It was written recently here on ChicagoNow that the Blackhawks' decision to erect statues of franchise legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita outside the United Center would be irresponsible and inappropriate.
The argument is based on the often-used and miscalculated idea that the Blackhawks play second fiddle at the United Center. Here is an excerpt from the article encapsulating the argument:
"This honor just does not fit because the United Center is the It is not the fault of the Blackhawks that they share the same arena as the Chicago Bulls, but why put statues outside a building that the Blackhawks were never relevant in and will never get the same acclaim as the Chicago Bulls? Without Michael Jordan, who are we to say that building would be standing on the west side of the city today? It is very possible that without Michael Jordan the old Chicago Stadium would still be standing and housing our two professional teams of the NBA and NHL."
This argument has a few things wrong right off the bat. While Jordan's popularity undoubtedly helped build the capital necessary for a new arena, the Bulls got some help too from Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz.
The former Blackhawks owner was not a fan favorite but he possessed a nearly endless stream of money from various business ventures, only one of which being the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Club. Taken straight from the United Center website, the origin of the building stems from a business agreement between Wirtz and Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. While the time period and Bulls championship runs created the idea that Jordan *literally* was the sole reason behind the building's creation, the truth is that both franchises have had an equal hand in the United Center's existence. Talks of building a new stadium to house both franchises actually began in the late 80's. These talks were led mostly by Bill Wirtz.
"The House That Jordan Built" is a fun, classy nickname for the great arena, but it should not be taken seriously. Michael Jordan is the greatest NBA player of all time but that doesn't make the United Center any more the Bulls' home than the Blackhawks'.
I've heard the argument that the United Center was built to hold as many people as possible; The historically inept automatically assume this pertains only to the Bulls and that the Hawks were just along for the ride. The truth is that Hawks fans flocked to the United Center just like Bulls fans in the first couple years of its existence. The final several years at Chicago Stadium saw Blackhawks' attendance numbers that were on par with (or better) than the Bulls' as well.
The author also points to the idea that Hull and Mikita had nothing to do with the United Center's existence. I guess he wants to tear down the statue of Johnny Red Kerr inside the UC too then, right?
Hull and Mikita have more to do with the United Center than some people think.
I know it isn't something basketball fans enjoy doing in this city, but if you look deep into the history of both franchises, the Hawks were the ones keeping the Bulls afloat for a long time. Throughout the 60's and 70's, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull drew raucous standing room only crowds to Chicago Stadium. The Bulls' crowds resembled that of a 2003 Blackhawks game. It goes both ways, folks.
"Without Michael Jordan, who are we to say that building would be standing on the west side of the city today?"
Without Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, it's possible there would have been no Chicago Bulls uniform for Michael Jordan to wear.
The idea that the Blackhawks were "never relevant" at the United Center is an interesting one as well, considering they've sold out well over 100 straight games and out-drew the Bulls in attendance just last season. They continue to fill the building to a higher capacity this season. But who looks at numbers anyways?
The actual issue of whether or not Hull and Mikita are worthy of statues is indisputable. The two former superstars brought a championship to the city and were the cornerstones of the Chicago sports scene for the majority of their careers. The UC is the Hawks' home and 9 and 21 are icons of the franchise. Makes sense to me.
The bottom line: The two teams share the building. Both are great franchises and are allowed to honor legends in any way they'd like. I thought this was a common and well-accepted idea in American professional sports. I'm once again surprised.
I, for one, look forward to telling friends to "meet at the Hull statue" after games.