It’s already been 20 years.
Was it the fact that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team had three Hall-Of-Famers on the team? Was it because of their then Sixth Man Of The Year sharpshooting southpaw from Croatia? Maybe it was due to the Bulls’ head coach at the time, who would go on to lead teams to 7 more NBA titles after 1996?
By this time, we’re quite sure that many basketball fans (and sports fans in general) have used every complementary adjective imaginable to describe the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Da Bulls, as they’ve been affectionately referred to by diehard fans in the Chicagoland area, “caught an unsuspecting NBA slippin” and smacked the league in its mouth by piling up an NBA record 72 wins–a feat which many teams have tried and failed to accomplish in the past 20 years.
This NBA season (2015-16) marks the 20th anniversary of that historic Bulls team. While everyone always heaps well-deserved praise upon that team, one thing that must be mentioned is that there very well could’ve been no Bulls team (as we remember them now) at all.
In the summer of 1995, the NBA’s owners were involved in a testy labor dispute with the players, which caused the league to be placed in a lockout for a couple of months. Jordan and the Bulls were fresh off an embarrassing loss to the Shaq/Penny/Horace Grant Orlando Magic in the second round of the 1995 Eastern Conference playoffs, despite all of the hoopla surrounding Jordan’s return to the team after a 17-month retirement.
What many people also forget is that Jordan had many doubters going into the ’95 offseason. People had even questioned whether he’d be the same player that he once was from 1984-93, which were the years that built the foundation for MJ’s years as a Bull.
Dennis Rodman, the colorful power forward who left an indelible mark on pop culture as much as he did on the b-ball court, was traded from the Spurs to the Bulls for center Will Perdue. Even that took Jordan and Pippen’s approval before the deal was made, because of the bad blood between the Bulls and Rodman’s “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons of the late ’80s/early ’90s.
There was much talk during that time that the league had moved on, because of its infusion of young talent. With fresh new stars like Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, and Chris Webber, the league felt that it was something it had to do in order to come down from the Chicago Bulls/MJ “high” that it had been experiencing for several years. This isn’t even including the fact that the Houston Rockets had won back-to-back titles in 1995–the only team to win a title at that point since Jordan’s ’93 retirement.
Since 1996, that Bulls team has become the gold standard for which NBA squads of future years would measure their regular season success. So again, we have to ask ourselves: What was it about the ’96 Bulls that was so special (besides winning 72 games and winning the title)? Was it the combination of talent and toughness? The ’97 and ’98 Bulls title teams had pretty much the same team. Was it the shoes? Given that appearances alone don’t translate to results on the basketball court, we highly doubt that. But then again, let the young’uns of today tell it, maybe so.