History of the Chicago Bulls

Statue of Michael Jordan in front of the United Center

On January 16, 1966 Chicago was granted an NBA franchise which was to be known as the Bulls. Even though the Bulls are the most famous, they’re not the first NBA franchise to come to Chicago, in fact, they’re the third. First there was the Packers-Zephyrs, (now the Washington Wizards) and then the Stags (1946-1950). The founder, Dick Klein, was the Bulls’ only owner to have ever played professional basketball. He not only founded the team, he also served as the president and general manager in the early years. The Bulls officially joined the NBA and began competing in the 1966-67 season. Their first season was a magical one, they went on to post the best record in NBA history for an expansion team. To this day they’re the only expansion team to make the playoffs in their inaugural season.

Prior to officially joining the NBA, Klein knew the team needed a new logo. He reached out to Dean Wessel and asked him to come up with something. Dean brought him his first draft and Klein immediately like it, but he commented, “It’s not gritty enough, it needs to be rougher. There needs to be blood on the horns.” What is usually used an expression, Wessel took literally. He added blood on the horns, and Klein used what is now the iconic logo of the Chicago Bulls. It is still the original logo as designed by Wessel, without any alterations.

The team, and their new logo, saw a lot of early success on the court, but the fan base started to lose interest after 4 winning seasons. In 1969 Klein stepped down as the general manager and asked Pat Williams, the business manager for the Philadelphia 76ers, if he would like the job. Williams graciously accepted the offer and immediately began to put his mark on the team. He went with a different approach than Klein by overhauling the roster and putting money into marketing. He even created Benny the Bull, the beloved team mascot that we still look forward to seeing. Benny was named after Ben Bentley, the first Bulls Public Relations Manager and Stadium Announcer. Williams and head coach Dick Motta led the team to 4 straight playoff appearances and the fans responded by showing up to games.

The Bulls had a dominant foursome with Bob Love, Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker and Norm Van Lier. They had four straight 50-win seasons, but only made it past the first round of the playoffs twice. Williams went back to Philadelphia and Motta stepped up to fill the GM role along with the head coaching spot. But the Bulls best days were behind them, the talented foursome moved on and Motta only posted 24-wins in the 1975-1976 season.

After a couple seasons languishing in the bottom half of the league the Bulls came into the 1979 draft with a chance at the 1st overall pick. Unfortunately, fortune was not on their side as GM Rod Thorn called “heads”, but tails showed its face. The Bulls missed out on Magic Johnson that day, instead taking David Greenwood with the 2nd pick. Greenwood turned out to be a very good player during his 12-year career. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team during the 1979-1980 season and went on to play for several teams.

The Michael Jordan Era

When most of us think of the Chicago Bulls, a dominant image comes to mind; Michael Jordan in the hallowed red and black. Coming into the 1984 draft the Bulls had the third pick behind Houston and Portland. Hakeem Olajuwon was widely predicted to go first and he was taken No. 1 overall by Houston. Portland chose Same Bowie with the second pick and the Bulls chose a 6’6” shooting guard from the University of North Carolina, Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

The arrival of Michael Jordan marked the beginning of an era that would become the most glorious in team history. From the first season the Chicago Bulls knew they had something special with Mike. He amazed onlookers as he earned Rookie of the Year Honors and a trip to the All Star Game. He led the Bulls to the playoffs, the first of 14 consecutive trips. They were ousted in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks, but everyone knew they had something special. Everyone who was around the team that year, Jordan’s rookie year, just knew. Something was different.

Michael Jordan

The Bulls knew the greatness they had in Jordan and GM Jerry Reinsdorf decided to build a roster around him. During the first offseason after drafting Jordan the team added to their backcourt by drafting John Paxson and improved their frontcourt by trading for Charles Oakley. They once again made the playoffs, but the season didn’t live up to expectations. Jordan broke his foot early in the year and had to miss a significant amount of games. Before they were eliminated by the Celtics Jordan used the national exposure of the playoffs to once again showcase the great player he would develop into. During Game 2 he set a single game playoff scoring record of 63 points, a record that still stands to this day. The feat was so spectacular even other players had to pay homage.

"Michael was doing so much and so well, I found myself just wanting to stop and watch him -- and I was playing," said teammate John Paxson.

"I didn't think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us," marveled Celtics ace Larry Bird. "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

The Bulls went on to win the NBA title in 1990, 1991, and 1992, their first of two 3-peats. It was officially a dynasty. The Bulls defeated some of the most successful and talented teams on their way to winning the title and reaching the promised land three years in a row is hallowed ground. But surprisingly, at the height of it all, Jordan retired. In October of 1993 he held a press conference and told the media that he was stepping away from the game of basketball. The undisputed best player in the game had just walked away at the height of his powers. The Bulls made the playoffs that season but were defeated in the second round by the New York Knicks.

It didn’t take long for the itch to return. You don’t become the best in the world at anything unless you love what you do, and Michael Jordan was no exception. He loved the game of basketball, he even had a Love of the Game clause in his contract, and he wasn’t done with it yet. He returned to the team in March of 1995 and seemed to pick up right where he left off.

The 1995-96 Bulls are arguably the greatest team in history. They posted one of the biggest single-season turnarounds, going from a record of 47-35 to 72-10, and in doing so became the first team in NBA history to win 70+ games. Jordan won his 8th scoring title, Dennis Rodman won his 5th rebounding title, Jerry Krause was named Executive of the Year, Phil Jackson was named Coach of the Year…etc. The list goes on and on. Long story short, this was the most dominant team the NBA had ever seen and everyone knew that it wouldn’t have been possible if Mike didn’t come back. They went on to win the NBA title that year, and the next two also. That made two 3-peats for the Bulls. Jordan went on to retire for the second time on January 13, 1999.

After Mike

It may sound exaggerated to define an entire era by one player and the era following it by that player leaving. Basketball is a team game, and it’s never been one man that defined an entire team. But Michael Jordan was not a regular player, and as much as the above statements are true, he did define two eras; the one he was in and the one directly after. Yes, without Scottie Pippen playing phenomenal defense, the Bulls probably wouldn’t have won 6 championships. And if Dennis Rodman hadn’t played lockdown defense and completely dominate the boards, they might not have won their titles when he was there. Let’s also not forget that the Bulls had an awesome bench when they won the titles, some would argue the best in the NBA, and without them they may not have won. However, without question, the era was defined by Mike.

The Bulls struggled through most of the seasons for the next 10 years. There were trades and draft picks that everyone expected to work out, but they never materialized. The Bulls had fallen to the point of an also-ran. No one considered them serious contenders for the title and it was “good enough” to just make it into the playoffs. Then they drafted Derrick Rose.

The Bulls took Rose with the 1st overall pick in the 2008 draft. By 2011 the team had added a new coach, a few veterans, and Derrick Rose led the charge as the youngest ever MVP. That same year the Bulls led the league with the best record 62-20, and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, they were never able to deliver on the promise that season showed. Rose became injury-plagued and never played another full season. The team turned in some winning years, but they never made it to the Finals. All the promise was gone, and the team was back to where it was prior to Derrick Rose.

The Derrick Rose era officially ended on June 22, 2016 when he was traded to the New York Knicks. But the truth is it felt like it was over long before that. In reality, the hype outweighed the substance. Rose was for real; he was a young, extremely talented player who was already seeing success at the highest levels. People weren’t wrong to start to imagine the success he, and the Bulls, would see. Yet when we look back, it was really only one year when he showed the “wow” factor. Chicago had been through some tough times since Jordan left and when someone came along that showed some potential, they really wanted to believe. But the history of the league is filled with stories of guys who almost made it, teams that were so close, and how they basically had it all. That was the story of the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose.

These days the Bulls are still trying to put it together. Like most teams in the NBA, they’re trying to build a championship roster. They’ve gone through a few coaches since Rose left, and they’re still trying to find a superstar that will be the next corner of their franchise. Chicago is a world class city that has what it takes to attract the best talent in the game. Who will it be and when will they get here? That’s the question we all wish we had the answer too.

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