John Paxson Saved the Bulls with His Shooting in ’93 and by Firing Himself in 2020

John Paxson has a long history with the Chicago Bulls. Even back in 1981-82, he put up better numbers than Michael Jordan did in college ball, something often forgotten as MJ hit the shot to win that year’s title. But Paxson and Jordan worked together in the NBA to win a trio of titles.

John Paxson’s run with the Bulls

The San Antonio Spurs drafted Paxson in the first round of the 1983 draft. After two years, however, he went to Chicago. Alongside Jordan, Paxson helped the Bulls win their first three-peat in 1991-93. In the 1993 finals, Paxson hit a three-pointer to put the Bulls over the Suns. Chicago won the third of the early-’90s titles.

Paxson played another season with Chicago after Jordan’s first retirement. He helped the team to the Conference Semifinals where they lost in seven games to the New York Knicks. But after the 1993-94 season, Paxson retired and took a shot at coaching. He moved to radio broadcasting until 2003. Then, in 2003, Paxson rejoined the Bulls as General Manager.

Through the rest of the 2000s, Paxson made big moves to put the Bulls in title contention. After a fortunate Draft Lottery, the Bulls grabbed future MVP, Derrick Rose, with the first pick in 2008. Injuries eventually marred Rose’s career, and he ended up leaving Chicago. But, for a few years after the draft, he truly put the Windy City on his back. Unfortunately, landing Rose would be the high point of Paxson’s time in Bulls management.

Paxson remained in the role through the 2010s, working alongside Gar Forman. Over this length of time, Chicago faltered and never made it past the Conference Finals (where they went once). The “GarPax era” disappointed many of the Chicago faithful. But just as he did in 1993 with a three-pointer, Paxson found a way to make the Bulls successful once again.

In mid-April, Forman was let go and Paxson was reassigned to “Senior Advisor of Basketball Operations”, according to Forbes. Forman still had two years on his contract. His last act with the Bulls will be to draw a little additional salary from the team’s bottom line. But it’s worth taking a look at what spurred the replacement of GarPax in the first place.

How Paxson is trying to save the Bulls

In December, Paxson spoke with Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf about a potential front-office overhaul. Although this would potentially end Paxson and Forman’s employment with the team, fans had grown more and more irate over the decade GarPax controlled the team. Arturas Karnisovas is now in control of the Chicago Bulls, and made the tough decision to let Forman go and reassign Paxson.

While these moves were clearly necessary for the future of the Bulls, it’s easy to imagine a path where Paxson did everything possible to hang on to his position with the team. It may have taken years of frustration in Chicago, but Paxson is actively making strides to improve their position with the league.

On the strength of Michael Jordan (and his teammates, including Paxson), the Chicago Bulls took their places as one of NBA history’s greatest dynasties. Even though the team has faltered since the glory days of the 1990s, coaching changes and draft picks like Rose have paved the way toward a brighter future in Chicago. 

For more than half of Paxson’s tenure as the head of the Bulls, fans have clamored for his retirement. But for the last thirty years, Paxson was instrumental in the trajectory of the Bulls. His most recent decision may only add to his legacy when all is said and done.