The Chicago Bulls made a bold move in the summer of 1989 when they fired head coach Doug Collins and replaced him with Phil Jackson. Superstar Michael Jordan was surprised since Collins led the Bulls to the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals.
With the help of Tex Winter, Jackson installed the triangle offense in Chicago and guided the franchise to six championships. However, although he had tremendous success playing in the triangle offense, Jordan never fully got used to it.
Michael Jordan on triangle offense: It’s a difficult system
“I’m still not used to that,” Jordan said while laughing. “That’s how difficult it is. It’s a difficult system.”
The triangle offense is set so that there’s a key pass that creates motion, and then there are 33 different types of options that come out of that single pass. According to Jackson, players could do spontaneous and creative things using their strengths.
Since the triangle took the ball out of his hands, Jordan wasn’t a fan of Jackson’s offense when the Zen Master became the coach in 1989-90. However, after MJ and Jackson had a one-on-one conversation, things changed for His Airness.
Michael Jordan won seven scoring titles in triangle offense
Jordan won 10 scoring titles with the Bulls, and seven of those came in the triangle offense. The five-time MVP averaged 30.8 points while shooting 50.1% from the field in 585 games under Jackson.
The Bulls three-peated twice thanks to Jordan, Jackson, and the triangle. They won their championships in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998, with Black Jesus winning all six Finals MVPs.
It’s fascinating that Jordan was still learning facets about the triangle offense despite having so much success with it going into his final year with the Bulls in 1997-98. The All-Star shooting guard initially wasn’t enthusiastic about Jackson replacing Collins and running the triangle, but he developed such a strong bond with the Montana native that he refused to play for another coach in Chicago.
MJ retired in 1998 since Phil Jackson stepped away
Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said the 1997-98 season would be Jackson’s final year in Chicago, even if the team went 82-0 and won the title. After the Bulls defeated the Jazz in the ’98 Finals for their sixth championship, Jackson stepped away from the game, and Jordan followed suit since he didn’t want to play for a different coach.
Both Jordan and Jackson returned to the NBA, though. The former played for the Washington Wizards from 2001-02 to 2002-03, while the latter coached the Los Angeles Lakers for 11 seasons and won five more rings.
Jordan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. He’s the NBA’s all-time leader in points per game and player efficiency rating. Meanwhile, Jackson made the Hall of Fame as coach in 2007. He won 1,155 regular-season games and 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers.