6 Rings: the true story of the Chicago Bulls dynasty


1996 Bulls GOAT

Twenty years ago, the dynasty ended.

The Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson won six championships in eight seasons and reshaped the NBA forever.

My latest story celebrates their final game together, Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, and completes (for now, I guess) an ongoing series of pieces that I have written over the past 13 years on what was easily my favorite era as a sports fan.

Here, all together, are those pieces about “YOUR World Champion Chicago Bulls!”

I will never get tired of hearing that.

1991: Learning the Hard Way — Jordan’s Bulls vs. the Bad Boy Pistons

Written in 2005 for Bear Down and Get Some Runs: A Year in the Life of a Chicago Sports Fan

Excerpt: Even as a youth, I knew what was happening. I felt the pain of those three seasons, the growing pains that come with watching a young team make mistakes, and the pain of watching that team get beat up year after year by the same group of guys. The Pistons were men. The Bulls were children. The Pistons were evil but strong. The Bulls were good but weak. Exaserbating the bitterness and making it all more overwhelming was our childhood friendship with Aaron Wightman, Pistons fan. (His family was from Michigan.)

And even though he was an incredibly nice kid who never once rubbed it in our noses, we all knew he had something over us. My friends and I would come together to watch the Bulls and Pistons battle, and at the end of it all Aaron was smiling while we were silent. The rivalry dominated my childhood. Nothing else was close. Aaron wasn’t a bragger, but with us, he did not have to be.

It was understood that no matter what happened with the Bears and Lions, Blackhawks and Red Wings, or Cubs, White Sox, and Tigers, and no matter what happened when we played our own games at the school yard or in our backyards, nothing else mattered but this: Aaron rooted for the Pistons, we rooted for the Bulls, the Pistons dominated the Bulls, and there was nothing we could do about it.






1993: Determined to win — the story of the 1993 Chicago Bulls

Written in 2005 for Bear Down and Get Some Runs: A Year in the Life of a Chicago Sports Fan

Excerpt: Marv Albert had the call. Classic. Bulls-Knicks and Marv, his voice ringing in my head: “The Knicks down by one with the ball.” (Doc Rivers brings the ball up and passes to Starks, who works on Jordan on the right side.) “Starks, played by Jordan. Ewing out to set a pick.” (Starks pumps on a shot, comes down, and then goes up for one before Jordan’s arms flash out, forcing the guard to dish to Ewing.) “Here’s Starks…changed his mind…” (Ewing with the ball at the top of the key, working on Stacey King…) “Plenty of time on the shot clock, down to ten, Ewing, for Smith…”

And here’s where it gets cool. Ewing stumbles, flinging a pass underneath to Charles Smith, and just as he corrals it and begins to go up for a shot, the organ music at the Garden stops. It just stops. It was as if the organ player at MSG knew what was coming.




1994: Moving on — The tale of Scottie Pippen’s 1994 Chicago Bulls

Written in 2005 for Bear Down and Get Some Runs: A Year in the Life of a Chicago Sports Fan

Excerpt: The 1993-94 season promised to be an interesting one, with lots of questions to be answered. Could the Bulls win four in a row? Would MJ be the same after a difficult 1993 postseason in which the press came down hard on him for gambling, and after the horrible murder of his father? Would the team be burned out in another bid for a title? How would the “Croatian Sensation” Toni Kukoc fit in with Jordan, Pippen, Grant, and the rest of the team?

All of those questions and more, however, were replaced on October 6, 1993, with the biggest question of all: how would the Bulls fare without The Greatest Of All-Time?


1994: There Could Never Be an 8-Peat — Why Michael Jordan Needed Baseball

Written in 2016 for How the GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls

Excerpt: If someone has hard evidence that MJ was suspended, I’m obviously all ears. But in “The Mystery of Michael Jordan’s First Retirement,” I buy the simplest explanation of all: he needed a break. He said it repeatedly during that era.

He even told his teammates.

“And not just one night,” Jordan told sportswriter Melissa Isaacson in her 1994 book “Transition Game.” “We’d have a couple of beers after the game and they’d be complaining about this or that, pointing fingers as they liked to do, and I’d say, ‘Man, you don’t know how good you have it. You watch, I’m not going to be around here much longer. I think this is going to be my last year.’ And they’d say, ‘Sure MJ, sure.’ … I kept saying it. Not once, not twice, but three or four times. I could sense they didn’t believe me. ‘Sure MJ, you’re either pissed off or you’ve been drinking.’”


1994: 33 – 23 = 1.8, but 33 + 23 = 72

Written in 2016 for How the GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls

Excerpt: This exchange shines a different light on MJ’s famous creed, “I can’t accept not trying.” To Jordan, “trying” equaled executing. Failure to execute WAS the failure, NOT failure to try. Even during Jordan’s calmer days during the second three-peat, the collective force of his drive, will, bluntness, fame, and myth challenged teammates to get better or get out.

“With Michael, there’s no forgiveness when you miss,” Steve Kerr told Sam Smith for Smith’s 2014 oral history of Jordan, “There Is No Next.” “That was the intimidating part. Scottie was the exact opposite. If he passed to you and you missed, he would pat you on the head and say, ‘That’s alright. I’m gonna pass it to you again next time.’ Whereas Michael would look at you like: ‘You gotta make the fucking shot.’”


1994-1995: The Other 10 — How Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause rebuilt the totem pole and created a new champion

Written in 2016 for How the GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls

Excerpt: This is why, despite their mutual antipathy and public discord, Krause and Jackson were a critical and natural duo. Krause was a scout’s scout. Jackson was a coach’s coach.

A scout wants to find new players.

A coach wants to guide them.

To borrow a metaphor from Bill Parcells, Krause bought the groceries, Jackson cooked the meal.



1995-1996: “My coach is everything” — Phil Jackson’s influence on the 1996 Chicago Bulls 

Written in 2016 for How the GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls

Excerpt: You damn well better believe a Knicks lineup of John Starks, MJ, Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, and Patrick Ewing would have been favorites to win the title in 1997.

Except one thing.

“My coach is everything,” Jordan told Spike. “Don’t know what kind of coach (Jeff) Van Gundy is. I know Phil.”

When Spike asked Jordan if joining the Knicks would have meant a championship, the ever-confident Greatest Of All Time had one answer: “I don’t know.”

That is the respect Jordan has for the player-coach relationship.

And that is the power of Phil Jackson.

Lesson 6 copy

1996: Dub-Bulls — How the 1996 Bulls led the small-ball revolution by going big

Written in 2016 for How the GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls

Excerpt: The Magic had smothered the Bulls with big guards: 6’7 Hardaway at the point, 6’6 Nick Anderson and 6’8 Dennis Scott roaming the wings, and 6’6 Brian Shaw off the bench.

Jackson already had the option of the 6’7 Pippen at point guard. “What would happen, I wondered, if we had three tall, long-armed guards on the court at the same time?” Jackson wrote in his 2013 memoir “Eleven Rings.”

“Not only would it create confusing mismatches for other teams, but it would also improve defense immeasurably because big guards could switch off and defend post players without resorting to double-teaming.”

To make it happen, Jackson and general manager Jerry Krause pulled off a pretty brilliant manipulation of the 1995 expansion draft. Each non-expansion team could protect eight players, and could lose no more than one. The question was whom to protect.

Chicago_Tribune_Sun__Mar_19__1995_ (2).jpg

1997: A look back at Michael Jordan’s Flu Game 20 years later

Written in 2017 for website 16 Wins A Ring

Excerpt: Jordan was old. He knew that. Before the season, he told Spike Lee that the Bulls’ collective age meant no one should assume they would win “automatically.” Their advantage was not athleticism. They succeeded because of talent, intelligence, experience, structure and resilience. Their edge was the ability to overcome mental and physical challenges, meaning Jordan simply had to power through what would be a grueling 18 hours or so, from waking up sick in the hotel, until the end of Game 5.

That’s where it started — the hotel room. According to reporting before the game from Ahmad Rashad and Marv Albert, Jordan woke up at 3:30 in the morning with “flu-like symptoms” including a stomachache and a headache. He vomited all night. He stayed in bed all day. He didn’t eat. He didn’t practice. He missed the pregame shoot-around. Until he came to the court just before the jump ball, he stayed in a dark room in the stadium “trying to get some rest,” he told Ahmad, while still vomiting.

“You get the idea he’s having difficulty just standing up,” Albert noted in the game’s final minute.

“I really feel horrible,” Jordan told Rashad before the game, about which Ahmad astutely reported: “And in his history, in games when he has either been hurt or sick, it’s been bad news for the opponent.”





1998: Jordan vs. Kobe — the 1998 All-Star Game became the NBA’s self-fulfilling prophecy

Written in 2018 for The Barber’s Chair Network

Excerpt: The sports section ran statistical comparisons between Kobe and Jordan as rookies and in that season, and on the inside of the paper named Kobe the “Player To Watch,” writing:

“Dare we say that the teen sensation is beginning to look like a precocious Michael Jordan?”

Remember: they were talking about a 2nd-year, 19-year-old backup.

With Shaq out and starting guards Jones and Van Exel combining against the Bulls for 14 points on six of 25 shooting, Kobe took control: 12-20 off the bench, shooting 3-5 from three and 6-9 from the line for a team- and career-high 33 points. Jordan had 36. The Bulls won by 21.

In the fourth quarter, with the Bulls comfortably ahead, Jordan asked Jackson to be put back into the game. He wanted to guard Kobe. It wouldn’t be the last time.


1998: The Last Day of the Dynasty — the oral history of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals

Written in 2018 for Chicago magazine


MICHAEL JORDAN: “I was going to the right because I knew I could get a shot off. Any time I needed to make a shot I went to my right as long as the defense didn’t make a mistake and open a lane to my left. When you go to your right the defensive player has to come across your body to get to the ball.”

PHIL JACKSON: “We spread the floor, and Michael waited until Bryon Russell reached for the ball.”

MICHAEL JORDAN: “Stockton was on the right hand side with Steve Kerr. He couldn’t gamble because Steve has killed them before.”

JERRY SLOAN: “You can double him, you can push him, but great players make those kinds of plays.”

MICHAEL JORDAN: “I had no intention of passing the ball under any circumstances. I figured I stole the ball and it was my opportunity to win or lose the game. I would have taken that shot with five people on me.”

JERRY SLOAN: “We’re not going to change our whole structure of basketball just for one person.”


1999: The true story of Jerry Krause and the breakup of the Bulls

Written in 2017 for Blog A Bull

Excerpt: Dynasties die. No team wins forever. The 1980s Lakers needed four Hall of Famers plus three other all-stars plus another 20-point scorer plus one of the game’s best defenders to win five championships in nine seasons. Shaq and Kobe were two of the league’s five best players and only won three titles together. Kobe won five total. Duncan won five. Magic won five. Bird won three. The Miami Heat pulled in arguably the greatest single-season free agent haul in NBA history and won only two championships.

The Bulls won six in eight years. Jerry Krause acquired the talent. Phil Jackson shaped it. Michael Jordan drove it. Scottie Pippen soothed it. Jerry Reinsdorf paid it. They did it together. They broke it together, aided — and guided — by time, age, health, ego, need, anger, boredom, and restlessness. There was no Yoko. Not even Yoko was really a Yoko.

Rest in peace Jerry Krause. You earned it.


1998-2018: Undoing the dynasty: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and how the Bulls blew a shot to become the Lakers

Written in 2018 for The Barber’s Chair Network


Sure enough, Jackson did not return, and on January 13, 1999, with the NBA lockout ongoing, Michael Jordan announced his retirement. The dominoes fell from there in the most stunning roster changeover in NBA history:

  • January 15: Bulls name Floyd head coach
  • January 21: Bulls renounce the rights to six players including Jordan and Rodman and trade Steve Kerr to the Spurs
  • January 22: Bulls trade Pippen to the Rockets
  • January 23: Bulls trade Longley to the Suns

Incredibly and tragically, these 10 days ended up defining the franchise rather than the 10 years that came before them. The Lakers have always reloaded by either trading for or signing arguably the best player in the league (Wilt, Cap, Shaq, Bron) while also drafting franchise-changing Hall of Famer (Elgin, West, Magic, Kobe).

Yet in 20 years since ruling the sports world, the biggest veteran acquisitions the Bulls have pulled off are Ron Mercer, Jalen Rose, Ben Wallace, Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol. There are many reasons for this failure, but perhaps the most damning is the ongoing, league-wide perception that the organization did the dynasty years dirty.

“I think the biggest question (about the Bulls) that you think about has to be loyalty,” said Illinois-native Dwyane Wade in May of 2010, as he and his future teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh were in the process of choosing their next team, heavily weighing both the Heat and the Bulls. “I see Michael Jordan is not there, Scottie Pippen is not there. … You know, these guys are not a part (of the franchise). That is probably one of the biggest things for me, because I am a very loyal person.”

Chicago Bulls Jerry Reinsdorf, Jerry Krause and Tim Floyd

Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, and author of How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls. He is the proprietor of the Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.

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