Michael Jordan's rings and his path to GOAT status: Ranking his 6 NBA championships in order of toughness
The majority of NBA fans consider Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan to be the greatest basketball player of all time. His career achievements include five-time MVP, 14-time All-Star, and ten-time All-NBA First Team selection. However, his perfect 6-0 record in the NBA Finals and six championships are frequently cited as the cornerstones of his GOAT case. However, many fans are still unaware of the difficulty of Jordan's six finals matchups. On that note, here is how most analysts stack Jordan's six titles in terms of difficulty.
6. 1991 NBA Finals
Michael Jordan’s first championship in 1991 will always be significant. The Bulls finally broke through against the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons teams in the Eastern Conference finals after coming up short in previous years. The Bulls even swept the Pistons too as Jordan and the Bulls both made their first NBA Finals.
The Bulls lost Game 1, but then went on to win their next four games and secure their first championship in Game 5.
5. 1993 NBA Finals
The 1993 NBA Finals marked Michael Jordan’s first three-peat with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls finished with a 57-25 record in the regular season, which was the worst of any of Jordan’s title teams. The Bulls also came close to not making it to the NBA Finals. They fell 0-2 in the Eastern Conference finals against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. However, they then won four straight games to make their third straight NBA Finals appearance.
In the 1993 NBA Finals, Jordan and the Bulls faced a very good Phoenix Suns team that featured NBA MVP, Charles Barkley. It took Michael Jordan averaging finals career-high 41.0 points per game for the Bulls to win in six games. At the end of Game 6, John Paxson hit a 3-pointer to give Chicago a one-point lead which led them to officially pull off their first three-peat.
4. 1998 NBA Finals
The 1998 NBA Finals marked head coach Phil Jackson’s last year in Chicago, which he called “The Last Dance.” It also marked the Bulls' opportunity for their second three-peat. So naturally, there was a lot of pressure on Chicago to pull it off, especially with their roster getting older.
The team finished the regular season with a 62-20 record. The Bulls were forced to play Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals. Nonetheless, the Bulls prevailed and advanced to their sixth NBA Finals appearance, a rematch with Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz.
The Bulls lost Game 1 of the finals and then won the next three games. However, they couldn’t close out the series in Chicago as the Jazz survived by two points in Game 5. In Game 6 Jordan then had a legendary performance, scoring 45 points, including his famous game-clinching shot. The Bulls then went on to win their sixth title in eight years to secure his perfect finals record.
3. 1992 NBA Finals
The 1992 season was the most dominant of the Chicago Bulls' first three-peat. They finished 67-15, including a stretch in which they won 36 of 39 games. Jordan also won his second consecutive MVP award and his sixth consecutive scoring title.
Despite losing just 15 games in the regular season, the Bulls still lost seven games in the playoffs. This would go on to be their most successful championship run. Their toughest series was a seven-game battle with Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in the second round. They then beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the conference finals. This led to their matchup with Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trailblazers in their second NBA Finals.
Clyde Drexler was considered to be one of Michael Jordan’s biggest competitors in terms of wing stars in the NBA. This motivated Jordan to come out strong in Game 1 and finish with 39 points and 11 assists. The Bulls then went on to win the series in six games and secure their second title in a row.
2. 1997 NBA Finals
The Chicago Bulls finished the 1997 season with a 69-13 record, led by Michael Jordan, who secured the ninth scoring title of his career.
The Bulls faced very little trouble en route to their fifth finals, winning their first three series in five games or less. This led to their first finals matchup with Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz.
Michael Jordan kicked off the finals by hitting a buzzer-beater on Bryon Russell in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals. The Bulls then won Game 2 at home to take a 2-0 lead. However, the Jazz put up a fight and won the next two games in Utah to tie the series at 2-2. In Game 5, MJ then had his legendary “Flu Game” where he scored 38 points to give the Bulls a 3-2 series lead, despite being sick. Chicago then closed out the series in Game 6 for their fifth title.
1. 1996 NBA Finals
As for Michael Jordan’s toughest title, Jordan himself says that it’s his 1996 title, the first of his second three-peat. He had previously retired from the 1993-1994 season to play baseball. When he returned, the Bulls then fell to Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic in the second round in 1995.
“The ’96 was probably the toughest one because I was coming from a defeat in ’95 when I played baseball,” Jordan said.
“Everyone thought I was a step slower. So, I had to prove myself and my father, the first time I actually did it without my father. So, all these emotions and all these different things are coming at me. To me, that was the most difficult if I had to pick of the six,” Jordan continued.
The 1996 regular season marked the Chicago Bulls' most successful in franchise history as they finished 72-10, an NBA regular season record at the time. Their star trio of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were determined to live up to expectations and restore the Bulls to glory.
The Bulls lived up to all the pressure in the playoffs and then some, losing only one game before the finals. This included them getting revenge over the Orlando Magic by sweeping them in the Eastern Conference Finals. They then finished things off with a 4-2 series win over the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals. MJ was able to redeem himself as the Bulls finished the regular season and playoffs with a record of 87-13.