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100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Kent McDill
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Kent McDill
All rights reserved.
Nobody knew. If they tell you they knew, they're lying.
When Michael Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls in 1984, he did so with a reputation, but not the reputation he left the team with some 14 years later.
Following his three-year collegiate career at North Carolina, Jordan came to the Bulls with the expectation that he would be a wonderful athlete to watch, a tremendous dunker, a high-flying talent like the Bulls had perhaps never known.
But no one knew about Jordan's relentless competitiveness, at least not to the level he eventually displayed. No one knew that he would be impossible to stop offensively.
In his first season with the Bulls, Jordan averaged 28.2 points and shot over 50 percent from the field. He led the Bulls to the playoffs that first year despite the team having a 38–44 record. The Bulls lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
After missing 64 games with a foot injury in his second season, Jordan came back in March '86 and got the Bulls into the playoffs again with a record of 30–52. There they got a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics. In the second game of the three-game series in Boston, Jordan scored a playoff-record 63 points in a losing effort, giving an indication of who he was in terms of competitiveness and scoring ability. After that game, Hall of Famer Larry Bird compared Jordan to God.
In his third season, completely healthy once again, Jordan really set the NBA on its ear with 37 points per game. He scored more than 3,000 points in the season, something that had not been done since Wilt Chamberlain's heyday. He added more than 200 steals and 100 blocks, playing the entire game on both ends of the court to indicate his status as a complete player.
In the '87–88 season, he won his first MVP award after scoring 35 points per game. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulls finished above .500 for the first time with Jordan at 50–32 and won a playoff series for the first time against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were eliminated in the second round by the Detroit Pistons.
The Bulls were eliminated each of the next two years by the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Jordan continued his scoring mastery, averaging well over 30 points a game.
In the '90–91 season, the Bulls finally had the will and the talent to beat the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and went on to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals for their first title. Jordan's competitiveness and emotional need to win came out in the postgame locker room celebration when he hugged the championship trophy and cried, huddled with his father and best friend, James Jordan.
With one title under his belt, Jordan was unstoppable the next two years. He led the Bulls to the NBA title in '92 in a convincing series against the Portland Trail Blazers, who were led by one of Jordan's so-called athletic predecessors, Clyde Drexler. In '93, Jordan and the Bulls beat the Phoenix Suns in the Finals for their third straight title. He averaged over 40 points in the finals.
After the '93 playoffs, Jordan faced two adversities. He was accused of having a gambling problem, although he never committed any crimes. He also had to deal with the July death of his father, which was believed to be a factor in his decision to retire before the start of the '93–94 season.
Jordan attempted to play professional baseball, the sport that was his first love, but failed to get above Double-A level.
Revitalized by his absence from the game, Jordan returned to the Bulls in the spring of '95, but the Bulls lost to the Orlando Magic in the second round of the playoffs when Jordan was revealed to be slightly out of shape and slow with his reaction times. In the summer of '95, Jordan rededicated himself to the task of an 82-game NBA season, and with Pippen and a new cast of teammates, he led the Bulls to three more NBA titles, playing the Seattle SuperSonics once and the Utah Jazz twice. In 1998, with a battle over a new collective bargaining agreement looming and the prospect of the Bulls breaking up their dynasty, Jordan retired again.
By the end of his career with the Bulls, Jordan had won 10 scoring titles, including seven in a row. He owned the top regular season career scoring average of 30.1 points, and the best playoff career scoring average of 33.4 per game. He made the NBA all-defensive team nine times. He won the NBA regular season MVP award five times, the NBA Finals MVP six times, and was named the NBA All-Star Game MVP three times.
He is generally considered the best to have ever played the game.CHAPTER 2
72–10: Best Record Ever
In 1972, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Wilt Chamberlain, won 69 games, setting a record that many thought would never be broken.
The 1995–96 Bulls knew they could challenge the mark if things went their way.
With a newly dedicated and physically imposing Michael Jordan returning after his brief retirement, Scottie Pippen at the top of his career after leading the Bulls without Jordan around, and with the addition of Dennis Rodman, the Bulls appeared capable of winning the franchise's fourth NBA title. With Toni Kukoc on the bench, Steve Kerr aiming for the basket from outside, and Luc Longley and Bill Wennington holding down the middle, the Bulls appeared to have championship material. But no one knew just how dominant they were going to be.
The Bulls started the season with five straight wins, four of them at home. They lost at Orlando in the sixth game of the season, but went 10–1 before falling at Seattle by five points. It was their only loss on the so-called circus trip, in which they played seven games on the West Coast over 12 days.
With a 12–2 record heading into home-heavy December, the Bulls won 13 in a row to go to 23–2. Statistically, they were far ahead of the Lakers' mark. After a December 26 loss at Indiana, the Bulls won an amazing 18 games in a row, nine of them on the road.
At one point in the season, Bulls coach Phil Jackson talked about maybe resting players a game or two at a time in order to keep them fresh for the postseason. The one-season record was not on his mind.
Then came their only bump in the road, back-to-back losses at Denver and at Phoenix. That left them with a record of 41–5, and they needed to go 29–7 to get to 70 wins, thus setting the record.
They went 19–2 over their next 21 to raise their record to 60–7. They needed 10 wins in their final 15, and the record seemed a slam dunk for the Bulls.
They suffered two one-point losses on the way, one at Toronto and a very disappointing one at home against Charlotte, but the Charlotte loss on April 8 left them with a record of 66–9 with seven games to play. Four wins out of the final seven? No problem.
They tied the record at Cleveland on April 14, recording a 98–72 win with ease. They flew home for a night, then took a bus ride from Chicago to Milwaukee for the game that would give them the record.
"History; that's what this is all about," Jordan said on the night before the game.
The Bulls did not play a great game. Jordan and Pippen combined to make only 16 of 46 shots. Jordan had a lackluster 22 points with nine rebounds. The Bulls needed key free throws from Steve Kerr down the stretch to win the game, but they did, 86–80, to become the first team in NBA history to win 70 games in a season.
They beat Detroit two nights later for win No. 71, lost to the Pacers at home by one in their last home game of the regular season, then beat the Washington Bullets by 10 in the season finale for a 72–10 final record, one that many people now believe is an unreachable record.
The Bulls finished the season 39–2 at home and 33–8 on the road. The only team to beat the Bulls twice that season was the Indiana Pacers.CHAPTER 3
Batman needed his Robin.
In the summer of 1987, three years after they selected Michael Jordan in the '84 NBA draft, the Bulls got Scottie Pippen out of the University of Central Arkansas, an NAIA school not known as a hotbed of NBA talent.
Pippen started his career at Central Arkansas as the team manager, and he was a walk-on to the basketball team. He started college as a 6'1" guard, but by the time he graduated, he had grown to 6'7". He averaged 23.6 points per game and shot nearly 60 percent in his senior season.
Bulls general manager Jerry Krause loved nothing more than finding a diamond in the rough. He was determined to get Pippen, and was willing to do whatever it took to get him in the draft.
The Bulls had the No. 8 pick in the '87 draft, but Krause found out the Sacramento Kings had their eyes on Pippen with the No. 6 pick. Pippen had played well in pre-draft camps, and Krause no longer had the element of surprise to work with.
Krause made a deal with the Seattle SuperSonics, who had the No. 5 pick, to switch picks, based on the agreement that the deal would be made if the Sonics could not get the athlete they wanted with the No. 5 selection. Apparently, the Sonics wanted Reggie Williams, who was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers with the fourth pick.
So Krause asked the Sonics to select Pippen, then the Bulls took Olden Polynice at No. 8, and the teams traded the players immediately.
Pippen joined the Bulls as a skinny, long-legged, long-armed insecure country kid. Joining a team with a high-profile player like Michael Jordan was a shock to his upbringing, which was about as threadbare an existence as you might think possible in the 20th century. He lived in a very small house in Hamburg, Arkansas, with a disabled father and a severely overworked mother, and many siblings.
Pippen joined the team with another country kid, forward Horace Grant out of Clemson, who was drafted 10th in the '87 draft. The two players grew alongside each other in the fast-paced NBA world.
Over the years, under the direction of defensive-minded assistant coach Johnny Bach and open-minded head coach Phil Jackson, Pippen became one of the best defensive players in the history of the NBA.
He played behind veteran forward Brad Sellers his first year, averaging 7.9 points and 3.8 rebounds a game. He ascended to the starting lineup in the second season, and eventually earned the trust of Jordan. His scoring and rebounding averages increased for four years straight, reaching 21 points and 7.7 rebounds in the '91–92 season.
But Pippen was consistently compared to Jordan as well, and sometimes that had a negative effect upon him. When the Bulls lost to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals in '90, Pippen struggled in Game 7 because of a severe migraine headache, and Chicago fans criticized him for failing to be as tough as Jordan. His headaches were tied to his vision, and contacts eventually solved that problem. But the Bulls lost Game 7 that year, and Pippen was blamed.
In the '91 NBA Finals, Pippen earned his first moment of true fame. Although 6'9" Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers was considered a point guard, and Pippen was a small forward, Bulls coach Phil Jackson assigned Pippen to guard Johnson, and Pippen's disruptive defense neutralized Johnson frequently throughout the series.
Eventually, Pippen became a two-time U.S. Olympian and was selected one of the top 50 NBA Players of All Time during the '96–97 season.
Pippen played 17 NBA seasons, including one season with Houston and four with Portland after the Bulls broke up their dynasty team at the conclusion of the '98 season. His career averages were 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds. His number 33 was retired by the Bulls, and he became a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.CHAPTER 4
1991 World Champions
Historically, the NBA finds its champions in the results of the previous season. In most cases, teams that win titles for the first time preceded their championship seasons by getting close, either by losing in the NBA Finals or losing in their conference finals.
Heading into the 1990–91 NBA season, the Bulls seemed to have paid their dues, with two consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. In both cases, the Bulls lost to the Detroit Pistons, in six games in '89 and in seven games in '90.
Minor changes were made to the roster for the '90–91 season. Ed Nealy, Jeff Sanders, and Charles Davis were let go, and the Bulls added longtime Atlanta Hawks forward Cliff Levingston, rookie Scott Williams, and veteran shooting guard Dennis Hopson.
But the core of the team, the starting five, remained the same: shooting guard Michael Jordan, small forward Scottie Pippen, power forward Horace Grant, center Bill Cartwright, and point guard John Paxson. Center Stacey King and point guard B.J. Armstrong were coming into their second year, and shooting guard Craig Hodges remained an outside scoring threat after winning the All-Star Game three-point shooting contest the previous season.
The Bulls figured they needed home-court advantage in the playoffs to best the Pistons if the two teams met again in the playoffs, so they pursued the best record in the East from the start of the season. But the season started off in the worst possible way, with three consecutive losses, two of them at home.
The Bulls won their next three games, taking a 3–3 record on the road for the Circus Trip, the annual two-week excursion into the Western Conference while the circus occupied Chicago Stadium.
The season included nine and 11-game winning streaks, as well as a club-record home winning streak of 26 games, from December 14, 1990, to March 23, 1991. From February 4 to March 20, the Bulls went 20–1, with only a loss at Indiana to mar the streak.
The Bulls won six of their final seven games to finish with a 61–21 record, the first 60-win season in club history. They had the best record in the Eastern Conference. They finished the regular season with a very significant 108–100 win over the Detroit Pistons.
The Bulls started the playoffs with a 3–0 sweep of the New York Knicks, winning Game 1 by 41 points. They had an easy time with the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, taking that best-of-seven series 4–1.
The series against the Pistons for the Eastern Conference title could not have been more representative of the changing of the guard. The Bulls swept the Pistons, winning the final game 115–94.
The final game was memorable not just for getting the Bulls into the NBA Finals for the first time. Detroit guard Isiah Thomas, a Chicago schoolboy legend, led a group of Pistons off the floor before the final buzzer sounded, walking past the Bulls bench without shaking hands or offering any other sort of acknowledgment.
The Bulls won the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers 4–1, losing the first game at home 93–91, then winning four straight games, including a Game 3 overtime win at Los Angeles. Bulls coach Phil Jackson earned his stripes by making the decision to place Pippen defensively against Lakers 6'9" point guard Magic Johnson, which disrupted the Lakers, who, like the Pistons, were at the end of their prime.
The Bulls won the final game in Los Angeles and received their trophy inside the visitor's locker room at the Great Western Forum. They had to wait to celebrate with their fans until they got home the next day.
Michael Jordan was the league MVP that year, the MVP of the NBA Finals, made the all-NBA First Team, the All-NBA Defensive First Team, and won his fifth-straight scoring title. Scottie Pippen was named to the league's All-Defensive Second Team, although the votes took place before the Finals were played.
The Bulls were on their way. They were champions, the first major-sport professional champion for the city of Chicago since the 1985 Chicago Bears. And best of all, they were relatively young. The future looked bright.CHAPTER 5
In 1995, the phrase "his reputation precedes him" applied better to Dennis Rodman than to just about any other person on the planet.
Rodman joined the Bulls at the age of 34 in a trade from San Antonio, where he had played two years and gone through numerous clashes with coaches and star center David Robinson. After spending seven years with the Detroit Pistons and winning two NBA titles, Rodman had allowed his personality to blossom with the Spurs. He began to dye his close-cropped hair and dress to express himself. His self-expression ran onto the basketball court, where he dueled with opponents and teammates alike.
His reputation for loutish behavior ran perpendicular to his reputation as a basketball player. He was unique on the floor as well, with a nose for the ball unlike most players. He was willing to sacrifice his body in order to get his team an extra possession, and while teammates wished he would settle down off the court, they appreciated what he did on it.
Excerpted from 100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Kent McDill. Copyright © 2012 Kent McDill. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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