The Bulls started out on January 16, 1966, when Chicago was granted an NBA franchise. The Chicago Bulls were actually the third NBA franchise in the city, after the Chicago Stags and Chicago Zephyrs, who existed from 1946-1950 and 1961-1963, respectively. The Zephyrs actually are now the NBA’s Washington Wizards. The founder of the Bulls, Dick Klein, has been the only owner of the Bulls to play professional basketball. He served as both the president of the team and general manager for the team’s first few years of existence.
Chicago Bulls Early Franchise History
That same year, the NBA of course had an expansion draft. The newly founded Bulls were then allowed to acquire players from already established teams in the league for the upcoming season. The team’s first year would be the 1966-67 season, where they posted a 33-48 record. Impressively, this was the best record to ever be posted by an expansion team in the NBA. The Bulls were coached by native Chicagoan and former NBA star Johnny “Red” Kerr, and the team was led by former NBA assists leader Guy Rodgers, guard Jerry Sloan, and forward Bob Boozer. The Bulls qualified for the playoffs, the only NBA team to do so in their inaugural season.
In their first season, the Bulls played at the International Amphitheatre before moving to the historic Chicago Stadium. After only four seasons, fan interest was starting to diminish with some home games drawing less than 1,000 people. Seeing as he could not figure out a way to draw crowds, Klein dropped out of his general manager position and hired a man named Pat Williams.
Williams was formerly the Philadelphia 76ers’ business manager who helped the team become third in the league in attendance with his promotions the previous year. Williams completely revamped the Bulls roster, acquiring Chet Walker from his old team in exchange for Jim Washington and drafting Norm Van Lier – who was traded to the Cincinnati Royals and didn’t actually join the team until 1971. Williams created tons of new promotions for the team, including a notable one, mascot Benny the Bull. The Bulls under Williams and head coach Dick Motta made four straight playoffs appearances and increased attendance at home games to over 10,000 per game. In 1972, the Bulls set a franchise record for wins in a single season, when they went 57-25.
During the 1970s, the Bulls relied on great players such as Sloan, forwards Bob Love and Walker, point guard Van Lier and centers Clifford Ray and Tom Boerwinkle. The team would make the conference finals in 1975 but lost 4-3 to the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors. After four 50-win seasons, Williams decided to return to Philadelphia and Motta decided to take over as the new general manager. The Bulls seriously declined after William’s departure, winning only 24 games after their 1975 season, and Motta was fired and replaced by new general manager Ed Badger.
Chicago Bulls Playoff History
In the summer of 1984, the Bulls had the third pick of the 1984 NBA draft, after the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers. The Rockets selected future Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, the Blazers selected Sam Bowie and the Bulls decided on a shooting guard out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan. The Bulls, now under new ownership with Jerry Reinsdorf and a new general manager in Jerry Krause, started to build a team around Jordan. Jordan set franchise records during his rookie campaign for scoring and steals and led the Bulls back to the playoffs, where they would lose in four games to the Milwaukee Bucks. After such a dominant season, he was rewarded with an All-NBA Second Team selection and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
The following off-season, the Bulls knew they needed to add something more to their team to help Jordan. They acquired point guard John Paxson and on the day of the draft, traded with the Cavaliers for the rights to power forward Charles Oakley. Along with center Dave Corzine, these players would be key contributors besides Jordan for the next couple of years. After he suffered a broken foot early in the 1985 season, Jordan finished second on the team in scoring to Woolridge. Jordan would return for the playoffs and led the eighth-seeded Bulls against the seemingly unstoppable 67-15 first seeded Boston Celtics, who were led by the great Larry Bird. At that time, the Bulls had the fifth-worst record of any team to qualify for the playoffs in NBA history. Although the Bulls were swept out in the first round, Jordan put on a historic performance in Game 2, recording the NBA playoff single-game record of 63 points which still stands to this day. After the game, Bird was in awe, prompting him to call him “God disguised as Michael Jordan.
The following season in 1986, Jordan continued to redefine the record books, leading the league in scoring with 37.1 points per game and becoming the first Chicago Bull to make the All-NBA First Team. Despite his best efforts, the Bulls still managed to finish with a losing record at 40-42, but amazingly still made the playoffs. However, they were once again swept by the Celtics in the first round. In the 1987 Draft, the Bulls knew they needed to address their lack of depth. Krause selected center Olden Polynice eighth overall and power forward Horace Grant 10th overall, then sent Polynice to Seattle in a draft-day trade for the fifth selection, small forward Scottie Pippen. With Paxson and Jordan manning the backcourt, Brad Sellers and Oakley at the forward positions, Corzine at center, and promising rookies Pippen and Grant coming off the bench, the Bulls won 50 games and finally advanced past the first round of the playoffs. They made the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they were beaten by the eventual conference champion Detroit Pistons in five games. Jordan earned the first of his eventual five MVP trophies this season after an incredible year. The 1987 season would also spark the beginning of the Bulls-Pistons rivalry, which was put to the test between 1988 and 1991.
The 1988 season was the second consecutive one with major changes in the off-season. power forward Charles Oakley, who had led the league in total rebounds in both 1987 and 1988, was traded on the eve of the 1988 NBA draft to the New York Knicks along with a first-round draft pick used by the Knicks to select Rod Strickland for center Bill Cartwright and a first-round pick, which the Bulls used to obtain center Will Perdue. The Bulls also wanted to acquire a 3-point specialist, which they did in a trade with Phoenix for Craig Hodges. The new starting lineup would feature Jordan, Paxson, Pippen, Grant, and Cartwright. It would take some time for these players to mesh, as the Bulls won fewer games than they did the year before. They still managed to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would lose once again to the Detroit Pistons in six-games, who went on to win the NBA Championship.
In 1989, Jordan led the league in scoring for the fourth consecutive season and was joined on the All-Star Team for the first time by his teammate Pippen. There was also a huge change in this offseason, with head coach Doug Collins being replaced by assistant coach Phil Jackson. The Bulls also drafted rookie center Stacey King and rookie point guard B.J. Armstrong in the 1989 NBA Draft. With the additional help and the same starting five as the year prior, the Bulls again made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and pushed those very same Pistons to seven games, but lost once again. The Pistons would go on to repeat as NBA Champions.
Chicago Bulls Championship History
When it comes to championships, the Chicago Bulls are one of the most decorated teams in NBA history thanks to two separate three-peats during the 90s led by Jordan and Pippen.
In total, the franchise highlights six titles: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998.
1990 Bulls vs. Lakers
Entering the 1990 season, the Bulls knew that after consecutive conference finals losses to the Pistons, they needed to take the next step. They responded by setting a then franchise-record 61 wins during the regular season.
In the playoffs, they swept the New York Knicks in the first round. In the second round, they defeated the 76ers to push them back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Once again, for the third straight year, they would have to take on the defending champion Pistons. They would finally exercise their demons this season in convincing fashion, sweeping the Pistons out of the postseason.
The Bulls would advance to their first NBA Finals in franchise history. There they would meet Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, who they dispatched in five games to claim their very first NBA title.
1991 Bulls vs. Trail Blazers
The Bulls would claim their second NBA title the following year during the 1991 season. The Bulls broke the franchise record in wins that they had set the last year by winning 67 games. They swept the Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason, defeated the Knicks in seven games in round two, then beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in the conference finals. They advanced to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row, where this time they defeated the Clyde Drexler-led Trail Blazers in six games.
1992 Bulls vs. Suns
During the 1992 NBA season, the Bulls would win their third NBA Championship in a row and complete their first three-peat. They defeated the Atlanta Hawks, Cavaliers, and Knicks in the first three rounds of the playoffs, which set up the NBA Finals between Chicago and the regular-season MVP Charles Barkley led Phoenix Suns. They defeated them in six games, with Paxson’s three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left giving them a 99–98 victory in Game 6 in Phoenix.
1993 Jordan Retires
Jordan shocked the entire basketball world in 1993 by announcing his retirement from the game, three months after his father was murdered. After Jordan’s departure, Pippen asserted himself as a superstar in the league after being named All-Star MVP that year. Grant and Armstrong made their first All-Star games to go along with Pippen that year. The Bulls drafted Croatian rookie forward Toni Kukoc in the draft that year, who would become a key contributor down the line. Despite winning 55 games that year, they were beaten in seven games by the Knicks in the second round of the playoffs, after a controversial foul call by referee Hue Hollins in game 5 of that series. The Knicks eventually reached the NBA Finals that year but lost to the Houston Rockets.
The Bulls opened the 1994 season by leaving their home of 27 years, Chicago Stadium, and moving into their current home, the United Center. They would lose a lot of key pieces this year, with Grant, Cartwright, and Scott Williams all leaving in free agency. Long time point guard Paxson decided to retire.
Luckily for the Bulls, they had the resources to reload instead of rebuild. They signed guard Ron Harper, who the Bulls hoped would be the heir to Jordan and thrive in Tex Winters’ triple post offense. The Bulls started Armstrong and Harper in the backcourt, Pippen, and Kukoc at the forward spots and Perdue at center. They also had sharpshooter Steve Kerr, whom they acquired via free agency before the 1993 season, Myers, and centers Luc Longley and Bill Wennington. However, the Bulls struggled during the season.
1995 “I’m Back”
But on March 18, 1995, they received the news that Michael Jordan was coming out of retirement. He scored 55 points against the Knicks in only his fifth game back and led the Bulls to the fifth seed in the playoffs, where they defeated the Charlotte Hornets. However, Jordan and the Bulls were unable to overcome the eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic, which included former Bull Grant, Anfernee Hardaway, and Shaquille O’Neal. When Jordan returned to the Bulls, he initially wore No. 45, which was his number while playing for the Birmingham Barons, a minor-league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. He chose the No. 45 because his older brother Larry wore that number in high school. Michael wanted to be half as good as his brother, so he chose 23 which is half of 45 rounded up. However, Jordan switched back to the familiar 23 before game 2 of the Magic series.
In the off-season, the Bulls lost Armstrong in an expansion draft. Krause traded Perdue to the San Antonio Spurs for rebounding specialist Dennis Rodman, who had won the past four rebounding titles, and who had also been a member of the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” squad that served as the Bulls’ main rival in the late 80s. With a lineup of Harper, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, and Longley, and possibly the league’s best bench in Steve Kerr, Kukoc, Wennington, Buechler, and guard Randy Brown, the Bulls were seen as the team to beat again in the NBA Finals.
1996 Bulls vs. Super Sonics
The 1996 season would be one that would forever be remembered in basketball history. The Bulls posted one of the best single-season improvements in league history and the best single-season record at the time, moving from 47–35 in 1994 to 72–10 in 1996, becoming the first NBA team to win 70 or more games in a single season.
Jordan won his eighth scoring title, and Rodman his fifth straight rebounding title. Kerr finished second in the league in three-point shooting percentage. Jordan garnered the very rare triple crown in the association with the NBA MVP, NBA All-Star Game MVP, and NBA Finals MVP. Krause was named NBA Executive of the Year, Jackson Coach of the Year, and Kukoc the Sixth Man of the Year. Both Pippen and Jordan made the All-NBA First Team, and Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman made the All-Defensive First Team, making the Bulls one of several teams in NBA history with three players on the All-Defensive First Team. They set the record for best road winning percentage, going 33-8 on the road. They also set the record for the best start to an NBA season, beginning the year with an unbelievable 41-3 record. The Bulls also posted the second-best home record in history at 39–2, behind only the 1985 Celtics 40–1 home mark.
The Bulls stomped over the Heat in the first round, the Knicks in the second round, the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, and finally Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, and the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals for their fourth title. The 1996 Chicago Bulls are widely regarded as the greatest team in the history of basketball.
1997 Bulls vs. Jazz
In the 1997 season, the Bulls narrowly missed out on a second consecutive 70-win season by losing their final two games to finish 69–13. They repeated their home dominance though, going 39–2 at the United Center. The Bulls capped the season by defeating the Bullets, Hawks, and Heat in the first three rounds of the playoffs while going on to winning their fifth NBA championship over John Stockton, Karl Malone, and the Utah Jazz.
1998 Bulls vs. Jazz Part II
The 1998 season was one of rumor and speculation for the NBA champion Bulls. Many thought this would be Michael Jordan’s final season with the team. Phil Jackson’s future with the team was also questionable, as his relationship with general manager Jerry Krause was one of growing tension. Scottie Pippen was looking for a significant contract extension that he thought he deserved but was not getting from the organization.
In spite of the turmoil that surrounded the Bulls, they still had a remarkable season, with a regular-season record of 62–20. Jordan was named the league MVP for the fifth and final time, and the Bulls went into the playoffs as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls easily dispatched the New Jersey Nets and Charlotte Hornets in the first two rounds, but struggled with the Reggie Miller led Indiana Pacers in the conference championship. The series went to game seven, but the Bulls prevailed 88-83.
In the Finals, the Bulls would have to defeat the Jazz for the second consecutive year. In a tough series, the Bulls pulled ahead three games to one. Game 6 would be a back-and-forth battle. Late in the game and down by three points to the Jazz, Michael Jordan led the Bulls to one final win. Jordan hit a shot to bring the Bulls within 1, then stole the ball from Karl Malone and hit the game-winning shot with 5.2 seconds remaining on the clock, creating one of the most memorable moments in sports history. With a score of 87–86, John Stockton put up a three-pointer, but missed, giving the Bulls their sixth championship in eight years.
Jordan would be named the Finals MVP for the sixth time in his career. He retired for the second time on January 13, 1999.
Chicago Bulls Hall of Famers
|23, 45||Michael Jordan||G||1984-1993, 1995-1998||2009|
|33||Scottie Pippen||F||1987-1998, 2003-2004||2010|
|53||Artis Gilmore||C||1976-1982, 1987||2011|
Chicago Bulls 50 Year Anniversary
The 2015–16 Chicago Bulls season was the 50th season of the franchise in the NBA. Fred Hoiberg was selected as the head coach, after the firing of previous head coach Tom Thibodeau. Jimmy Butler, for the second time, was voted to play in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, which was held in Toronto; however, Butler was unable to play due to injury, and replacing him was teammate Pau Gasol. Derrick Rose played in 66 games this season, the most since his MVP campaign in 2010-11.
Following the season, he was traded to the New York Knicks, while Joakim Noah signed as a free agent with the Knicks and Gasol signed with the San Antonio Spurs. The Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and were eliminated from playoff contention by the Detroit Pistons.
FAQ of Bulls History
When were the Bulls founded?
The Bulls were founded in 1966, as the third NBA franchise in Chicago, after the Stags and the Zephyrs. The founder of the Bulls, Dick Klein, has been the only owner of the Bulls to play professional basketball in the association.
Did they have immediate success?
Actually, yes. In their first season, the Bulls managed to reach the playoffs, and they’re the only team to ever do so. They posted a 33-48 record. Impressively, this was the best record to ever be posted by an expansion team in the NBA.
Have the Bulls and Blackhawks ever made the finals in the same season in the same building?
Incredibly, yes. In 1992, the Bulls and the Blackhawks made it to the finals, NBA and Stanley Cup. The Bulls became champion, but the Blackhawks lost the Finals. It was the Bull’s third championship in a row during the first three-peat.
Are the Bulls the only team to win 70 games in a season?
No. While the Bulls 1995-96 season will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest seasons of all time with a 72-10 record, the 2016 Golden State Warriors managed to secure a 73-9 record, breaking the Bulls hold on the mark.
What is Steve Kerr’s significance to these teams?
Steve Kerr was part of the Bulls team as a player when they won 72 games in a single season and set the record, but he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors when they broke that record. Pretty incredible.
Have the Bulls ever had the #1 pick in the NBA Draft?
Yes, twice actually. The first time was in 1999 when they selected Elton Brand first overall. The second time, the Bulls had a 1.7% chance of getting the first pick and amazingly got it. They selected Derrick Rose, future MVP of the league.
How many MVP’s have the Bulls had?
Only two players in Bulls history have won the MVP award. Derrick Rose, and of course, five-time MVP Michael Jordan. Rose, unfortunately, would suffer a knee injury a year after his award, and he would never return to that form again.
How successful are the Bulls as a franchise?
It depends on how you look at it. The Bulls have won six titles in two three-peats, and Jordan and Scottie Pippen were the only players to be on the team for every title. They have never lost a Finals, but they’ve also never reached one before 1991 and after 1998.