1997 Chicago Bulls: “Best NBA Team Ever”
During the 1996-1997 season, the Chicago Bulls were returning from their championship season, winning the 1996 NBA Finals. For the 1996-1997 season, coach Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan were seeking their fifth NBA championship and establishment as the best team with the best player.
The Bulls had experience with Jordan, Ron Harper and the threat of small forward, Scottie Pippen. Their front-court needed assistance as Horace Grant and Will Perdue were off the team due to trades. What was added was Dennis Rodman, who had a wild side and flair for controversy, yet always played tough. Teams before Chicago had to put up with Rodman’s drama and off the court, taking shoes off and dying hair different colors. Pippen and Rodman had a difficult history as in 1991, Pippen was intentionally fouled hard by Rodman.
Both Pippen and Jordan were asked about bringing Dennis Rodman on the team and both approved. Head coach Phil Jackson, was said to have wanted a player to push the ball and do dirty work. Rodman defended the opponents’ best offensive threat. His energy and hustle on the floor was contagious and allowed Jordan and Pippen time to run the court to get wide open drives to score.
The Bulls set a record for most wins and fewest losses in a season at 72-10. They had a great home court advantage with only 2 losses and 39 wins at home. The Chicago team easily won in the playoffs, dispatching easily of the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Orlando Magic.
For the cherry on this sports’ sundae, the Bulls played a Seattle Supersonic team who had a best 64-18 win season, overshadowed by the Bulls’ record. Chicago won the NBA championship series 4-2. Michael Jordan averaged 30 points and 38 minutes per game.
Dennis Rodman averaged a league best 16 rebounds per game. Scottie Pippen led the team with six assists per game average.
The competitiveness and drive of the Bulls’ team and master of “zen” coaching; Phil Jackson led to a close to perfect season. Big egos, competitiveness and giant salaries all added to the juggling puzzle to squeeze the best out of the best.
Michael Jordan’s pure anger for losing drove him to do anything to win. He famously played sick and hurt because he knew the Bulls would lose without him. Michael Jordan led the playoffs in most shots attempted and most shots missed. He led all players in free-throws made. Dennis Rodman led all in rebounding per game while Scottie Pippen led the league in playoff steals.
Until 2016, the Chicago Bulls had the best record in NBA history. They played together and willed their team to bring the best out of the best with players knowing their role. This chemistry and talent is hard to argue as less than superior.