CHICAGO -- When Jerry Reinsdorf's group bought the Chicago Bulls in 1985, the team practiced at no-frills Angel Guardian Gym, a shuttered high school/orphanage, on the North Side.
"I remember walking in and talking to the players for the first time and you couldn't even stand up," Reinsdorf said Monday. "I was shocked at that."
The Bulls quickly moved to the Deerfield Multiplex fitness club, a tremendous upgrade, albeit with limited privacy, before moving to the Berto Center in Deerfield in 1992.
The Bulls had a ceremonial groundbreaking Monday in parking lot J for their new practice facility, which will be adjacent to the United Center. The 60,000-square-foot facility should be ready for the 2014-15 season and will be a major upgrade from Berto, as far as space and modern amenities. It also provides closer proximity for the basketball and business operations departments; the latter is housed in the United Center. The team will sell naming rights to the facility.
The cramped Berto Center has one basketball court, where the team also watches video. This facility will have two courts and a video room, along with multiple therapeutic pools and other training amenities. Not that anyone but the team and the media will be able to see inside. But fans walking along Madison Street will get a view of the team's six championship banners, according to the team.
"The Berto has served us very well, but we've sort of outgrown it because 20 years ago, the staffs were a lot smaller," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, adding that the new facility is "a great opportunity for our players. I think it will help with their recovery. It provides the help for them to develop."
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed for the Bulls to move their operations back into the city. At the ceremony, Emanuel said this new facility will be part of major upgrades in the near West Side, along with a new CTA Blue Line stop near the arena and Malcolm X College, as well as refurbished Union Park up the street.
"This new practice facility is a strong commitment to Chicago and a major step forward in the economic growth of the near West Side neighborhood," Emanuel said.
The idea was publicized last year, and after some thought, Reinsdorf signed on.
"I think it'll be a plus," Reinsdorf said. "It wasn't our first choice. My first choice was to build a bigger building out in the Deerfield area. But the mayor said this was important to him. We want to be good citizens and so we went ahead and did it. But now it's growing on me. The idea, as (John) Paxson pointed out, of having everyone in one place is really good."
No more traffic nightmares should be a big benefit.
"The real positive is going to be not having to fight the traffic before games," Reinsdorf said. "If we're up having shootaround, they have to hurry and get the heck out of there, because you know what happens to the inbound Edens [Expressway]."
The Bulls also think the new city facility should help in recruiting free agents who want to live in the city.
"It's very well thought-out," Thibodeau said. "As teams in the league have built new facilities, we had an opportunity to go around and look at what they've done, and that includes some of the college teams. We took the best ideas from everywhere and came up with our own plan. We feel there's nothing that's been left out."
There has been talk of a 260,000-square-foot retail/restaurant complex that would be anchored by the training facility. But that would likely be dependent on the extension of property-tax breaks that the United Center currently gets, which run through 2016, according to published reports.
"One thing has nothing to do with anything else," Reinsdorf said. "We're going to build this. As far as anything else, I really don't have anything to say."
The Bulls were supposedly the first team to build their own practice facility, and now they're the latest to upgrade as they look to regain the luster of the Michael Jordan era.
"Tex Winter came up with the idea of having our own place," Reinsdorf said. "There was a tennis club, I think on Route 22, and Tex suggested we should think about buying it and converting it. I thought it would be a lot simpler just to build something and that's how Berto got built."