By Tom Zelinski
Only one team comes to mind when looking back at basketball in the 1990s–the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls dominated the NBA in the ’90s, winning six championships in eight years. Some have argued they were the best team in NBA history, and no single team will ever assemble a deep lineup of talented players with as much chemistry as the Bulls.
The Bulls won their first championship in the 1990/91 season, defeating Earvin "Magic" Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. A season later, the Bulls claimed Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers as their next victims. It was their second championship in as many years, and proved that the first was no fluke. By the time Chicago won its third straight NBA championship in 1993 against Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns, they were well on their way establishing themselves as one of the great dynasty teams of basketball.
But after 1993, things severely changed for the Bulls. Michael Jordan, who had led the Bulls to NBA greatness, announced he was retiring. He decided that after three championships, it was a good time to leave the game of basketball and pursue other interests. So he turned to baseball, where he lasted all of 18 months in the minors. In March of 1995, he announced his return to the NBA
He returned to a much different Bulls team. There were many faces he wasn’t used to and those players weren’t used to him either. Jordan only played a handful of games towards the end of the season the year of his return, and the Bulls didn’t make it to the finals. The team just wasn’t given a chance to create a winning chemistry.
The 1995/96 season was a totally different story. The Bulls were left with three key characters from their previous championship years. Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan and head coach Phil Jackson were together once again. The rest of the team had gone through a major transformation. Many wondered: with so many new faces, would the Bulls be able to create the winning chemistry they once had? Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and Dennis Rodman hadn’t been with the Bulls during their first three championships and were now required to step up and play some big ball, which they did.
The Bulls finished that season with a 72-10 record. They were the first team in NBA history to record 70 wins in a single season. That year, Chicago went on the beat the Seattle Supersonics to win their fourth championship of the ’90s. The next two years was much of the same. The Bulls finished with the best record in the NBA, and beat the Utah Jazz both years to obtain their fifth and sixth championships. Once again, the Bulls had won championships in three straight years.
Although the Bulls of the early ’90s were a great team, they underwent many changes during Jordan’s brief retirement. When Jordan announced his return to basketball, the Bulls were a much different team, probably even better than just a few years earlier. The Chicago Bulls from ’95 to ’98 were the deepest team in the league and arguably one of the best teams in NBA history. One look at their lineup shows just how talented they really were. Scottie Pippen was the most versatile player in the NBA He could score, rebound, make plays and play a very solid defensive game. Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounding the three years he won championships with the Bulls. Besides being a monster on the boards, Rodman’s defensive abilities were a huge asset to the Bulls. In Steve Kerr the Bulls had one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA Kukoc was arguably the best sixth man in the NBA And of course, the squad was led by a player who some say was the greatest ever to play the game. His ability to control a game and his competitiveness put him on another level where no one could match him (that would be Michael Jordan).
But after the 1997/98 season, The Bulls dynasty broke up. Phil Jackson did not return as head coach. Jordan said he would play for no other coach and with Jackson gone, he once again retired from basketball, still the NBA’s best player. Pippen was traded to Houston where he currently plays. Rodman has also retired.
There will surely never be another Michael Jordan and there will never be another team like the Chicago Bulls. The end of the Bulls dynasty has left the door open for many NBA teams to be the next dynasty team. Only time will tell if any team can play together long enough to develop the talent and create the chemistry needed to be a championship team.