, Martellus Bennett, Danny Trevathan, and Allen Robinson despite only making two postseason appearances in that time. The Blackhawks had a six-season run in the mid-2000s known to many as “The Dark Ages,” but they followed that up by signing top free agents such as Nikolai Khabibulin, Cristobal Huet, Brian Campbell, and eventually the greatest free-agent signing in team history, Marian Hossa. The Cubs were also no stranger to success on the open market, luring top-notch free agents like Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jon Lester, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist.
While Antoine Walker may have not intentionally pointed the blame at the city of Chicago, his quote serves as a reminder that Jerry Reinsdorf’s teams have not sealed the deal when it comes to high-priced talent as of late. As other Chicago franchises have shown, success and support are the byproducts of investing in talent and putting effort toward winning championships. The city failing to embrace rosters that are constantly being rebuilt or sold off should no longer reflect poorly on the city, but instead on the individuals who don’t put the effort and equity into their own franchise.