The Chicago Bulls were an unstoppable force throughout the 1990s. They conquered everyone in their path as they secured championship after championship and their fans never wanted the ride to end.
After taking care of business in six games against the Utah Jazz, for the second straight year, the Bulls were revelling in the glow of their sixth NBA championship in eight years and second three-peat.
They had cemented themselves in basketball folklore as one of the most dominant teams in the league. But the celebrations didn’t last anywhere near as long as they should have.
In the months after securing that astonishing sixth ring, the team was broken apart and just like that, the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty came to an abrupt end.
From being the most dominant team in the league with two of the NBA’s best players leading the way, the Bulls fell into a deep hole and haven’t made it back to the NBA apex since 1998.
Jordan’s time in Chicago was over.Source:Getty Images
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE 1998/99 SEASON?
For the third time in NBA history, league owners went into a lockout after they and the players couldn’t come to an agreement over the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The owners were seeking changes to the agreement and wanting to put a ceiling on individual player salaries, while the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) opposed the plan and sought out raises for players earning the minimum salary.
As the two went back and forth unable to reach an agreement, the lockout took effect from July 1 and ran through until January 20. Turning the season into a shortened 50-game season.
WHERE DID THE BULLS DOMINANT SQUAD GO?
General Manager Jerry Krause got his wish of diving into a rebuild and of the 17 players listed on the 1998/98 Chicago Bulls roster, only six players remained heading into the shortened 1998/98 season.
Michael Jordan stayed true to his word when he said he wouldn’t play for any other coach besides Phil Jackson and walked away from the game, for the second time.
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Jackson, despite reportedly being offered an opportunity to run it back by owner Jerry Reinsdorf, decided to take a break from the game. Wild child Dennis Rodman was released from his contract.
Krause traded Scottie Pippen to the Houston Rockets, Luc Longley to the Phoenix Suns and Steve Kerr was acquired by the San Antonio Spurs where he went on to win his fourth straight NBA Championship.
’96 Bulls 🏆
’97 Bulls 🏆
’98 Bulls 🏆
’99 Spurs 🏆
Steve Kerr is the only NBA player in the last 50 years to win a ring in four straight seasons. pic.twitter.com/bF8WLL2n1p
The Bulls went from a 62-20 season which was capped off with the championship, to having a 13-37 record which had them dead last in the Eastern Conference.
After being on top of the basketball world, the Bulls went six straight seasons without a winning record. It wasn’t until 2004/05 when they finished with a 47-35 record before losing in the opening round of the playoffs against the Washington Wizards.
JUST HOW BAD WERE THE BULLS POST MJ?
Losing the best player on the planet is going to affect any team, but the Bulls clean out saw them fall deep into the NBA abyss.
In 1997/98, the Bulls were the ninth best offensive team in the league averaging 96.7 points per game, but the offense fell apart like a cheesecake without a biscuit base and dropped all the way down to 81.9 points per game. The worst mark since the shot-clock was invented (1954) and one that probably won’t be broken.
Throughout the 1998/99 shortened season, the Bulls played 25 games at the United Center and only managed to crack the 100 point mark on two occasions. In a game against the Miami Heat in April, they set the record for the lowest single game score in the shot-clock era with a dismal 49 points.
READ: Everything we learned from The Last Dance
On the court it was like watching a car crash, thankfully for the players not many eyeballs were actually watching as the Bulls attendance dropped all the way down to 29th in the league after sitting atop the rankings for the majority of the 90s.
The Bulls failed to return to any level of prominence until they drafted Derrick Rose in 2008. They made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, but lost in five games to LeBron James’ Miami Heat. Rose tore his ACL in 2012, and Chicago has largely been languishing since.
The Bulls fans have endured a torrid time.Source:Getty Images
COULD THEY HAVE ADDED A SEVENTH TITLE?
In the final episode of The Last Dance, Jordan suggested Krause and Reinsdorf could have kept the team together for another championship run if they wanted to.
“It was maddening because I felt like we could have won seven,” Jordan said. “I really believe that. We may not have, but man, not being able to try, that’s something that I just can’t accept.”
Since it went to air the question has been asked: Could the Bulls have ascended the NBA mountain and claimed a fourth-straight title and their seventh overall?
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton attempted to answer the question using advanced analytics to paint a picture of what it would have looked like had the Bulls kept the team together for one more run.
“I went about this two different ways, number one kind of coming off that last dance season what would we have projected for the players on the Bulls based off our advanced statistical projections,” Pelton said on ESPN’s Daily podcast.
“We got the oldest plus/minus that ESPN has ever put together and for everybody but Jordan, you have what they actually did on other teams during that 1998/99 season.”
This sequence from Michael Jordan in the 1998 NBA Finals🤯🐂 #TheLastDance pic.twitter.com/gvf6xAV3dZ
Pelton projected Jordan’s output had he remained in the NBA would have been around the same as it was during his final season in Chicago.
But would it have led them back to Championship glory?
“I think for sure they would have made the NBA Finals because one of the things that doesn’t get discussed during this hypothetical is, the Eastern Conference really fell off,” Pelton said.
“That was the season the Knicks made the finals as the eighth seed. Indiana which had given them (Chicago) such a tough run wasn’t really the same team in 1999 before bouncing back and getting to the Finals in 2000.
“San Antonio would have presented a really difficult test. They rate better, in terms of regular season point differential, than any of the teams the Bulls faced in the six Finals they actually did make.
“If you assume the Bulls were kind of running on fumes by the end of 98, it would have been a little bit more by 99, it would have been by far their toughest obstacle. At the same time, is anyone going to bet against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the Finals?”
The Bulls have languished in mediocrity since Michael Jordan stepped away and the team was ripped apart following the sixth championship. Who knows when they’ll raise banner number seven into the rafters.
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