The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls are widely regarded as the best team in NBA history. Tough to argue after they went 72-10 behind an angry Michael Jordan and romped through the postseason. It was the first of Jordan’s second three-peat and nobody in the NBA seemed to even be in the same class as Chicago for those three years — with all due respect to the 1997 and 1998 Utah Jazz.
One of the things that helped put those Bulls over the top was the presence of Dennis Rodman.
Jordan provided the killer instinct. Scottie Pippen was the distributor making sure everyone else felt involved. But without a dominant center — Luc Longley, Bill Wennington and Will Perdue hardly rank anywhere near the pantheon of the great centers on dynastic teams — Rodman was the guy protecting the paint. He pulled defensive duties from players ranging from Shawn Kemp (pre-lockout explosion) to Shaquille O’Neal to Karl Marlone.
He did almost all of the nitty-gritty work for the Bulls in the post.
We might have a dream that Chicago was all tight and had a psychic connection built through the months of practice and playing together. But that apparently is not how it was like for the 1996 Bulls. Apparently it was much more business-like and each to his own.
As Dennis Rodman explained to Graham Hesinger of Yahoo! Sports In Depth, he never spoke with Jordan or Pippen while playing in Chicago.
“Well, I think it was important for me to go in there and win,” Rodman said. “I don’t have a job to speak to people. My job is to collate and understand how people work and make people believe in the fact that [I] belong there. Talking to people will come. Relating to people will come. If they see you performing and doing your job and being with the group, that’s all I want. Me and Scottie — we’re cool today. We’re a little older, a little wiser. We’re cool today. And me and Scottie never had a conversation. Me and Scottie and Michael never had a conversation in three years in Chicago. Only time we had a conversation was on the court, and that was it.”
Rodman is a little… let’s say off the wall. But there was no doubt that the now-Hall of Famer was superb on the basketball court. That seems to be where he let himself do most of his talking with the teammates.
There are various stories surrounding Jordan and his relationship with teammates. Jordan was not the most social guy as his competitive fire often trumped any sense of camaraderie he had. I mean, one of the first things he did with the 1992 Dream Team was completely embarrass Clyde Drexler in practice to the point that Magic Johnson pulled him aside and told him to ease up on Drexler so he would not ruin his confidence. At least that was the story Magic Johnson told in his book with Jackie MacMullen.
Really this quote reveals what a machine those Bulls teams were. They showed up and won. No frills, no exuberance until the ultimate job was done.
And maybe that is what made the 1997 Bulls so great. There were no high fives or celebrations until the Larry O’Brien Trophy was theirs.
Whoever said you had to be best friends to be teammates on the best team ever?