I have one poster, two shirts, and a hat that says the 1995-96 Bulls were the greatest team of all time, an assertion to which I have never devoted much thought. I have always only gone as far as to say that the 72-10 Bulls were the best that I have ever seen in a single season. They dominated their opponents and the entire league like no team since and were so good that the 64 win Supersonics faced them in the championship series as one of the biggest underdogs in Finals history. That remarkable season turns twenty this year, an occasion that I, along with Brandon Pence, will commemorate with a season-long series of articles for those who did and did not get to experience the Bulls of twenty years ago. I struggled with how to kick off the project but finally decided upon an introduction that features what I believe to be the best and worst of the ’95-’96 Bulls based as much on my memory as possible. Many of these games will be covered in later pieces, and I hope that readers enjoy this and all that follows during the upcoming season.
Bulls vs Grizzlies – November 30, 1995: This game could have easily been in the “worst” category as the Bulls allowed the 2-10 Grizzlies to tease the fans in Vancouver with an upset. The Bulls were down 77-69 with seven minutes to go when Michael Jordan proceeded to score 19 points in the final six minutes to steal a 94-88 win from Vancouver. Jordan finished with 29 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Bulls vs 76ers – January 16, 1996: The Bulls set a season high for points in a half, and Dennis Rodman put on a show with his first career triple double in the 116-104 defeat of the 76ers. Rodman finished with 10 points, 21 rebounds, and a career high 10 assists. “He’s probably the fan’s favorite right now,” said Jordan who hit the shot that gave Rodman his tenth assist. “I know the fans wanted it to happen.”
Bulls vs Pacers – February 18, 1996: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen became only the ninth teammates to score over 40 points in a game. Jordan’s 45 points and Pippen’s 40 along with Dennis Rodman’s 23 rebounds propelled the Bulls to a 110-102 win over the Pacers, sweet revenge for the loss to the Pacers on December 26th that ended a thirteen game winning streak.
Bulls vs Pistons: March 7, 1996: Michael Jordan scored a season high 53 points in the Bulls’ 102-81 win over the Detroit Pistons. Jordan shot 21 for 28 from the field, grabbed 11 rounds, 6 steals, and 2 assists. His 15 fourth quarter points outscored the entire Pistons team (13) in the final period. It was also his only 50 point game that season.
Bulls vs Bucks – April 16, 1996: The Bulls became the first and only team to win seventy games in an NBA season when they beat Milwaukee 86-80. It was not their best performance of the season but the drama that surrounded the chase for 70 wins and the relief that breaking the record appeared to bring makes it one of the most fun games to watch from that season.
Bulls vs Nuggets – February 4, 1996: The Bulls travelled to Denver on a franchise record 18-game winning streak, having not lost since December 29th. Chicago trailed much of the game and made a spectacular run in the third quarter behind Jordan’s 22 points, but could not keep the streak going, which ended with a 105-99 loss.
Bulls vs Knicks – March 10, 1996: The Bulls went into New York where the Knicks halted their six game streak with a 104-72 blowout on NBC. The loss, the seventh of the season, was not only the worst defeat of the 1995-96 season, but also the worst loss by any Bulls team during the second three-peat. Fortunately for all of us the full game has been removed from Youtube.
“Now one loss, especially when a team already has 54 wins, doesn’t mean much…But the loss on national TV during which the Knicks hung an embarrassing 37-8 run on the Bulls in the second half did expose several concerns floating just beneath the surface…” –Sam Smith, March 11, 1996
Bulls vs Nets – March 16, 1996: In a particularly ugly episode, Dennis Rodman exploded and head butted referee Ted Bernhardt after what he felt was an unfair ejection in the first quarter of the Bulls 97-93 win over the Nets. Rodman was suspended for six games without pay and fined heavily by the NBA. At the time it was the third longest suspension in NBA history which, fines and games included, cost him a total of $203,926. The suspension came at a delicate time when the Bulls were chasing 70 wins without an injured Scottie Pippen. Rodman later apologized for the nasty episode which is probably why my parents let me keep his poster on my wall, but according to the Chicago Tribune, only about half of fans thought it was sincere.
Bulls vs Pacers – April 20, 1996: Phil Jackson called the Bulls’ final home game of the season “an interesting finale,” but I can remember this game being such a colossal disappointment because I wanted the Bulls to go 73-9. They rallied to tie the game with .45 seconds left, but lost 100-99 when Jordan fouled Eddie Johnson on a jumper with less than one second left. With the loss Chicago finished the season 39-2 at home, one win shy of the Celtics all time record of 40 home victories, while the win made Indiana became the only team to defeat the Bulls twice during the ’95-’96 season.
This list is open to interpretation since some games that would have made the list in an ordinary season were removed, and I have inevitably forgotten others, but I digress. Two decades is a long time, and looking back with all of that hindsight, the success, at least in terms of winning the title, is not surprising. However, at the time there were no historic predictions that preceded the season and despite the fact that by opening night expectations were high, there remained a ton of cautious optimism around the team. A lot has changed since the Bulls rolled over the entire NBA. I can no longer wear the puffy Bulls Starter jacket I got that year, my red, white, and black bedroom has since been repainted, and age has robbed me of the ability to dye my hair Rodman’s shade of green. Today I can watch every game despite being 1,100 miles away from Chicago and Twitter makes being an NBA fan a much more social experience than the solo viewing from a beanbag chair in my parents’ living room. The one constant is that my affection for the 1995-96 Bulls season has withstood the test of twenty years, and I cannot wait to relive it as an adult, so stay tuned.
I’m on Twitter @jlw771