He was the greatest basketball player of his generation and probably of all-time. He defined an entire decade and his legacy thrives more than twenty years after his last notable on-court moment. The Michael Jordan era of Chicago Bulls history was like no other and it’s nine most notable years are preserved here.
Jordan arrived in Chicago for the 1985 season and his first four years were marked by his personal growth as a player—including dropping a stunning 63 points on a great Boston Celtics team in the 1986 playoffs—and those Bird-era Celtics running their course. By the time Jordan and his team were ready to start seriously competing for championships, the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons were the foil.
The first two years of that pursuit were marked by frustration. It’s hard to believe now, but those who were around then will remember the mainstream media said “Jordan can’t win the big one.” It was honestly theorized that he was too much of a scorer to be anything but a fun sideshow, while other players won the rings. Guess that didn’t analysis didn’t stand up so well.
In 1991, Chicago broke through, swept Detroit and won their first NBA championship against Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bulls followed it up with Finals wins over Portland and Phoenix. In between, Jordan led the “Dream Team” to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona where they were the first officially professional basketball team. A dominant run to the gold medal only added to his legacy.
Following the 1993 three-peat, Jordan shocked everyone with a decision to retire from basketball and pursue a career as a minor-league baseball player with the Chicago White Sox. The rationale given was that he wanted another challenge. The conspiracy theory that floats out there is that Jordan’s highly publicized gambling—from Atlantic City to high-stakes golf games—had created a situation where a suspension had to be levied, with the baseball thing being merely a cover for him and the league.
It was mid-season in 1995 that he suddenly returned. A playoff loss to Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic rankled Jordan’s competitive craw. His team came back with a vengeance in 1996, setting a new league record with 72 wins and another title. The record was later broken by the 2016 Golden Warriors who won 73, but that team didn’t finish it off with a championship.
Jordan’s last two years were marked by competitive six-game Finals battles with the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and John Stockton. The ‘97 Finals were highlighted by Jordan’s Game 5 heroics with the flu and Steve Kerr’s jumper to win the clincher. The ‘98 Finals ended one of the most iconic plays in basketball history, Jordan’s jumper over Byron Russell to win championship #6.
Below are articles on individual seasons and big playoff battles that encompass the Jordan Decade in Chicago, from 1989-98.
Click on the year to read each article.
1989: The first deep playoff run, highlighted by a first-round buzzer beater.
1990: Within one game of the Finals, the Bad Boys are still too much
1995: A comeback thwarted by Shaq