1995-96 Chicago Bulls

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls have the greatest single season record in NBA history.

After winning their third consecutive title in 1993, Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls in order to try his hand at professional baseball.  In his absence, the Bulls fell to 55-27 in 1993-94.  The following year, they dipped to 47-35.  When MLB players went on strike in March 1995, Jordan, who had been regular-season and Finals MVP during the championship seasons of 1991-93, returned to the NBA.  Two months later, Chicago made an early exit from the playoffs, courtesy of the New York Knicks.  Heading into the 1995-96 campaign, the Bulls regained their focus.  John Paxson, who had nailed a jump shot to win  Game Six of the 1993 NBA Finals and deliver Chicago its’ third straight title, joined Tex Winter as an assistant coach.  Winter was the architect of Chicago’s famed “Triangle Offense,” which emphasized floor spacing, passing and multiple offensive options, and the Bulls ran it to perfection.  Forward Scottie Pippen, a first-team All-Star, was entering his ninth year in the league.  General Manager Jerry Krause—after receiving approval from Pippen and Jordan—acquired power forward Dennis Rodman in a trade with San Antonio, replacing the huge void left by Horace Grant’s departure two years earlier.  Veteran Steve Kerr had taken over point guard duties from Paxson, and 7’-2” Australian Luc Longley played the post.  Phil Jackson, who had guided the Bulls to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons as head coach, returned for his seventh season at the helm.

The Bulls opened the season November 3, 1995, with a win over Charlotte.  Eleven days later, they suffered their first loss of the season, in Orlando, despite a double-double by Pippen.  On November 26, they lost their second game of the season, in Seattle.  By All-Star Weekend, Chicago was 38-3 and had not lost a home game.  They lost back-to-back games only once—both on the road, in February.  Chicago assembled win streaks of 18 and 13 games.  On March 24, the Bulls won their 60th game.  Three weeks later, they beat the Bucks in Milwaukee for their 70th win, surpassing the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers [Daily Dose, November 5] for most-ever wins in a season.   After losing to Indiana in the final home game of the regular season, the Bulls downed the Washington Bullets for their 72nd win of the year.  Chicago swept the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, defeated the New York Knicks in five games in the second round and faced Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals.  The previous year, the Magic beat Chicago in six games.  In 1996, the pendulum had swung, as the Bulls swept Anfernee Hardaway, 23-year-old Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the Magic in four games.  Chicago faced the Seattle Supersonics, who had gone 64-18, in the 50th Finals in NBA history.  The two teams combined for 136 regular season wins, shattering the mark of 125 set by the Celtics-Lakers in 1985.  After taking the first three games of the series, it appeared Chicago would cruise to the title.  Seattle had other ideas, stealing two games in a row on their home floor in KeyArena to make the series 3-2.  Game Six was played at Chicago’s United Center on Father’s Day, where the home team claimed the title, 87-75, behind Dennis Rodman’s eleven offensive rebounds, tying his own Finals record.  It was the fourth of six championships Jackson, Jordan and Pippen would win together.

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were dominant.  Michael Jordan led the NBA in scoring and Dennis Rodman was the league’s leading rebounding leader.  The Bulls were first in the NBA in offense, first in defense and finished the season 72-10.  Their average margin of victory was 12.3 points, they only lost two games at the United Center and did not lose a home game during the playoffs.  The Bulls were the first team ever to win 70 games and won the Central Division by a whopping 20 games.   MJ was voted regular season and Finals MVP, the fourth of six times he would accomplish that feat during his brilliant career.  He also led the team in minutes played.  Phil Jackson was Coach of the Year, Toni Kukoc earned Sixth Man of the Year and Jerry Krause was named Executive of the Year.  Jordan and Pippen were named All-NBA First Team and Scottie Pippen became the first person to win an NBA championship and Olympic gold medal in the same year twice [1992, 1996].  Three players from the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team have been inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame; Michael Jordan [2009], Scottie Pippen [2010] and Dennis Rodman [2011], while two coaches—Phil Jackson and Tex Winter-have also been enshrined.

On this date in 1996, the Chicago Bulls won their 65th game of the season with a 126-92 victory over the Hornets before 24,042 patrons in the Charlotte Coliseum.   Twenty years ago, Steve Kerr led the Bulls to the best record in history.  Mr. Kerr is now the coach of the Golden State Warriors.  This week, the “Dubs” will surpass the record for most wins in a single season and rewrite NBA history.