When it comes to innovative thinking, particularly in the areas of marketing and promotion, the Chicago Bulls are right there at the front of the class.
And when you couple such innovation with the team’s well-known penchant for serving the underprivileged citizens of its local community, you have a real winner on your hands.
Such has been the case at least since 1989, when the Bulls hosted their first annual FestaBulls charity dinner. From humble beginnings under an unheated tent in the street in front of a local pizza joint, FestaBulls subsequently grew to the point where it had to be moved to the Bulls’ indoor practice facility at the Sheri L. Berto Center in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Ill.
Now, because it has grown exponentially larger, the team has had to take the ultimate step of moving FestaBulls to the United Center.
There, on a typically cold and snowy January evening, the event was staged on the same court where Michael Jordan and the gang used to hold sway.
With the Jumbotron scoreboard overhead showing continuous game highlights, as well as specially produced videos showcasing the team’s charitable efforts, there was clearly the feel of a game-time atmosphere.
As if to underscore just how important FestaBulls really is, a number of wheelchair-bound youngsters from the community attended this year. They had the time of their lives mingling with the players and the other fans.
Clearly, one of the reasons that FestaBulls has come to be such a great draw each year is that almost all of the players show up for this event. Furthermore, the players go to great lengths to point out that their attendance at FestaBulls has little to do with the wording that may be in their contracts about attendance at team events.
“The best part of this event is mixing with the fans,” forward P. J. Brown said. “I just love that.”
Fellow forward Luol Deng also found it hard to contain his enthusiasm.
“I get to meet the fans when I come here,” he said. “This is something every player should do. You meet some nice people, and you get an idea of what they are thinking. Not growing up in this country, I did not get an opportunity to meet with any of my sports heroes, but here our fans can do that. I don’t mind being here at all. You could say this is just a part of our job, but it is certainly an important part of our job.”
Deng, like the other players in attendance, spent quite a bit of time shaking hands, signing autographs, posing for photos and generally mixing it up with the fans.
In addition to the players, coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Paxson, both of whom are former NBA players and extremely popular in Chicago, were in attendance and quite visible in regard to mixing and chatting with the fans and signing autographs.
The Bulls also involved several of their former players in the event, including Scottie Pippen, Bob Love, Bill Wennington, Pete Myers, Stacy King and Norm Van Lier. In addition, Hollywood actor and director Harold Ramis, of “Ghostbusters” fame, served as emcee for the evening.
“I do stuff for the Bulls from time to time; whenever they ask,” he said. “This is for a good cause, so I am really glad to be here.”
Thabo Sefolosha, a rookie forward for the Bulls this year, echoed Ramis’ sentiment.
“This is a lot of fun,” he said. “It is really good to be here and to mix with the fans and to shake their hands. I know that signing things is part of our job, but I understand what it means to people and that’s why I really don’t mind it.”
For hobbyists, FestaBulls also provides a treasure trove of items to enhance their collections. Not only does the team provide an extensive array of the kind of memorabilia you would normally expect at a sports auction, but there were also several valuable one-of-a-kind items or experiences as well, such as the chance to be a ballboy at a regular season Bulls game, or a batboy at a Chicago Cubs or White Sox game.
To cap things off, the Bulls also hooked up with SimplyCanvass.com to produce canvas photo art of the players. The latter items could be purchased by the fans on the United Center concourse and then personally taken around the FestaBulls venue to get the players to sign them.
In the alternative, collectors could order one of the pieces from the company and they would work with the Bulls to get the item signed and shipped.
Among the items up for bid in this year’s silent auction were a number of jerseys signed by various NBA superstars. As Dave Kurland, the man in charge of putting the auctions together for FestaBulls, has previously told SCD, the Bulls acquire the jerseys for the players to sign and then, as the teams come through Chicago, the Bulls ask the players to sign the jerseys.
Some of the jerseys are team issued, but they are rarely game worn, however. Nevertheless, the signatures are genuine and the jerseys make beautiful presentation pieces when framed. Among the pricier items in the silent auction, of course, were the jerseys signed by Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James.
Also in the silent auction were autographed, game-worn uniforms from most of the Bulls players. Obviously, the bigger the reputation of the player, the higher the minimum bid for his uniform.
In addition to the uniforms, there were also autographed game-worn shoes from several of the players in the auction. And to further enhance the offerings, the team also made available several items from its archives, including a basketball signed by Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman, as well as a pair of Jordan’s game-worn shoes (minus his autograph).
The bidding on the Jordan shoes started at $3,000. Bulls officials said more than 500 fans attended FestaBulls 2007. The event raised approximately $175,000 for its community outreach program, called “CharitaBulls.”
The team also noted in its release that among the more popular items in the auctions were an autographed, game-worn Deng uniform from the 2006-07 season that sold for $1,750; a Dennis Rodman autographed, game-worn uniform from the 1996-97 championship season that sold for $1,700; and a LeBron James autographed jersey that went for $2,400.