Chicago still special place to Collins

Doug Collins has watches commemorating the Bulls' titles. Rob Grabowski/US Presswire

CHICAGO -- Doug Collins was long gone by the time the Chicago Bulls started winning championships in the 1990s, but chairman Jerry Reinsdorf made sure his former coach shared in the team's success.

"They have embraced me," Collins said Saturday before his Philadelphia 76ers faced the Bulls in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. "I don't have any championship rings. Jerry has given me six championship watches with great notes that I've kept very proudly."

Collins was given his first shot at NBA coaching by the Bulls in 1986, and he guided the Bulls -- with the help of Michael Jordan -- to three consecutive playoff appearances. But he was fired after they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals in 1989. He was replaced by Phil Jackson, who coached the Bulls to six NBA titles.

"Absolutely, the Bulls give me a special feeling," said Collins, whose two children graduated from Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill. "It was my first chance. It's interesting -- Jerry Reinsdorf and I have become the best of friends. We spoke about a month ago for about an on the phone. He's reached out to me and maybe we'll get a chance to go out to dinner while we're here. He's been very a special person.

"(Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations) John Paxson has been like a son to me. I have very strong feelings for him. Basically, everyone who works for this organization are still here. Jerry through his years has shown loyalty to the people. This is a special organization."

In fact, before hiring Vinny Del Negro in 2008, the Bulls considered bringing Collins back, but Reinsdorf said he felt too strongly about Collins and never wanted to be put in a position to fire him again.

Collins said Chicagoans make him feel at home when he returns.

"When I walk down the street, the bus drivers honk and wave, and the fans say how much they appreciated my time here," Collins said. "I love this city."

Collins didn't expect to receive the same embrace from Bulls' fans come game time on

"It's going to be interesting to see," Collins said. "I'm sure they're not going to be lovely to me today."