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  • Bulls Markets: Chicago’s Basketball Business and the New Inequality by Sean Dinces
  • Raja Malikah Rahim
Dinces, Sean. Bulls Markets: Chicago’s Basketball Business and the New Inequality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. Pp. 336. Appendices, index, charts, maps. $45.00, hb.

In Bulls Market, Sean Dinces analyzes how Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s altered the global image of Chicago and transformed the city’s urban landscape in the postindustrial era of twentieth century. At the heart of Dinces’s analysis lies the Bulls’ stadium, the United Center, which reveals the political and economic consequences of neoliberal urban development in American cities. Instead of the complicated scholarly notions of neoliberalism, Dinces contends that a “New Gilded Age” emerged in the late 1970s in which sport franchises like the Bulls—and corporate America at large—participated in “exclusionary capitalism.” Masked by the fervor of Jordan and the championship Bulls, political influence and wealth were redistributed upward in favor of the elite at the expense of the lower and middle classes. Chicago was shaped by urban capitalists’ desires for urban revitalization, with a new stadium being at the center. In six chapters, Dinces explores how and why the resurgence of exclusionary capitalism emerged in the Windy City, only to exacerbate the problems of gentrification and wealth stratification.

Bulls Markets opens with an analysis of how local politicians, the press, and businesses used the Bulls “as symbols of a new urban identity” to reshape the Chicago’s spatial history [End Page 84] and to erase its reputation “as the epitome of decline and disorder” (25). According to Dinces, a Bulls identity helped redefine the meaning of community in Chicago that often overlooked economic inequality and placed the collective support for the Bulls at the forefront. Local mayors like Richard M. Daly and private capitalists like sports owner Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox) and Bill Wirtz (Blackhawks) saw tourism, leisure, and entertainment economies as the way to revitalize the downtown Loop and its neighborhoods. The Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times, and other newspapers praised the Bulls for unifying Chicagoans, despite race, class, and geographical differences. As Dinces shows, however, politics and economics determined who had access to certain places and spaces in the community.

The chapters that follow focus on the United Center and how team owners cultivated exclusionary capitalism that intensified economic inequality in Chicago. Although team owners positioned the United Center as the anchor to the revitalization of Near West Side, these chapters explore the tensions that arose between government and sport owners, sport owners and residents, and residents themselves over development plans. Ultimately, redevelopment led to “the removal of those most in need” and exploitation of the government, while Bulls owners and their constituents benefited and were recipients of multiple tax breaks (117).

The allure of a new stadium built without public funding for upfront construction costs, the money donated to schools, and the partnerships between city officials, owners, and neighborhood organizations to rebuild housing and small businesses, Dinces argues, were facades. Under exclusionary capitalist practice, low-income and longtime residents were displaced. Schools, neighborhoods, and social welfare programs were underfunded, and local entrepreneurs were removed from sidewalks by the construction and operation of the United Center. Despite mounting profits and justified by players’ salaries, increased ticket prices left the luxurious arena experience to the elite and professional classes, while low-income residents and people of color were granted “second-class spectatorship” to championship rallies in outside spaces like Grant Park, forging community over economic inequality (80).

Nonelite Chicagoans were not passive to the changes that took place in the city where they worked and lived. When city officials considered a new Bears stadium, Near West Side resident Loretta Roland, for instance, proposed public ownership and a share in profits for residents. Illuminating issues of race and race policing, Dinces acknowledges that African Americans led much of the resistance to urban development and exclusionary capitalism. They resisted their displacement into segregated neighborhoods outside the Loop and the exclusion of black peanut vendors. Black mothers organized the Horner Mothers Guild and sued the Chicago Housing Authority in protest of their removal from the Horner Annex housing project...


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pp. 84-86
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