The Chicago Bulls hired Doug Collins as their new head coach in the summer of 1986. Michael Jordan was entering his third year in the NBA, and Bulls management felt Collins’ energy and passion for the game were what the players needed to take the next step in their development.
Collins’ first game as head coach came on November 1, 1986, against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. He was so nervous that he was soaking wet with sweat near the end of the fourth quarter and chewed his gum to a powder.
With the game tied with two minutes left in regulation, Jordan came up to Collins, gave him a cup of water, and told him to clean his mouth because he was about to win his first game as an NBA head coach. What happened next is what opened Collins’ eyes about his superstar shooting guard.
Michael Jordan made a promise to Doug Collins
Jordan promised Collins that he wouldn’t let him lose his first game as an NBA coach. His Airness put on his Superman cape and led the Bulls to a thrilling win at MSG by scoring 50 points. After the game, Collins knew he had something special on his hands.
“I remember being on the plane going back to Chicago,” Collins said in The Last Dance. “I said, ‘Wow, this guy is something like I’ve never seen before.’ “
The Bulls went 40-42 in Collins’ first year in charge. Jordan won his first of 10 scoring titles and developed a strong relationship with Collins. Both men trusted each other on and off the floor, and it showed during the 1987-88 season when Jordan made NBA history.
Michael Jordan won MVP and DPOY under Doug Collins
During the 1987-88 season, Jordan accomplished a feat the NBA had never seen before. He won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Award. MJ averaged 35.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 3.2 steals, and 1.6 assists while playing in all 82 games.
Jordan led the NBA in points per game, steals per game, and minutes per game in 1987-88. More importantly, he finally got out of the first round of the playoffs after guiding the Bulls to a five-game series win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Collins only lasted three years in Chicago due to his unwillingness to run the triangle offense and Jerry Krause‘s infatuation with Phil Jackson. He was fired in the summer of 1989 and replaced by Jackson, who learned the triangle from Bulls assistant Tex Winter.
Jordan was surprised when the Bulls fired Collins since the head coach led the franchise to the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals. The All-Star guard initially didn’t like Jackson since the Zen Master took the ball out of his hands on offense. However, that feeling didn’t last long.
MJ and Phil Jackson won six rings
The Bulls won 55 games in Jackson’s first year at the helm in 1989-90. They looked like a different team on offense because of the triangle and were no longer so reliant on Jordan to carry the load.
Although Chicago lost to the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, the series went seven games. Jordan and Co. were getting closer to defeating their arch-nemesis thanks to Jackson’s philosophy.
1990-91 was the Bulls’ breakthrough season. They swept the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Jordan and Jackson wound up winning six championships together in the ’90s. They never lost in the Finals and never had to play in a Game 7.
Jordan and Collins reunited on the Washington Wizards for two years before the former retired from the NBA for good in 2003. The two had a great rapport in Chicago and Washington, and it all started in 1986 at Madison Square Garden.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.