On October 29th the Chicago Bulls will open their 2014-2015 NBA season with a rare matchup against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. The last time the Bulls opened an NBA season against New York was 1999, and Chicago was beginning the 2nd year of the post Michael Jordan hangover. The mood is much different this year as excitement builds over new offseason additions and, of course, Derrick Rose’s return to action. When I started writing this I assumed, given the basketball history between Chicago and New York that this would be about the most memorable Bulls openers against the Knicks. Little did I know, or perhaps what I forgot was that in half a century of basketball this will be only the 4th time in franchise history that the Bulls have played the Knicks in their season opener, which makes this piece not about the best of many, but a short history of the few and far between.
The Bulls beat the Knicks in their season opener in 1968 and 1986, only losing in the 1999-2000 opener 84-74 at the United Center. If the score wasn’t enough of an indication of how bad this game was, the Bulls shot 32% from the field, Toni Kukoc was 1 for 14, and Dickey Simpkins was the leading scorer. As Fred Mitchell wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Yikes, only 81 more games to go,” a great summation of the 1999-2000 season and the Bulls eventual 17-65 record.
The first time Chicago opened their NBA season against New York was 1968, and the Bulls were in the Western Conference. Players such as Tom Boerwinkle, Jerry Sloan, and Bob Boozer led the Bulls into a brand new Madison Square Garden against the likes of Cazzie Russell, Willis Reed, Walk Frazier, and, a name that would become familiar to Bulls fans, Phil Jackson. It was Chicago’s 3rd season in the NBA and head coach Dick Motta’s regular season debut with the Bulls. Chicago played well, built a 15-point lead, blew it in the 3rd period, but overcame the Knick surge with one of their own to win a close game 100-96.
Seventeen years later Doug Collins, also in his coaching debut, praised the Bulls for their 108-103 defeat of the Knicks in Madison Square Garden to open the 1986-87 season. Before the game, Michael Jordan, beginning his 3rd NBA season, promised a nervous Collins that “he wouldn’t let him lose his opener,” and he put on a dominating performance for the New York crowd. To quote Doug Collins, a “jacked up” Jordan scored 50-points which set the record for the most points scored by an opponent in Madison Square Garden, a record Jordan would break himself in 1995. The small amount of footage from this game, which was the only time the Bulls opened the season against New York in Michael Jordan’s career, is available below.
So there it is, a short history of the few times the Bulls have played their first game of the season against New York. In addition, the 2014 game will be only the 2nd time that both the Bulls and Knicks have shared the court for their first game, the other instance being the opener in 1968. Personally, on October 29th I will watch the Bulls open their season against the Knicks for the first time in my life because I was not around in 1968, in 1986 I was too young to comprehend basketball, and in 1999 I was still boycotting the sport as part of my post-Michael Jordan depression. Nothing ever matches the beginning of a new NBA season, and the Bulls opener is always my favorite game of the year. I can’t predict what kind of game the opener will be, but I now know it will be rare matchup, and one that if you miss, it might not come around again until sometime between 2027 and 2032.
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