Chicago Bulls Introduction
The Last Dance, a documentary by ESPN, gave us a glimpse of the rise of Chicago Bulls’ dynasty in 1990s. It came from the handbook made by Coach Phil Jackson in the opening of season for their last run in 1998.
The series features rare footages from a crew that had an all-access pass to the Bulls. It also spotlights the greatness of Michael Jordan and the untold stories from his teammates like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington, BJ Armstrong, their coach, Phil Jackson and many more.
The greatest team of all time debate is arguably the most difficult to answer.
We will not go to that direction as these teams play in their own era. We will let your wild imagination simulate the game.
These are some of the highlights of The Last Dance (Note: YouTube videos are added to understand the milestones of Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls):
The rookie’s winning shot
In 1982 NCAA finals, North Carolina Tar Heels faced Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas. Jordan made a game-winning jump shot which he later described as a turning point of his basketball career.
1984 USA Basketball Team
Prior to NBA career, Jordan competed in 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. As expected, the USA Basketball team won the gold medal. He averaged 17.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals.
Jackpot in the lottery game
The Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan in 1984 draft pick. He was 3rd overall behind Hakeem Olajuwon (1st by Houston Rockets) and Sam Bowie (2nd by Portland Trailblazers).
Jordan drafted third and not early because both Houston and Portland were in need of a center position. Also, Portland had Clyde “The Glide” Drexler who has similar position and skill sets with that of Jordan.
The birth of Jordan shoes
Converse was the official shoes in the NBA back in 80’s which was endorsed at the time by basketball icons like Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Adidas was Jordan’s preference but did not make shoes for him. He did not want to be with Nike but eventually signed with them.
The Jordan effect
Left and right endorsements like McDonalds, Wilson Sporting Goods, etc. came to the doorstep of the rising star, Michael Jordan. The sneakers is just for basketball but the Jordan shoes became fashion and culture.
Jordan described by the The New York Times as “The phenomenal rookie of the Bulls” in November issue.
Limited playing minutes
During his sophomore year in the NBA, Jordan suffered a calf injury which put him to the sideline. While recovering from the injury, he continued his study in North Carolina and began to play pick-up games which Chicago Bulls management, his doctor and agent were not aware of.
Jordan began to feel better but his doctor feared he might re-injure his foot.
Jordan wanted to play. The doctor said he had 10-20 percent chance to re-injure but Jordan saw it in a different way where he said he had 80-90 percent chance not to get hurt again. With his enthusiasm to play, he was given a go signal to play but with limited minutes only (7 minutes per half at the beginning).
If he exceeds the time given to him, the then coach Stan Albeck would be fired.
The 63-point play-off performance
The Chicago Bulls made it to the play-offs with 30-52 record. They faced the dynasty of Boston Celtics led by Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.
Jordan, coming from an almost season-ending injury, made 63 points in a double-overtime lost to Celtics in game 2.
The Celtics swept the Bulls in the first round play-offs.
During the 1989 first round play-offs against Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989, the game was on the line. Jordan made a jump shot with 6 seconds left. The Bulls were up by 1. The Cavaliers called a time-out to design a play for Craig Ehlo.
Ehlo inbounded the ball and passed to Lance Nance. Nance gave back the ball to Ehlo and Ehlo scored a driving lay-up to give the Cleveland a 100-99 lead with 3 seconds left.
The Chicago Bulls called a time-out.
At the Cleveland bench, Ron Harper requested to guard Jordan. Harper was guarding Jordan well in the series but he was turned down by the Cleveland coach.
In the last play, Jordan was doubled-team but was able to receive the ball. Drifting to his left at the foul line, Jordan made the iconic “The Shot” with no time left in the regulation. He gave the Bulls a 101-100 victory.
Legendary individual awards
During the then coach Doug Collins and although the Bulls were yet to get the elusive championship ring, Doug was proud of Michael Jordan’s achievement.
In a single season (1987-88), Jordan was named Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA first team and first Most Valuable Player award averaging 35.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assist, 1.6 blocks and a league-high 3.16 steals per game. He also won the Slam dunk contest and All-Star MVP during All-star game.
The Triangle Offense
The famous triangle offense was introduced by Chicago Bulls assistant Tex Winter. The primary objective was to equal the opportunity to everyone in the court.
Jordan preferred the Doug Collins type of game as most of the time, the play was designed for him – to receive the ball and take the shot. Phil Jackson, as an assistant coach at the time, took some time to study the philosophy of triangle offense.
With the departure of Doug Collins, Jackson took the helm and wanted to use the triangle offense for the Bulls team.
Jordan at first did not agree with the approach because he did not want to give the ball to Bill Cartwright if only 5 seconds were left in the shot clock. Eventually, Jordan and the rest of his teammates adapted the triangle offense as their weapon in the game.
Phil Jackson made some surprising action by putting Scottie as the point-forward which is unconventional in the world of basketball.
The “Bad boys” Pistons
It was pretty known to many that the Detroit Pistons stopped the Chicago Bulls twice from entering the NBA finals.
The “Jordan Rules” objective was to limit Jordan’s effectiveness in the game. The design was to play tough on Jordan and physically challenge him.
It was effective because they eliminated the Bulls on the second round once in 1988 and twice in the Eastern Conference Finals (1989 and 1990).
In 1990, the Bulls had a chance to beat the Pistons however, in game 7, Pippen suffered a migraine which greatly affected his game. The Bulls lost the series for the second time against the Pistons.
Jordan’s game-high 31 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assist went for nothing.
As part of preparation for the next season, Jordan did put up more muscles to be more ready for physical assaults and beat ups by the Pistons.
The story in 1991 turned into a different direction. The Pistons lost to the Bulls on their 3rd meeting. The Bulls swept the Pistons 4-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals and booked a ticket to their first NBA finals.
The Pistons walked away the arena without shaking the hands of the Bulls players.
There was an account that only Joe Dumars from Pistons came in to congratulate the winning team.
The first championship
In 1991, the Bulls faced Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers. The Chicago Bulls lost in game 1 at the Chicago Stadium. Some people doubted if the Bulls can pull through and beat the Los Angeles.
Jordan made a statement. In game 2 still in Chicago Stadium, he made the iconic mid-air switch hands lay-up.
The Bulls won 4 straight games and captured the first Larry O’ Brien championship trophy.
The Air vs The Glide
In 1992, Jordan and the Chicago Bulls faced Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Portland Trailblazers.
In “The shrug game” moment, Jordan made six 3-pointers and finished 35 points in a half.
The Bulls won their second straight NBA championship.
The 1992 Olympic Dream Team
The Dream Team composed of all-pro basketball players. Many people knew that both Jordan and Isaiah Thomas were not in good terms. It was perceived that Jordan was the reason for Isaiah’s exclusion in the team.
There was a claime that Magic Johnson was actually the one who pushed for not including Thomas in the line up.
During the olympics, Jordan and Pippen met Toni Kukoc, the emerging star from Europe.
Jordan and Pippen, known to be a great defensive players as well, wanted to guard Kukoc in the game. In their first meeting in the elimination round, USA vs Croatia, both of them locked down Kukoc for only 4 points.
The Dream Team won the gold medal, outscoring their opponents by an average of 43 points.
Reebok, one of the sportswear giants, was the official uniform of the Dream Team then. Some of the players refused at first to wear them as it could conflict with their endorsement contracts with other sportswear like Nike. In the medal ceremony, Jordan covered the logo of Reebok by putting the US flag in his left shoulder.
The Dream Team made a world-wide impact. They helped bring sports into the place of cultural influence globally, a stature only music had back then.
The exhausted Michael Jordan
Outside basketball, Jordan was also active welcoming fans for photo ops and signature. When he would enter the arena, he had to perform in the game. After the game, he had only few minutes to cool down before facing the media for post-game interviews. And back in the hotel, a large group of people were waiting for him to get interviews and photos.
Exhausted. No privacy.
This was the exchange of popularity.
When “The Jordan Rules” was published, it drew some controversies as it revealed some of Jordan’s non-perfect life and other things that happened inside the locker room and off the court.
Back in the ball game, the Bulls faced Ewing’s New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks, one of the rival teams in the East, replaced Pistons as the tough and physical team.
The Knicks won the first two games.
The gambling issue
It became more controversial as gambling issues surfaced for Jordan. Some perceived that Jordan lacked the commitment to achieve the goal. Although no laws or rules were violated, people felt he was not meeting the expectations.
Jordan got irritated for receiving the same questions about gambling issues. He appeared in an interview to put the issue to rest by saying that gambling was his way to move away and relax for awhile.
What happened? The Bulls won 4 straight wins for a ticket to NBA Finals.
The first three-peat
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls faced the Phoenix Suns and Jordan’s best friend Charles Barkley.
John Paxson nailed a 3-pointer in the dying seconds in game 6 and the Bulls won the championship.
The Bulls won their first three-peat championship in the 90’s.
The 1993 championship ring was very important for Jordan as it separated him from Thomas and Johnson who both have two-straight championships.
Having 3 rings would elevate him from those two players so he really wanted to win it.
The first retirement
The sad part after winning the 3rd championship, Jordan’s dad was found dead in a creek in the middle of North and South Carolina. Some people associated the death of Jordan’s father to his gambling issue.
Jordan also felt that there were no more challenges in front him so he retired from basketball and turned his career in baseball.
Some speculated that his retirement was actually a penalty given to him by then NBA Commissioner David Stern. Stern eventually denied the allegation as well.
Michael Jordan played for Birmingham Barons, a Double-A minor league affiliate of Chicago White Sox. The 31-year old Jordan became a rookie again but this time, in Baseball Minor League.
Jordan, who wore his old Laney High number 45, averaged batting 0.202 with three home runs, 51 runs batted in, 30 stolen bases, 114 strikeouts, 51 base on balls, and 11 errors.
Some said that Jordan looked promising but his brilliance in basketball was not the same in baseball.
His Airness returns
In 1995, rumors spread out quickly when Michael Jordan participated in a practice game of the Chicago Bulls.
The speculation was that Jordan would return to world of basketball. His PR agent asked what he wanted to say those speculating on his return. His reply was short and sweet…
Michael Jordan returned with 17 games left in the in 1994-95 season.
The rusty Michael Jordan appeared for the first time in March 19, 1995 in Indiana by wearing jersey number 45.
Dubbed by many as “The double nickel game”, Jordan scored 55 points against New York Knicks in Madison Square Arena.
The Bulls lost to Orlando Magic in the Semi-finals. He switched to his jersey number 23 in game 2 but this did not save the Bulls from elimination.
Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan and some star players in the NBA like Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, earned over $230 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing basketball film of all time.
Warner Bros. built a gym for Jordan to stay in shape during the production of the movie. The director of the film called it “Jordan-Dome”.
While filming the movie Space Jam, Jordan was also busy working out to restructure his body from baseball into basketball, and gave his best to bring back his legs’ strength to compete with young players.
72-10 NBA record
Most of the players in the team were new at that time. The only common faces who won championships with Jordan were Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen.
The new recruits were Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Luc Lonely and many more.
The Chicago Bulls started the season with a 23-2 record in their first 25 outings and finished 72-10 (which eventually was broken by Golden State Warriors with 73-9) in the season.
They swept Miami in the first round with 3-0, followed by 4-1 with New York Knicks and sweet revenge against Orlando with a sweep of 4-0.
In the NBA Finals, the Bulls faced Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton of Seattle Supersonics.
Jordan ripped the Supersonics in the first 3 games to be ahead 3-0 in the finals. All-defensive player Payton manned and outplayed Jordan in the next two games and the Supersonics won two straight against the Bulls.
In game 6 Father’s day celebration, the Bulls won the title 87-75. It was special as Jordan remembered his father who was always there at his side during his highs and lows. It was indeed an emotional title-clincher for Jordan.
After a great finish in the 1995-96 season with 72-10 record, the Chicago Bulls came up with another impressive record by winning 69 games over 13 losses in the 1996-97 season.
In the All-Star game, Jordan made a record by becoming the first player to post a triple-double performance (14 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) and he was named All-Star MVP of the event.
The Bulls advanced again to the finals where they faced the dynamic duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton of Utah Jazz.
The series against the Jazz featured two of the more memorable clutch moments in Jordan’s career. Jordan converted a buzzer-beater jump shot in game 1 at Delta Center. Despite playing with a stomach virus, Jordan poured 38 points including a crucial three-pointer with 25 seconds remaining in game 5.
The Bulls won their 5th title in game 6.
1997 McDonald’s Championship
After wining their 5th NBA championship, the Chicago Bulls participated in the 1997 McDonald’s Championships in Paris, France.
Six ball clubs participated. 4 teams from Europe and 1 each from North and South America. The Bulls represented North America.
In Paris, it was evident how popular Jordan was. Everywhere he went, there were fans and media surrounding him to get some photos, signatures and interviews.
He drew a lot of attention from people on and off the court.
The Bulls competed in the event without the service of Scottie Pippen who was nursing an injury.
The Bulls won the event by beating the Olympiacos, a greek professional basketball club, 104-78 in the finals.
Many people perceived that the then General Manager Jerry Krause was in a ‘wrong side of the fence’.
Many people did not know that he was the one who orchestrated the dynasty of the team.
Here were things that came into reality using his magic wand:
- He picked Michael Jordan in 1984 and Toni Kukoc in 1990 (but started to play with the Bulls in 1993) in the draft.
- Charles Oakley was traded to New York Knicks for Bill Cartwright.
- Krause manufactured a trade to bring Scottie Pippen to the Bulls from Seattle Supersonic in 1987 in exchange for Olden Polynice and future draft pick.
- Horace Grant (10th overall) was drafted in the 1987 draft pick.
- He hired Phil Jackson in 1987 as Assistant Coach to Doug Collins and then promoted Jackson as Bulls mentor in 1989.
- Although Dennis Rodman was known at that time to be ‘unpredictable’ in the basketball court, Krause still hired Rodman in 1996 because he believed that his skill set fitted the Bulls requirements.
If General Manager Krause was the one who created a star-studded and talented team, he was also the one who initiated the rebuilding process of the Bulls.
In 1997-98, there were rumors that the Bulls would undergo team rebuilding where key people were involved. The rumor circulated that Pippen would not be renewed and would be up for trade, and Jackson was on his last year as Bulls’ coach even if he was able to set a 82-0 game standing.
This did not sit well with Jordan. He did not want to come back and play again if Jackson would not coach the team.
The furious Pippen delayed the treatment of his injury.
Pippen, part of the core members of Chicago Bulls, was underrated for being paid only $18 million in 5 years. He was the sixth-highest paid Bull and the 122nd highest-paid NBA player at that time. It was an unfair paycheck for a superstar like him who won multiple championships with the Bulls franchise.
Pipped locked in into a worst contract when he made a long-term deal in 1991 to secure his financial cashflow for him to support his family. The primary intention was, in case he gets injured and not able to return again in the ball game, he would still receive his salary until the contract expired.
He did not see that he would rose into a level that his salary would become too low for his caliber and skill set.
Pippen started to act and show disrespect to Jerry Krause because he felt that Krause was treating him special in front of many and yet, he was up for trade and was denied a salary increase.
In November 1997, probably in his tipping point, Pippen announced that he wanted to be traded and did not want to be reactivated in the Bulls line-up.
The Chicago Bulls struggled to get wins at the beginning of the season.
Dennis Rodman’s shining moment
In the absence of Pippen in the roster, the Bulls struggled to find a replacement who can fill his role in the team. It went to the point that Jordan was yelling and calling out his teammates in the practice games to push them hard to become tough in the competition.
Jordan was worn out physically and emotionally.
Rodman at the beginning was f***** up. There was a moment that Rodman knocked on Jordan’s room and asked for a cigar. No apologies from Rodman but this somehow started to turn things up for Rodman.
Rodman found himself motivated again to play.
Rodman played a significant role for the Bulls. From starting 8-7 in their first 15 games, the Bulls started to pick up and win games. His energy drove the entire team to the level that they could compete even without Pippen.
Change of heart
Pippen expressed his interest to be traded but suddenly changed his mind and decided to continue to play and finish the 1997-98 season.
After 35 games watching at the sideline, Pippen suited up and played for the first time of the season against the Golden State Warriors.
Rodman dyed the number 33 in his hair as tribute to Pippen’s return.
The reunion of the fantastic trio went well until…
Las Vegas vacation
Rodman started distancing himself with the team after Pippen’s return. He went drinking and partying.
Rodman wanted a vacation.
During the practice, Jackson called Jordan and told him that Rodman wanted to say something.
Jackson told Jordan that Rodman needed a vacation and some time to let loose.
Jackson gave Rodman a 48-hour vacation. Rodman immediately left the room and went straight to the airport.
After 48 hours, Rodman did not show up.
Rodman did not show up after the agreed number of hours of vacation was up.
This pushed Jordan to go to Las Vegas to pick up Rodman. When Jordan knocked on the door, someone was hiding in the bedsheet. Jordan then told Rodman to go back and join the team.
Back in the practice game, Jackson’s aim was to get Rodman back in shape.
Jackson called the team for an Indian drill, a drill where the team will run and whoever is in the front controls the phase.
Jordan told the group that whoever was in the front row should just jog and walk so as not to stretch Rodman as he just came back from ‘vacation’.
And what did Rodman do? He took off and left the group. Jackson blew his whistle signaling for the team to follow Rodman. The group could stop until they could get in front of Rodman. The group took 4 laps to catch up with Rodman.
He was indeed reenergized after that short vacation.
In the NBA regular season, the Bulls finished with 62-20 record, tied with Utah Jazz.
They defeated New Jersey Nets and the Charlotte Hornets in the first and second round of play-offs.
Mike meets Kobe
In the 1998 All-Star game held in Madison Square Garden in New York City, Jordan went toe-to-toe against Kobe Bryant, the rising star from Los Angeles Lakers.
Jordan named All-Star MVP when the East team won the game 135-114. He finished the game with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists despite having a flu. This is his 3rd and final All-Star MVP Award.
Kobe Bryant became the youngest All-Star starter when he suited up for the West team at age 19.
The game billed as a passing of the torch from Jordan to Bryant.
Jordan 1 shoes is back!
Jordan wore his classic Jordan 1 shoes when he played in Madison Square Garden. He considered the game as his last so he used his first Jordan shoes that he bannered during his rookie year.
Jordan’s feet were soaked in blood because of blisters as mentioned in an interview.
Toughest test for the Bulls
In the Eastern Conference Finals, they met the Indiana Pacers led by Reggie Miller and Larry Bird as coach. Bird was Jordan’s teammate in the Dream Team.
The Indiana Pacers forced a decisive game 7, a first time for the Bulls since 1992.
Jordan sealed the game with a 88-83 win against the Pacers and secured a rematch with the Utah Jazz.
It was a tough game as many doubted if the Bulls still had the legs to push through.
The Bulls and Jazz rematch
The Jazz had the home-court advantage in their rematch by the virtue of season-series sweep against the Bulls.
The Jazz took the first blood by winning game 1 while the Bulls managed to steal game 2 in Utah. Both teams would play in Chicago for games 3, 4 and 5.
In United Center, the Bulls shut down the Jazz and won game 3 by a margin of 42 points, 96-54. In that game, the Bulls set a record for having a large margin of victory and fewest points allowed in the NBA finals.
The Bulls also won a close Game 4, one more win that would seal the title.
However, the Jazz were not ready to bow out from the competition. The Jazz won game 5 (88-86) where Jordan missed the last second shot.
The Last Shot
Jordan’s 1998 game 6 finals winning shot dubbed by many ‘The Last Shot” until Jordan came out from his second retirement.
In this game in Salt Lake City, Jordan displayed his brilliance in basketball. Many people considered it as the finest moment of Jordan’s wonderful career.
The Bulls and Jazz were tied with 83 apiece after 2 free throws from Jordan. In the next play, Karl Malone cross-court passed the ball to John Stockton and Stockton hit a 3 with 41.9 seconds left in the game.
The Bulls called a time-out.
Jordan received the ball and immediately drove to the basket. Jordan cut the lead by 1 point, 86-85, with 37.1 seconds to play.
Stockton passed the ball to Malone for a low-post play. Jordan went on the blind side of Malone, he swat and stole the ball.
No time-out called. Jordan brought the ball and played isolation with Bryon Russell.
With only 8 seconds left, Jordan went to his right near the foul line, crossed-over with a little push to Russell. Jordan was left wide open. He buried a perimeter jump shot and the Bulls were on a lead!
Jazz called a time-out with 5.2 seconds left in the game.
Stockton missed the last shot and the Bulls captured their 6th title.
Jordan finished the game with 45 points.
A lay-up, a steal and a winning jump shot – the 3 crucial plays made by Jordan sealed the deal.
A wonderful ending of Chicago Bulls’ dynasty.
Basketball and me
Basketball is one of the sports I love. I am glad that ESPN shared with us this documentary series on the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. It allows us to remember the brilliance of Jordan and the dominance of the Bulls in the 90’s.
I always want to see players compete at the highest level, giving all their best. I support and admire such athletes whether in the NBA, the PBA or the Southeast Asian Games.
The timing of the release during COVID-19 pandemic is also good as many people will have a reason to look forward to during this quarantine period.
Note: Catch tThe Last Dance on Netflix.