A Look Back on the Crazy Trade That Nearly Sent Michael Jordan to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1988
In 1988, the Chicago Bulls hadn’t yet won a championship in their 22 years in the NBA. Obviously, that would all change in the 1990s when Michael Jordan led the team to six NBA crowns in eight seasons and established himself as arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen. In 1988, the Los Angeles Clippers, who had joined the NBA in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, also hadn’t won an NBA championship, which still rings true to this very day. But just imagine how different things could have been had a reported trade involving the Bulls and Clippers gone down in 1988 that included His Airness.
Michael Jordan was the NBA MVP in 1988 and led the Bulls to the playoffs as the Clippers had yet another dreadful campaign
The 1987-1988 NBA season was Michael Jordan’s fourth year with the Chicago Bulls. He had established himself as one of the elite players in the game but he took things to an entirely new level that season. He won his second consecutive scoring title, averaging 35 points per game, and also added 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds. He also led the league in steals with 3.2 per game, had a career-high 1.6 blocks per game, and was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Jordan was also named the league’s Most Valuable Player and tacked on the All-Star Game MVP and Slam Dunk Championship to boot.
He led the Bulls to a 50-32 record, good for a tie for third in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, after beating Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs, Jordan and the Bulls lost to Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons in the conference semifinals. But things were heading in the right direction.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers had the NBA’s worst record at 17-65. The leading scorer on the team at 18 points per game was Mike Woodson, who was playing for his fourth team in eight years. Other top players included Benoit Benjamin and Michael Cage. So you see the difference between the two teams here. But at least the Clippers had two of the top six picks heading into the 1988 NBA draft.
The Chicago Bulls were reportedly ready to deal Michael Jordan to the Clippers for two draft picks and three players of their choosing
Sam Smith’s “The Jordan Rules” has been a big topic of conversation recently as The Last Dance docuseries on ESPN has made mention of it quite a few times. But one thing that hasn’t come up is the part of the book that discusses how Bulls management believed that Michael Jordan couldn’t bring a title to Chicago because he was simply a one-man show and didn’t know how to properly involve his teammates.
Thus, as Smith says in the book, they seriously discussed a trade that would have sent Jordan to the LA Clippers for the No. 1 and No. 6 picks in the ’88 draft. To sweeten the deal, the Clips would have thrown in three additional players and the Bulls would have been able to choose any three members of the LA roster to complete the deal.
The deal obviously ended up falling through and the Chicago Bulls and LA Clippers took their separate paths. Michael Jordan would eventually start to involve his teammates more when Phil Jackson took over as head coach in the Windy City in 1989. The two went on to win six titles together in the 1990s and Jordan became the biggest sports star on the entire planet.
As for the Clippers, they chose Danny Manning with the No. 1 pick in the 1988 NBA draft and then chose Bradley’s Hersey Hawkins at No. 6 but then immediately traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers for the draft rights to Charles Smith. LA would make three postseason appearances in the decade in which Michael Jordan and the Bulls dominated the NBA but lost in the first round each time.
But just sit back and imagine what the NBA would have looked like had this trade actually gone down. Pretty crazy, right?