No. 4: Chicago Bulls

Originally Published: June 11, 2009
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Michael JordanAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)Please put your seat backs and tray tables in the upright and locked position and prepare for takeoff.

The Chicago Bulls have won just one playoff series from 1998 to 2009, and from 1976 to 1988 they made it through the first round only one time. Overall, they have lost 50 or more games 12 times in 43 years, haven't had an All-Star in more than a decade and didn't win a conference title in their first 24 seasons.

Of course, I left out the decade from 1988 to 1998 for a reason. The Bulls were so good in that era that they rank fourth on the franchise list, despite doing almost nothing of consequence in their other 34 years of existence.

Led by the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, the Bulls won six NBA championships -- and might have had more if Jordan hadn't taken off nearly two full seasons to pursue a minor league baseball career. People forget, but the supporting cast around him wasn't too shabby either. Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc and company were good enough to win 55 games without Jordan in 1993-94, and were beaten by eventual conference champ New York because of a dubious foul call on Pippen late in Game 5.

And with Jordan? Forget it. Chicago steamrolled the league in 1995-96, when Jordan came back full-time and defensive pest Dennis Rodman joined the mix. Chicago set a record with a 72-10 season in which it led the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Bulls started the season 41-3, didn't lose a home game until April 8 and had one double-digit loss the entire regular season. It goes without saying that they won the title, and this is generally considered the greatest team in league history.

That season marked Jordan's fourth championship. All of Jordan's first four championships came in an era when teams were allowed to partake in much more physical defense than today, making it easier to defend quick guards like Jordan. It didn't matter. Neither the Pistons nor Knicks -- two of the best defensive teams of all time -- had an answer for Jordan, who went through Detroit in four games en route to his first title and the Knicks each of his next three.

The Bulls get 100 extra intangible points for the fact that they had the greatest player ever, and the countless moments he delivered. Anyone who watched the Bulls for that decade walked away having seen more etched-in-stone, all-time moments than fans of most teams would see in a century.

It should be pointed out Jordan's was not the only Bulls team to be a contender. Early in the 1970s, Dick Motta led Chicago to four straight 50-win seasons and back-to-back trips to the conference finals. The Bulls had the misfortune of being in the same division as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but got within a game of the promised land before falling to eventual champion Golden State in the 1975 Western Conference finals -- after the Bulls blew a Game 6 clincher on their home court, and dropped Game 7 by four points. That team had four key players in their 30s and faded to irrelevance once Chet Walker and Jerry Sloan hung up their sneakers a season later, eight years before the Bulls drafted Jordan.

Next >>