LOOKBACK: Ranking Chicago Bulls’ finals opponents
MANILA, Philippines – To this day, the Chicago Bulls remain as one of the most successful franchises in NBA history.
Although Chicago dwarfs in comparison to the league’s two true titans in the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, this small market team struck gold with the arrival of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson in the late 1980s.
Sure enough, the Bulls’ dual three-peat runs from 1991 to 1998 cemented the franchise’s legacy as the third-winningest in history, behind only the Celtics’ 17 banners and the Lakers’ 16.
Although the Bulls went undefeated in the finals with a clean 6-0 record, the squads they ran over to get to the top were not pushovers, not by a long shot.
As The Last Dance docuseries winds down to its final two episodes, it’s time to take a look at which teams were the Bulls’ toughest opponents and which were, to put it nicely, not so tough.
5. Los Angeles Lakers - 1991 NBA Finals
Best Player: Magic Johnson (5 games, 18.6 points, 12.5 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals)
It’s pretty impressive to make Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers look like stepping stones, but Jordan and the Bulls did just that in 1991 with their first finals appearance in franchise history.
Fresh off a highly publicized defeat of the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals – a story of redemption 3 years in the making – the Bulls looked primed to be the next best thing heading to the finals.
Meanwhile, the Lakers were a dynasty on the downswing as the team was led by a 32-year-old Johnson and a 30-year-old James Worthy.
Evidently, youth and talent trumped championship experience that year as the Bulls booted the Lakers out in 5 games, their fastest charge to the title in all 6 finals appearances.
Johnson eventually retired as a five-time champion the following season after contracting HIV while Worthy was also out of the league just two years later.
4. Portland Trail Blazers – 1992 NBA Finals
Best Player: Clyde Drexler (6 games, 24.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals)
In 1992, the Bulls were out to prove that their first-ever franchise title win against the Lakers the year prior was no fluke, and this time, Portland Trail Blazers stood in their way of a repeat.
Although the Blazers were then led by superstar guard and future Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, he had little help outside of two-time All-Star Terry Porter and role player Jerome Kersey.
It also didn’t help that Jordan took offense to the media comparing him as Drexler’s equal, and he proceeded to silence all doubters with a 46-point eruption in the series’ crucial Game 5 while Drexler was held to 41% shooting for the entire series.
The Bulls then sealed the deal in 6 games and the Blazers have never again reached the finals.
3. Phoenix Suns - 1993 NBA Finals
Best Player: Charles Barkley (6 games, 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.2 steals)
Throughout all 6 instances in NBA finals history, only one team beat the Bulls twice in Chicago, the 1993 Phoenix Suns.
After Jordan and the Bulls seized the first two games in Phoenix, the series looked all but over as home court shifted to Chicago for the next 3 contests.
However, future Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and the loaded Suns did the unthinkable as they in turn won two out of their 3 consecutive road games to bring the series back to Phoenix for Game 6.
Unfortunately for the Suns, destiny was simply on the Bulls’ side that year as they closed out the series with their third road win off a stunning three-peat-sealing shot by role player John Paxson.
2. Seattle Supersonics - 1996 NBA Finals
Best Player: Gary Payton (6 games, 18.0 points, 7.0 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals)
The 1995-1996 Seatlle Supersonics were undoubtedly one of the best and deepest teams that the NBA’s golden era had to offer.
Led by Hall of Famer and Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton, the Sonics were an All-Star squad bolstered by super dunker Shawn Kemp, Sixth Man of the Year Detlef Schrempf and iron man Hersey Hawkins.
They then went on to record a franchise-best 64-18 record in the regular season before winning 8 of their first 9 games in the Western Conference playoffs.
These Sonics gave a hell of a fight, but they just weren’t ready for the greatest team of all time.
Boasting an extra-determined Jordan and a revamped supporting cast featuring Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, the Bulls won a then-NBA record 72 games and cruised to a 3-0 start in the finals against the Sonics.
Although Payton and the Sonics salvaged their pride and won Games 4 and 5 to get close, the Bulls were simply better than what even the best can offer and finished the series for good in Game 6 for title number 4.
1. Utah Jazz - 1997, 1998 NBA Finals
Karl Malone (12 games, 24.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals)
John Stockton (12 games, 12.3 points, 8.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals)
So close, yet so far.
For two years in a row, the Utah Jazz were agonizingly close to their first franchise title as they bravely stood their ground against the Bulls dynasty.
Led by two of the greatest players of all time in Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz pushed the Bulls to the limit in both years they faced off in the finals.
However, fate was just not in Utah’s favor as Jordan repeated the 1993 finals endgame in 1997 by passing to a wide-open Steve Kerr for the Game 6 dagger in crunch time.
Jordan then took matters into his own hands the following year by sinking arguably the most iconic shot in NBA history, also in crunch time of another Game 6.
Those shots became entrenched in NBA lore simply because Utah pushed Chicago to those situations in the first place.
The Jazz absolutely made sure to leave nothing in the tank and demanded the Bulls to do the same in their quest for basketball immortality. – Rappler.com