Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six championships during the ’90s. It could have been more if Jordan didn’t retire in the summer of 1993 following the tragic murder of his father, James. Some pundits believe the Bulls could have won eight straight championships.
Nevertheless, six rings in eight years is a feat no team has accomplished since the Bulls’ dynasty ended in 1998. Having Jordan and Scottie Pippen leading the charge certainly helped. However, MJ believed another underlying factor separated the Bulls from the other contenders in the NBA.
Michael Jordan: Everybody on the Bulls loved each other
In April 1998, Jordan sat down with Rick Telander of ESPN for a wide-ranging interview. During the discussion, the five-time MVP said the Bulls’ chemistry, both on and off the floor, was one of the main reasons they were such a dominant team.
“On this team, we love each other,” Jordan said. “No jealousies, no animosities, no nothing. Is there another team like that? Maybe Utah. But after what Karl Malone said about Greg Ostertag [‘When you talk about dominant centers, I look at Ostertag and I don’t think he has the commitment’], I don’t know how long that will last. On our team, everybody gets along with everybody, everybody can go out with everybody. And we’re not afraid to criticize each other.”
While Jordan was explicitly talking about the 1997-98 Bulls team that won 62 games and beat the Utah Jazz in the ’98 Finals, the same sentiment could be said about the other five championship teams. After all, Chicago won an average of 64 games during the dynasty years, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish if players don’t like being around one another.
Despite winning 62 games in his final season with the Bulls, though, Jordan didn’t think the 1997-98 squad was the best Chicago team he played for. Surprisingly, His Airness also didn’t believe the 72-10 team from 1995-96 was the best either.
Michael Jordan: Our first three title teams were the best
In the same interview with ESPN, Jordan admitted that the Bulls’ first three championship teams were more balanced, agile, and hungry. The 10-time scoring champion said human nature began to kick in for him after winning so much and that his hunger decreased at times.
“But I don’t think this is our best Bulls team,” Jordan said. “Our first three title teams were more balanced, younger, more agile. And the desire was a lot stronger. It’s strong now, but back then we had a lot of guys who had never won anything. Now it’s easy for complacency to set in. It’s human nature. It happened to me. I stopped working out for about 3 1/2 weeks this season. I got used to sleeping in, taking short cuts. And it affected me on the court. Human nature. You don’t even know you’ve done anything until you see signs in your game. I told Phil Jackson one morning, ‘I’ve been taking short cuts, yet I’m expecting the same results. It can’t happen that way.’ So I went back to working out, doing the things necessary. And I feel better physically, and I feel good about me as a person. I’m getting up at eight every day instead of nine. I’m not getting soft.”
The Bulls won 61 games in 1990-91, 67 in 1991-92, and 57 in 1992-93. Even though Jordan and Co. won 72 in 1995-96, 69 in 1996-97, and 62 1997-98, Black Jesus is of the firm belief that the first three-peat had better teams.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about which Bulls team was the best. What’s clearly not up for debate is that Jordan is undoubtedly the best player in franchise history.
MJ holds 27 Bulls records
27. That’s how many Bulls records Jordan holds. There’s a reason the North Carolina product has a statue inside the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. He was a once-in-a-generation player whose contributions to the Bulls may never be matched by anyone who plays for the franchise.
Jordan is the Bulls’ all-time leader in games, minutes, field goals, free throws, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, assists, steals, points, triple-doubles, points per game, steals per game, player efficiency rating, offensive win shares, defensive win shares, and value over replacement player. He finished his Chicago career with stellar averages of 31.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists.
Along with the Jordan statue, the No. 23 jersey hangs in the rafters at the United Center. There will never be another MJ in Chicago, that’s for sure.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.