Wirtz: United Center Employees Make Us 'Special'

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(670 The Score) In the aftermath of the NBA and NHL suspending their seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic, Blackhawks and Bulls officials had a phone call Friday to discuss the details and options for how to pay day-of-game United Center employees who would be losing work during these trying times.

The call was productive, but a day later, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf was apparently a bit restless. So he placed a call to Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz in an attempt to cut out some of the red tape.

“He called me about 12 noon Saturday and he said, ‘This is crazy -- I just need to know the figures. You and I can make a decision,'” Wirtz recalled on the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score on Monday morning. “I said, ‘Absolutely we can.’”

By late Saturday afternoon, the teams had released a joint statement announcing they would pay about 1,200 day-of-game United Center employees through the remainder of the originally scheduled seasons. The Bulls and Blackhawks each had seven home games remaining.

In all, the tab will come out to about $3.5 million, Wirtz said.

“I have complete empathy for folks that are going day-to-day,” Wirtz said. “I think that’s the key thing. And Jerry has the same kind of empathy. I’ll tell you one thing: Those United Center employees will go out of their way. Because our job is to make everyone that goes through that turnstile feel special. We can’t control what goes on on the court or the ice, but we can control the fan experience. And that’s something that those folks make us look really good when doing that.”

Wirtz credited Reinsdorf as well for be the driving force in making sure United Center workers were taken care of.

“Jerry is such a class act,” Wirtz said. “It took him like two minutes. I’ve never seen him take a note. He doesn’t have to. His word is his bond, and that’s why we get along so well.”

Both the NBA and NHL seasons remain suspended indefinitely. NBA owners are bracing for a mid-to-late June restart of the league in the best-case scenario, ESPN has reported. Wirtz expressed optimism that this NHL season would restart in some form down the line.

“I like the way that commissioner (Gary) Bettman refers to it as a pause,” Wirtz said. “There’s nothing cancelled. They’re trying to get the remaining games in for the regular season and then the playoffs in some format. Who knows. So it’s fluid.”

Wirtz also shared some words of advice amid the pandemic.

“If we all have a little empathy and kindness – I went to the grocery store on Sunday – and just being nice to people and smiling … it just makes it so much easier,” Wirtz said. “People, you can tell, they’re scared. But this is the time to work together.”