Bulls Reporter: We Thought 1991 Was A "One-Hit Wonder"

The Bulls won their first title "basically in anonymity," Sam Smith says, and no one knew what was coming

After Hours With Amy Lawrence
April 28, 2020 - 9:37 am
Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan

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There has been no shortage of drama through the first four episodes of The Last Dance. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe there are still six episodes to go. But in many ways, the series is just getting warmed up.

Was the entire Chicago Bulls’ dynasty as tumultuous as the 1997-98 season appears to have been? Was it always a roller coaster?

“It was the second three-peat because it had gotten so big,” author and journalist Sam Smith said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The first year that they won the championship was basically done in anonymity. Even my paper, the Chicago Tribune, wasn’t sending anyone on the road but me the whole season. We had a columnist, Bernie Lincicome, who would go occasionally because he just liked Michael and was interested in basketball, but he could have gone to a Cubs game or Bears. They didn’t care. It wasn’t a phenomenon.”

Even after the Bulls beat the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals, no one knew what was on the horizon.

“Nobody thought it was going to be any more than a one-hit wonder,” Smith said. “But they win, and then Jordan – obviously he’s a great player. But . . . Magic Johnson [gets] HIV, he’s out of the game. Larry Bird, his back was bad, he’s out of the game. Isiah Thomas tears his Achilles, he’s out of the game. All [of this] happens in ’91, ’92.”

The Bulls won two more titles before Jordan retired from basketball (the first time) to play minor league baseball. When Jordan returned, the Bulls had a captivating array of personalities, including Dennis Rodman.

“You had this incredible combination of the greatest player, the most outrageous player, the most unique coach ever with Phil Jackson, and this successful team that was not only technically efficient, but so intimidating and so impressive that opponents were overwhelmed by it,” Smith said. “That combination — and the antics associated with it with Dennis and the attention – those last couple of years, the attention built to such record proportions. I’m sure there’s never been anything like that.”