Chicago Bulls: Jordan-era Bulls
After judging the slam-dunk championship at the Nike Chi League all-star festivities Saturday, Pippen was asked if he was surprised James left for the Cleveland Cavaliers following Miami’s one-sided loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals.
“I kind of figured he’d go back [to Cleveland],” Pippen said at Whitney Young High School. “I don’t know if he could hold that team up. I think [Dwyane] Wade's physical ability had him thinking, like, ‘Hey, maybe this is not the place I need to be.’ It was a great run for them. They weren’t as successful as they thought they would be, but you went to the Finals four times, so you can’t hold your head down too much about that.”
Six rings in six tries gives Pippen room for such backhanded praise.
While the Bulls reportedly had a meeting with James’ agent during this summer’s free-agency period, they failed at landing their true big target: Carmelo Anthony.
Pippen, now a special advisor to Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf, was a major part of the pitch to Anthony.
After Pippen’s family pictures with Anthony from a Nike European summer tour elicited great hope in the Windy City, the Hall of Famer was part of the Bulls’ daylong Chicago presentation to Anthony on July 1.
But after all the wooing, Anthony stayed in New York and signed a $124 million deal to remain a Knick. The Bulls were reportedly his second choice. It's a familiar story for the Bulls, who haven't been able to land a major free agent in the post-Jordan-and-Pippen era.
“I’m not disappointed,” Pippen said. “Guys are going to make their decision at the end of the day, so you try to make a pitch, and hopefully it works. It hasn’t worked so far, but still, we did what we had to do as an organization to try and attract one of the best free agents out there.”
What was the pitch, given that Chicago couldn’t offer a max deal?
“'Look at the roster' -- that was pretty much it,” Pippen said. “We have a roster we think has a championship pedigree. We’ve been playing good basketball the last few years, even without our star player. Just adding some pieces was the pitch we were throwing at him. We felt that he was a big piece that we needed to get over the hump.”
As far as big pieces, Pippen said he likes the addition of 7-footer Pau Gasol, who had his introductory press conference Friday.
“We have size, and we got two big guys that can really pass the ball,” he said. “Pau gives us inside scoring that’s much needed. ... It’ll be great for our basketball team because we haven’t had a dominating low-post scorer in the block for a while.”
With James in Cleveland, Pippen said he thinks the Bulls have as good a chance as any team if Derrick Rose gets back to form.
“I think it’s wide open now, other than looking at San Antonio as the defending champion,” Pippen said. “I think a lot of teams have the opportunity to step up.”
"I'm a guy where if he was about to win the game, he for sure would be beat up after the game," said Rose, who is set to play in his first preseason game Saturday at Indiana after missing all of last season with a knee injury. "It was going to be a hard-played game even if he was going to post me up the whole time or whatever. I was going to foul him the whole game."
The subject came up after Bulls practice Wednesday because Jordan recently said that he would have liked to have played one-on-one with guys like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James while in his prime, figuring that Bryant would have been the one to give him the most trouble.
Rose had no problem with the concept that Jordan could take James in a game of one-on-one.
"Basketball is a real competitive sport, and for somebody like Michael Jordan, the foundation he left and the legacy he left, the résumé he has, come on man, he can say whatever he wants to say," Rose said. "You're your own man. It's what you believe, it's not what anybody else believes about you. Everybody has their own opinions. For me, I just try to stay out [of] that and stay in my own lane and do my own thing."
As for not being mentioned in Jordan's list of potential one-on-one challenges, Rose was more than fine with it.
"I'm good … I'm good … I'm good, man," he said with a smile. "I'm alright."
"Who's a better player between LeBron James and Michael Jordan? I would say LeBron James," Mayweather said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "And I'm from the Michael Jordan era. I'm 36 years old."
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In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan drained his infamous 17-footer to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead over the Jazz with 5.2 second remaining. That shot proved to be the game-winner, sealing Chicago's sixth and last NBA title.
In the hallway the Bulls' president met his former teammate Steve Kerr, who had just called the game for TNT. Between the two of them, they've slipped on six championship rings playing for the Bulls and celebrated dozens of playoff victories, many with much more on the line than the game they just witnessed. But even as sidekicks to the great Michael Jordan, Paxson and Kerr never pulled off what the current Bulls did Saturday night.
"That was one for the ages," Kerr told Paxson.
The Bulls won a road Game 7, overcoming the loss of two starters (not including Derrick Rose) to stun the heavy favorite Brooklyn Nets, 99-93. It was the first time in the Bulls' long, storied history they'd ever done it and they did it under outrageous circumstances.
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The difference is the Bulls were motivated to make history from Day 1 while the Heat didn't embrace their chance until midseason. You could have an argument over which team was more dominant during their remarkable regular-season runs. But there is no doubt the Bulls' thirst to chase down that 70-win season ranks higher than this Heat streak for the consecutive-win record just based on consistency.
I covered nearly every game of the Cleveland Cavs' 2008-09 season when they won 66 games. That team was generally healthy, went through some numbing hot streaks and seemed to win every single game that could've gone either way. The Heat will have to finish 11-1 just to match that earlier LeBron James-led great regular season. And that team was still six wins shy of just matching that record-setting Bulls regular season.
It makes for fun debates to compare teams from different eras. I, for one, would love to see James in his prime defend Michael Jordan in his prime. I'd love to see how Scottie Pippen at the height of his powers tried to deal with the physical force James is now. Compelling cases can be constructed with stats and computer models the same way high-priced attorneys can swing juries with manipulation. But we'll never really know.
What doesn't change is how long 82 games are from October to April. Or how challenging back-to-backs are on the mind and body. Or the challenge of an entire team can push itself to care about each game when playoff positioning is no longer an issue and their bodies want to shut it down.
The Heat have been unbeatable for eight weeks. Those Bulls were unbeatable for six months.
It was April 16, 1996, the visitors locker room in the Bradley Center, and as far as Jordan was concerned, another annoying night spent fighting off a Milwaukee Bucks team that had no right to be this pesky.
“The first NBA championship. The [NCAA] championship,” Jordan began to tick off. “The Olympic gold medal in ’84. The second NBA title. The third NBA title. The second gold medal. Draft day.
“And then 70 wins.”
He had been asked to rank this moment, when the Bulls had just surpassed the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers and set a new record for most victories in a regular season. And clearly, Jordan was not ready to pop open the champagne that night.
But 70 victories was more than merely impressive, it was closer to surreal. Consider that if the Miami Heat, whom the Bulls host Wednesday night at the United Center and who currently have won 27 games in a row, win every game remaining on their regular-season schedule, they would still, at 68-14, be four victories shy of that Bulls team, which ended up at 72-10 (87-13 including the playoffs). They would also fall short of the 1996-97 Bulls, who finished 69-13.
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I consider myself pretty well-traveled but I don't know at least 50 percent of the countries and I'm supposed to know some kid who (was going to eventually) take over his dad's dictatorship?” -- Toni Kukoc
The North Korean dictator was but a 13- or 14-year-old kid at the time and also a basketball fan, and Kukoc suspects he asked to pose for a picture when the Bulls were in Paris for an exhibition tour before the 1997-98 NBA season.
"I heard about it when his dad was dying or had died and he took over," said the former Bull by phone on Monday. "Apparently he was watching the Bulls. A Croatian paper told me about it then."
The Washington Post also reported in a story three years ago that Kim was a big basketball fan who had NBA mementos, including photos taken with Kukoc as well as Kobe Bryant. This week, the story surfaced again when New York Magazine wrote about it.
"It's Paris, the McDonald's tournament, we're world champions," Kukoc said. "Every place you went, people were trying to take pictures. What am I supposed to say? I don't really know what to say. I don't remember what I had for lunch today and I can remember that? It ended up a crazy thing."
Oddly, this is the second time in two weeks a former Bull has been mentioned in the same sentence with the dictator. Dennis Rodman accompanied the Harlem Globetrotters to North Korea at the end of February with a production crew to shoot an episode on North Korea for a new weekly HBO series. Rodman struck up a friendship with Kim during the visit.
After Rodman's visit, the White House said North Korea's government should focus on the well-being of its citizens, not on "celebrity sporting events."
"Dennis is a grown man and he can do whatever he pleases and whatever he wants," Kukoc said. "I'm pretty sure he meant well, but I don't know why he went there to begin with, why the Globetrotters would go to North Korea. I just know what I watched and what I saw come out of it was more negative than positive."
Kukoc said he would pose -- especially 16 years ago -- with virtually anyone who asked for a photo, particularly a child.
"I consider myself pretty well-traveled but I don't know at least 50 percent of the countries, and I'm supposed to know some kid who (was going to eventually) take over his dad's dictatorship?" Kukoc said. "I don't think if there were seven bodyguards around him with guns I wouldn't have noticed.
"We try to please fans, be nice to people who ask 'Can I have a picture?' But who knows who you're taking pictures with, what you're signing. Do you really have an idea who these people are? You're trying to be nice and polite, trying to get people not to say 'He's a (a bad guy), he doesn't talk to people.' But on the other side, who knows what can happen?"
That question that has been bouncing around the league ever since Jordan himself broached the topic in his famous Hall of Fame speech and gained even more traction when the legendary former Bull hit his 50th birthday last Sunday. Los Angeles Lakers forward (and North Carolina alum) Antawn Jamison even weighed in, saying he believed Jordan could still be successful.
"I wouldn't doubt that in the right situation with a LeBron James) on his team or with a Kobe Bryant) on this team, he could get you about 10 or 11 points, come in and play 15-20 minutes," Jamison told reporters recently. "I wouldn't doubt that at all, especially if he was in shape and injuries were prevented and things of that nature."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didn't exactly echo those sentiments when asked about the topic before Friday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats, but he did acknowledge that Jordan could still produce at a high level for a few games if that's what he decided to do. The veteran coach isn't sure Jordan would still want to do that for an entire season.
"Heck, I have enough to worry about with my own team," Thibodeau said. "You're talking about an all-time great, maybe the greatest of all time. I think he's done with that phase and his record speaks for itself. I don't know at 50 years old if he could live up to the standard that he had established throughout his entire career, but I'm sure if you talked about could he do it for one game? Probably. Could he do it for a few?
“But he's an all-time great player."
So, Michael Jordan is turning 50. You'd think it was the anniversary of non-dairy creamer or Astroturf or something.
Even Jordan himself referred to his upcoming birthday and corresponding national observances the other day as "all the fuss," in explaining to ESPNChicago.com that he'd rather not add to it.
But Jordan turning 50 is significant. And Jerry Reinsdorf recognizes it.
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But Jordan turning 50 is significant. And Jerry Reinsdorf recognizes it.