The Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan dominated the 1990's. Winners in six of the 10 years, the dynastic Chicago Bulls defeated some of the greatest players of the era by claiming definitive championships that define legacies. The Chicago Bulls, in claiming those six NBA titles, were never tested in a seventh Game. Winning in six was the constant, and that teams were able to take the Chicago Bulls to six games is merely a testament to either how talented the teams the Chicago Bulls faced or the supreme talent of the individuals the Chicago Bulls had to go up against. Michael Jordan was Finals MVP in each of the six title runs. How do the Chicago Bulls NBA Finals teams rank?
#6 1991 - Chicago Bulls defeat Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers
After all the losses and learned lessons leading up to the Chicago Bulls' first appearance in the NBA Finals, the fact that Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers stood in the way was apropos. The Los Angeles Lakers and Magic won five titles between 1980 and 1988, and were their own NBA dynasty. The Lakers limped into the Finals and lost Hall of Fame 4 James Worthy to injury in Game 4. It seemed like both a celebration of what Magic Johnson had contributed to the NBA over his career and also a Michael Jordan coronation. Magic was incredible as usual - posting numbers of 19 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, and his 1991 season is definitely Magic's most underrated and resilient. I personally think the shot Michael Jordan made in the lane that has become so iconic is one of the most overrated of the many he's made, yet it's one of the most signifying of his championship efforts.
#5 1992 - Chicago Bulls defeat Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trailblazers
Clyde Drexler, a prominent mixture of Hall of Famer Julius Erving, elite versatility and athleticism of the 1990's was often compared to Michael Jordan. It was something that Michael Jordan absolutely abhorred, and in the 1992 NBA Finals, Jordan put any and every comparison to Clyde the Glide to rest. The Jordan shrug has become a social media fixture since social media platforms exploded across the internet, and the meme originated in Game 1. Michael Jordan hit an NBA Finals record six three-pointers in the first half of Game 1 to essentially alert the world that this series would not be much of a problem for the Chicago Bulls. Game 5 was a game in which Scottie Pippen became an NBA superstar with a flurry of offensive and defensive plays in the clutch, and suddenly the Chicago Bulls were more than simply Air Jordan.
#4 1993 - Chicago Bulls defeat MVP Charles Barkely and the Phoenix Suns
Charles Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns in the offseason from the Philadelphia 76ers, and his dominant play led the Suns to the best record in the NBA, and him winning NBA MVP. The Phoenix Suns were a precursor to Chris Webber's Sacramento Kings and eventually Steph Curry's Golden State Warriors. The Suns shot the three at every opportunity and bullied teams with Barkley's inside presence. Rookie Richard Dumas was a jumping gym all by himself; Cedric Ceballos was a baseline killer; Kevin Johnson was a super athletic scoring point guard in Barkley's support and the Thunder's Dan Majerle hit the three from deep and played above-average defense. The problem is, Barkley and Ceballos were injured and Dumas had his own issues. Michael Jordan had a double nickel performance in Game 4 and averaged a whopping 41 points in the entire series. He and Charles Barkley were very good friends at the time, yet as Michael Jordan has done with all of his peers when it mattered most, Charles Barkley also did not win an NBA title. This was a year where the Chicago Bulls were simply much better defensively, and though the Suns' Oliver Miller provided sparks here and there, Michael, Scottie and Phil Jackson's team of three point shooters were just too much.
After Michael Jordan returned to the NBA, and after some struggles to get it all back to NBA championship form, the Chicago Bulls' winning continued at the highest level, as the Chicago Bulls completed their second three-peat of the decade. Who'd they beat?
#3 1997 - Chicago Bulls defeat the Utah Jazz pick and roll
The Chicago Bulls in 1997 had to fly past the Utah Jazz to claim their 5th NBA title of the decade. As we learned in the excellent documentary, The Last Dance, the classic Flu Game was really the Food Poisoning Game. The Chicago Bulls used stifling defense vs. the efficient Utah Jazz to essentially shut them down offensively. Both teams averaged 87 points for the series, and as we saw, this NBA Finals and the next, it was an attention and expectation of stellar defense that won it all for the Chicago Bulls.
#2 1996 - Chicago Bulls defeat Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and the Seattle Supersonics
In June 1996, the intimidating duo of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp - led by Seattle Supersonics coach George Karl - were formidable opponents for the Chicago Bulls. Though the Chicago Bulls were victorious in their usual NBA Finals 6 games, the Seattle Supersonics seemed like they were fighting for a Supersonics legacy continuum. It was a scrappy series -- evident in the personality of Supersonics guard and current Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan. Michael Jordan had his hands full, especially with him and Hall of Fame guard Gary Payton.
This was the 72-10 Chicago Bulls contingent that had to finish what they started, yet The Glove, Gary Payton was not impressed. What Gary Payton told me in a radio interview about his classic matchup with Michael Jordan in 1996:
"I had so much confidence in my post-up game that I felt I could post up anybody and be effective. I wasn't fearful of nobody, and just because it was Michael Jordan - we were all making 1st team All NBA defense. I had to prove I could score on him. Guys like Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant, when they go at you, you have to go back at them. You had to make them make the play on you defensively. I felt like no one in the league could do it like me: shut down a player offensively and go down the floor and score on them. With MJ, I had to put pressure on him defensively to make him work. If I don't, then I'm no factor for my team. Michael Jordan takes things very personally. Once he saw me posting up his teammates at will and scoring on them, he said to his team, "I got him! I got him!" Then things got interesting and I knew it would be a battle. I got into a rhythm. We were calling each other all kinds of expletives. As you see in the famous pic of us, neither of us were going to back down."
#1 1998 - Chicago Bulls defeat Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz on The Shot
At this point, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman could not be defeated. Even when it seemed like they were threatened, the Chicago Bulls found some way of pulling out games definitively. The 1998 NBA Finals was a repeat of 1997 - where the Chicago Bulls also dispatched the Utah Jazz. The iconic shot to end Game 6 is what most will remember, yet the hardcore relentlessness of Karl Malone, John Stockton, the Utah Jazz and their erstwhile head coach, Jerry Sloan, made the storybook ending just that more compelling. Jordan led the series in scoring with 33.5 points a game, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman were their usual defensive stalwarts and Phil Jackson's neutralization of the vaunted Utah Jazz pick and roll with Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone was more the story.