The Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan owned the 90s of NBA basketball.
The GOAT led the Bulls to two three-peats on either side of his baseball hiatus. Undisputably the dynasty of the 90s, the Bulls were a force to reckon with.
While Jordan erupted into the scene in the mid-80s, the Bulls took time to find their feet. The 80s belonged to three teams, the Lakers, the Celtics, and the Pistons. The Bulls failed to clear the hurdles offered by the likes of the Celtics, the Pistons, and the Cavaliers in the early MJ years.
The up-and-coming Bulls could not match up to the dynasties that established themselves in the 80s. Their failure was coming to the spotlight and the pressure was mounting on the young MJ and his support cast.
Their biggest attributable flaw was the lack of star power behind Jordan. And the Bulls had not identified any star-caliber player to post as the second in command to MJ yet.
When did they clear their Playoff hurdle first and how did they do it?
In a post from the Archives of Vault, Jack McCallum describes the moment where the Bulls began their ascend. To put a date to it, the day was May 16, 1988.
With questions surrounding the Bulls such as “are they a one-man band?”, McCallum shows light into the Bulls response. Describing a gruelling series finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he refers to Scottie Pippen as a spark into the future of the franchise.
Reporter for Sports Illustrated at the time, the aforementioned Jack McCallum, had this to say about the game in question.
“On Sunday the Chicago bulls advanced to the second round of the NB A’s Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time in seven years, lugging with them an intriguing and still unresolved question: Are they a one-man band?
Chicago answered ambivalently in going the best-of-five distance with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the first two games, the Bulls were successful only when they went to Michael Jordan, who scored 50 and 55 points in 104-93 and 106-101 victories at Chicago Stadium. In the next two games, on the Cavaliers’ home floor in suburban Richfield, the Bulls looked like lost sheep whenever Jordan was not out front with his staff. Sure, he scored 38 and 44 points, but he was playing with a sore back and a sore right knee and with several of the calls against him. Cleveland won 110-102 and 97-91.
But in the fifth and deciding game, in Chicago, the Bulls performed like a many-man band. While Jordan “struggled” for 39 points, several of his teammates finally stood strong and tall in a 107-101 victory. “Today,” said coach Doug Collins, “the Chicago Bulls showed up in unison.””
Pippen had had a breakout 24-6-5 game which highlighted his potential as a point-forward. The rookie Pippen’s performance drew a lot of plaudits and offered a first glimpse to a future superstar.
MJ is described to have “struggled” for 39 points. That reflects the high standards that were placed on the shoulders of Jordan, who was merely 4 years into his career at that point in time.
According to McCallum, “In the fifth and deciding game, the Bulls performed like a many-man band”, thereby addressing the ‘one-man-band’ tag that had haunted MJ and the Bulls.
With Pippen showing star potential, MJ taking over games even when he was “struggling”, and the team playing as a unit, it was this series that paved the way to the team-building around these two youngsters.
Thus began a dynasty that exceeded all expectations and set the benchmark for dynasties in modern basketball.