For more than four decades, James B. Pritikin wanted to fight bulls in the ring.
While an undergrad at the University of Illinois, he watched bullfights broadcasted on TV from Mexico City.
As the years passed, from DePaul University College of Law, marriage, family and becoming a Divorce and Family Law Partner at Beerman Pritikin Mirabelli Swerdlove LLP, Pritikin still itched to get into the ring.
Finally, 12 years ago for his 66th birthday, his wife, Mary, surprised him with a two-week trip to Spain to participate in a bullfighting school.
Pritikin has been to Spain for two weeks almost every year since – he took 2011 off after he was run over by a 700-pound bull and broke two bones and tore the meniscus in his left leg the year before – to feel the adrenaline of facing bulls one on one.
“You’re on your own in the ring,” Pritikin said. “It’s you with the bull. It’s you with the animal. It’s the greatest adrenaline rush I’ve ever had. It’s something I thought about doing since I was 18 years old. It took me 40 years to get the opportunity.”
Pritikin never stops thinking about Spain and the bulls. His license plate is TORERO (bullfighter). Near his 26th floor office at the law firm, Pritikin has a framed bullfighting sword with a red cape covered in patches of blood – someone else’s, not Pritikin’s. He also has framed photos of bulls and bullfighters in and near his office. He checks bullfighting news services on his computer daily. The sites are “favorited” on his list of choices.
He survived the attack from the bull that ran him over after it charged and him, but Pritikin has a 6-inch scar on his leg, which is full of metal rods and screws, as a reminder. The bull, instead of going for the red cape Pritikin was holding, hit him instead.
He took a year off and went into the court room on crutches – including when he represented Dwyane Wade – but returned to the bullfighting ring a year later.
The first time he faced a bull after his accident, Pritikin said he cried.
“I’m not a crier, but it was very emotional because I went back there, and I was fearful, but I was able to do it,” said Pritikin, a South Side native who graduated from South Shore High School.
Pritikin understands death is a part of passion. He recently read about Spanish matador Iván Fandiño, who was fatally gored by a bull.
Pritikin goes to Spain by himself. Mary, an MD with a specialty in ophthalmology and oculofacial surgery, said her husband is “hooked” with the sport.
“Jim has always loved bullfighting,” she said. “I have always wondered why Jim had this passion. First, I don’t ever think he thought he would learn to bullfight. So, it was a dream. I do think it all has to do with the matador. I’m not sure if it was the longing admiration of their cool, macho arrogance … the way they stood, walked, carried themselves. Or, it could have been their bravery and seeming calm in the face of near death. Or, perhaps the way they were perceived by the public. Or, it could have been the clothes. I think it was a conglomeration of everything.”
Mary Pritikin was not surprised her husband returned to the bullfighting ring after he was attacked.
“Remember, in [Ernest Hemingway’s] ‘Death in the Afternoon,’ it is made very clear that bullfighters always return to the ring as soon as possible,” she said. “Problem is that a leg full of metal rods and screws doesn’t twist and turn quite the same. He was such an awful patient when he was injured and recovering that I have warned him I will not take care of him if he hurts himself again. He will have to hire someone … but I don’t know if that threat worked.”
Pritikin, who has no plans to stop bullfighting, said facing the bulls serves him well in the courtroom. He said the adrenaline rush of his profession is similar to taking on a bull.
“I have an opponent,” Pritikin said.