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Looking back on MJ and The Bulls

One writer’s memories of growing up in Northern Illinois plus Michael’s history in Memphis

Chicago Bulls v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

This Sunday marks the premiere of the ESPN documentary of the final season of the Chicago Bulls’ 90s dominance, The Last Dance. In preparation for this I thought back to my own childhood, growing up in the cornfields of northern Illinois, about 70 miles from Chicago.

Like a lot of other people around the country, I got to see a lot of Bulls games because of WGN television. But for a kid growing up in the 90’s, in close proximity to Chicago, the Bulls were THE team. Every kid I went to school with had the shoes or the jerseys or the shirts. We all went on the playground and emulated our favorite players at recess. I was always Steve Kerr because I had a legit wing three shot at 11 years my eyes, anyway.

The point is, for myself and most of my friends growing up the moments of greatness from Jordan and those teams are forever in my memory. These are some of my favorite moments from the six championships plus the two seasons in between.

The Layup

That title is probably all you need to read to know what I’m referring to. Game Two of the 1991 NBA Finals.

I know for a fact I watched Bulls games before this, but this is the first thing I can remember. June 5th, 1991. This play, with the Marv Albert call on NBC is such a historic moment en route to the Bulls first NBA Championship.

Paxson for 3...

In a tight Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals, Chicago had only scored nine points, all of which had been scored by Michael Jordan. The Bulls’ final three points would come with less than 10 seconds on the clock...

The only way to watch this highlight is with Neil Funk’s radio call as the soundtrack. John Paxson’s three plus a defensive stand on the other end led the Bulls to the 99-98 win and their third consecutive championship.

1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 3

The New York Knicks erasesd a 22-point 3rd quarter lead and a six-point Bulls lead in the final two minutes to tie the game up at 102 with 1.8 seconds left. All this after a benches clearing brawl that spilled into the front row at courtside midway through the game.

Enter Toni Kukoc.

1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6

New York and Chicago split the next two games of the series and New York looked to close out the series in what would be the final game at the Bulls long-time home of Chicago Stadium. The Bulls would close out the Madhouse on Madison in style, winning 93-79 and forcing a decisive Game 7. Oh, and this happened.

I’m Back

March 18th, 1995. The next day Michael Jordan returned to the floor (albeit wearing the number 45) and things for 11-year-old me was in heaven again. My hero was back.

1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 2

After losing Game 1 to Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal’s Orlando Magic, the Bulls needed a boost. And Orlando’s Nick Anderson did just that by saying Jordan was playing like a 45-year-old. Jordan defied NBA rules regarding retired numbers and once again donned the 23 jersey. Orlando would win the series, but the Bulls were on the right track.

Dennis Rodman’s First Triple-Double

Fast forward to January 16th, 1996. New Bull Dennis Rodman was providing a spark on the glass, gobbling up rebounds and solidifying the Bulls on defense en route to the NBA’s first 70-win season. But that night in January, Rodman did something he’d never done in almost 700 career games.

The Final Shot

Skipping ahead a couple seasons, the Bulls were looking to capture their third straight title and sixth in eight seasons. After dispatching the Utah Jazz in the 1997 Finals, Chicago found themselves in a position to capture the 1998 title. Everyone has seen this shot a million times. Jordan pushes down Bryon Russell and hits the jumper, leaving his hand extended from the follow through as if he knows its the last shot.

My favorite part of all of it is that Jordan knows that the game is in his hands. The final minutes of the game were all Jordan. Jordan closed out his Bulls career with 45 points and championship number six.

Now you may be saying, what’s the connection to Memphis?

Well, in 2001 when Jordan came out of retirement to play for the Washington Wizards, he made his first ever trip to play games in Memphis on December 11th. Michael scored 16 points on 8-of-19 shooting as the Wizards won 91-81.

Jordan’s second and final appearance at the Pyramid came the following November 23rd, as the Grizzlies beat Washington 85-74. Jordan dropped 20 points off the bench for the Wizards in front of a sold out crowd in the Pyramid.

Jordan’s most famous game (and final game) against Memphis took place in Washington on December 18, 2002, as Michael would score 33 points against Pau Gasol and the Grizzlies.

“The Last Dance” premiers Sunday night on ESPN.