The Chicago Bulls of the 1990s represent a rise to NBA royalty for Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and anyone else lucky enough to have been along for the ride. After five years of crushing playoff losses to the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons, the Bulls finally broke through in 1991 and never looked back. No longer a team on the rise, the Bulls dominated the 1990s with six NBA Championships in ten years.
As great as Jordan and Pippen were, they needed a strong cast of role players to help them continuously find success in the postseason. After all, every team the Bulls beat in the finals featured an NBA Hall of Famer. So it was necessary that the Bulls kept a strong rotation to assist Jordan and Pippen.
Here is a ranking of the players who won a championship with the Bulls during their first three-peat from 1991-1993.
18. Corey Williams
Corey Williams was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 33rd pick of the 1992 draft. Coming from Oklahoma State University, Williams was a 6’2 point guard who struggled to find minutes on this team. Corey won his only NBA Championship as a member of the 1992-1993 roster.
Williams appeared in 35 games for the Bulls that season and averaged 2.3 points as well as less than one assist and rebound per game. As mentioned earlier, the depth of this roster lessened Williams chance of making any real impact on this roster. Competing with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, B.J. Armstrong, and John Paxson for ball handling duties is always a losing battle. And as you can tell by the numbers, William was nowhere near winning that battle.
17. Ed Nealy
Much like Corey Williams, Ed Nealy also won his one and only championship during the 1992-93 season. However, unlike Williams, Nealy was well traveled throughout the NBA before winning the title in 1993. Ed was mostly known throughout his career as a smart, hustle player with no real particular skills. Nealy provided a physical presence that was admired by his head coach Phil Jackson.
During his brief stint with the Bulls in 1993, Nealy averaged 2.1 points per game in 7.2 minutes per game. After the season ended, Nealy would retire and settle into life after basketball. Ed attempted to try his hand at coaching, but it never panned out the way he wanted. While not remembered as a key part of the Bulls dynasty, at least Nealy can say he retired a champion.
16. Darrell Walker
Darrell Walker was selected 12th overall in 1983 by the New York Knicks. Walker achieved his most successful times in the NBA during the years of 1984-1987. By the time Walker reached the Bulls in 1993, he didn’t have a lot to offer. During the 1993 playoffs, Darrell averaged 2.4 minutes per game and played in a total of nine games.
Basically, Walker had been relegated to a garbage time player at that point. The reason Walker ranks higher on this than Nealy or Williams is because of his career prior to the Bulls (which in contrast was a batter career). Walker was actually a solid player during his career. Much like Nealy however, the 1993 Bulls was his last stop before retirement. Another player going out on top.
15. Bob Hansen
Bob Hansen was a tough, hard nosed defensive guard who found his most success during his time with the Utah Jazz. Hansen played seven seasons for the Jazz and even found himself starting alongside John Stockton for a short time. Hansen’s tough defensive play earned him the respect of Magic Johnson who stated that playing Hansen ‘usually was enough to get him ready for the playoffs.’
Following the trend of veterans latching on to this Bulls dynasty right before retiring, Hansen played his final season and won an NBA title with the Bulls in 1992. During that year Bob appeared in 66 games for a total of 11.7 minutes per game (which was expected on this team). Hansen now works as a color commentator for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
14. Dennis Hopson
Dennis Hopson’s case is actually quite interesting. Hopson was drafted third by the New Jersey Nets in the 1987 draft. I’m sure no one at the time could’ve predicted that he would only average 10.9 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. But still, he was drafted ahead of players such as Scottie Pippen, Kenny Smith, Kevin Johnson, Horace Grant, and Reggie Miller. If we knew then what we know now…..
Hopson was part of the Bulls first NBA Championship team in 1991. During that year he averaged 11 minutes off the bench and struggled to find any consistent playing time. Dennis failed to live up to the high expectations of being a top-five NBA Draft pick and would decide to retire from the game after the next season.
13. Rodney McCray
If you haven’t noticed by now, this first threepeat was filled with veteran players looking to win a ring before retiring. Similar to any team led by LeBron James. As is the case with Rodney McCray. The difference, however, between McCray and the previous players on this list is that he actually boasted a decent resume before coming to Chicago. In addition to an NCAA title in 1980, McCray also made the All Defensive team twice.
McCray’s best season came in 1989-1990 when he averaged 16.6 points per game for the Sacramento Kings. Upon arriving to the Bulls in 1993, McCray found a decent spot on the bench, averaging 15 minutes per game. And just like everyone else so far, Rodney retired after winning the title in 1993.
12. Trent Tucker
Believe it or not, Trent Tucker is actually responsible for one of the rules we have in today’s game. Tucker, while playing for the New York Knicks, hit a game winning shot in 1990 against the Chicago Bulls. The problem was that there was only 0.1 seconds on the clock, which means that he couldn’t have realistically gotten a jump shot off in that little bit of time. After numerous complaints from head coach Phil Jackson, the league instated a rule saying that at least 0.3 seconds must be on the shot clock for a player to shoot a standard jump shot.
Tucker averaged 8.2 points for his career and played for the Knicks and San Antonio Spurs before landing with the Bulls in 1993. Other notable moments in his career include competing in the first ever three-point shootout in 1986. And yes, he retired after winning his championship in 1993 with the Bulls.
11. Will Perdue
Will Perdue is the first player on this list to not only have won more than one championship during the first three-peat, but also to have stuck around for all three. Unlike his predecessors, Perdue was a regular rotation player for the Bulls. He provided minutes as backup center to Bill Cartwright. However, playing backup didn’t mean that he wasn’t accomplished in his own right.
Will was named both SEC Player of the Year, and Athlete of the Year in 1988. During his eight seasons in Chicago, Perdue averaged only 4.4 points per game, but was a much valued player. In a deal that worked out for both sides, the Bulls traded Perdue in 1995 to the San Antonio Spurs for a guy named Dennis Rodman. Rodman played an important part of the next Bulls three-peat, and Perdue won his last NBA title in 1999 with the Spurs.
10. Scott Williams
Scott Williams went undrafted after four years of college and signed with the Chicago Bulls in 1990. Along with Will Perdue, Williams was present for all three of the Bulls first three championships. Scott was mostly a backup power forward/center during his time in Chicago. His best year with the team came during the 1992-1993 season when he averaged 5.9 points and 6.4 rebounds, in 19 minutes per game.
After leaving the Bulls in 1994, Williams played ten more seasons in the NBA (never finding another championship away from the City of Chicago). Since his playing days, Williams has mostly served as a commentator for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were his final team, and as an assistant coach both in the NBA and the D-League.
9. Cliff Levingston
Cliff Levingston is a good example of a player who could’ve produced better stats with more minutes, but was better suited for a bench role (keep in mind who was taking the court for the bulls back then). Similar to a Lamar Odom, Jason Terry, or Jamal Crawford, Levingston was good enough to start for many teams. However, his best playing days came as a reserve for the Chicago Bulls. Cliff did average more minutes and points in his earlier years, but his value skyrocketed by playing with Michael and Scottie.
Levingston was only around for the Bulls first two championships in 1991 and 1992. After the 1992 season, he took his talents overseas and played in the Greek Basketball League before returning to the NBA for one final season.
8. Stacey King
Coming out of Oklahoma, Stacey King was drafted with the sixth pick of the 1989 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. This was ahead of Nick Anderson, Tim Hardaway, and Shawn Kemp. During his five seasons with the Bulls, King only managed to start 38 total games, but was present for all three of their first championships.
Although King played his last game for the Bulls during the 1993-94 season, he continued to contribute to the team throughout his career. King was traded in 1994 to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Luc Longley, who helped the Bulls win three more championships. And in 2006, he began working as a color commentator for the Bulls television network. King holds onto that job to this day, remaining with the club.
7. Craig Hodges
Where to begin with Craig Hodges? His story is one that is bigger than his time with the Bulls. He played with the team from 1988-1992, meaning he helped them win two championships. However, at 32 years of age, Hodges was waived by the Bulls, and not a single team called to inquire about his availability. Hodges has two theories on why this happened. When the Bulls visited the White House to honor their 1992 championship, Hodges wore a daishaki, and hand wrote a letter to then President George H.W. Bush, criticizing him for his treatment of minorities and the poor. In addition, Hodges would also criticize Michael Jordan for not using his fame and wealth to help the cause for African American mistreatment.
In 1996, Hodges sued the NBA (and all the teams) for what he believed was the “disowning” and “blackballing” that he endured due to his political stances. Hodges remains one of the greatest three point shooters in the game and a pioneer of the three point contest, participating in the first eight competitions, and winning three of them.
6. Bill Cartwright
After a very successful college career, Bill Cartwright was drafted in the 1979 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. The Knicks took Cartwright third overall, putting him only two picks behind NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. Bill had memorable tenure with the Knicks as well, averaging 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds over the course of eight seasons. However, the emergence of Patrick Ewing in the late 1980s signaled the end of Bill’s time in New York.
In 1988, the Bulls sent Charles Oakley to New York in exchange for Cartwright, and the move helped them win three straight titles. Although his stats dropped as a Chicago Bull, Bill provided the interior defense and scoring threat needed to complement Jordan and Pippen. Cartwright also started in 394 of the 397 games he played in Chicago, proving he was the epitome of consistency. After his playing days ended, Cartwright rejoined the Bulls in 1997 as an assistant coach, helping the team win two more titles in 1997 and 1998.
5. John Paxson
John Paxson is probably best known for his game winning shot during Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals. Paxson joined the Bulls in 1995, and served primarily as Michael Jordan’s backcourtpartner throughout the remainder of his career. Paxson was a key contributor to the team during the first three-peat and was responsible for many clutch three point shots. John would retire from the NBA after the 1994 season, He averaged 7.6 points per game during his Chicago tenure, and started more than 300 games alongside Michael Jordan.
Similar to Bill Cartwright, Paxson rejoined the team as an assistant coach in 1996, helping the team win another NBA championship. In April 2003, Paxson would again join the Bulls as the Vice President of Basketball Relations, and currently works as their Vice President of Basketball Operations, which is a step down from his previous job.
4. B.J. Armstrong
B.J. Armstrong ranks ahead of John Paxson on this list because B.J. was able to find success in multiple roles, whereas Paxson found his most success as a starter. Drafted by the Bulls in 1989, Armstrong spent his first few seasons playing behind John Paxson. Due to increased production however, Armstrong would take the starting spot permanently from Paxson in 1993, where he started 74 of the 82 games he played. Armstrong’s value arose from his defense, and league leading three point percentage.
B.J helped the Bulls to three straight championships in 1991-1993, and was one of the only players to flourish after Michael Jordan’s first retirement after the 1993 season. The next two years, B.J. averaged 14.8 and 14 points per game, and earned a spot in the 1994 All-Star game. After several short stints with various teams, Armstrong returned to the Bulls in 1999 to play one final season and retire from the organization he found the most success.
3. Horace Grant
Horace Grant will go down as one of the greatest role players in NBA history. Grant was drafted by the Bulls in 1987, and after his rookie season, locked down the starting power forward position until the day the left the team. Grant helped contribute to three straight NBA Championships for the Bulls while averaging 12.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game during his Chicago tenure. Along with B.J. Armstrong, Grant also had a career year in the season directly after Jordan retired. During 1994, Grant averaged a career best 15.1 points per game and also earned a spot in the All-Star Game.
After his time with the Bulls ended, Horace became a key contributor to the Orlando Magic mid 1990s powerhouse. Grant joined forces with Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal in 1995 to hand Michael Jordan his only playoff loss between the years of 1991-1998. That Magic team also made the NBA Finals that year, losing to the Houston Rockets. After several seasons in Orlando, Grant joined the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2000-2001 season, helping them win their second of three straight titles.
2. Michael Jordan
At the risk of not being blasphemous, I’m putting Michael Jordan as #2 on this list. I know it’s almost sacrilegious to place Michael Jordan as the second best anything, but hear me out. Michael Jordan was drafted in 1984 by the Chicago Bulls and immediately started lighting up the league. After averaging 28.2 points per game as a rookie, Jordan went on to cement his legacy as the best player in the league year after year. Opponents literally feared playing against Jordan and rightfully so. His Airness took great pleasure in obliterating opposing teams and players.
During the Bulls first three-peat, Jordan was undeniably the teams leader and best player. Between the years 1991-1993, Jordan averaged above 30 points per game each season. However, there’s a difference between being the best player, and the most important player. And there’s a real argument to be made that Scottie Pippen was the more important player during those first three championships.
1. Scottie Pippen
On the night of the 1987 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls turned around their fortunes forever by trading for Scottie Pippen, who had been drafted by the Seattle Supersonics. Once Scottie came into his own as an NBA star, he proved why he was named to the NBA’s 50 Greatest players list. During the Bulls first three championships, Scottie Pippen averaged a near triple double each year. His best season of the three came in 1992 when he averaged 21 points, 7.7 rebounds, and seven assists per game. Pippen’s importance also shone through as the initiator of the famed Triangle Offense, as Scottie was often responsible for bringing the ball up the court and getting the play started.
Scottie was well known for his versatility. Along with his value on offense, Pippen also drew the assignment of defending the other team’s best player most nights, so Michael could focus on his offense. A prime example of this was the 1991 NBA Finals against Magic Johnson and the Lakers. Pippen was responsible for shutting down Magic and the legendary Showtime offense, and he did just that, often picking up Magic the full length of the court. It’s very reasonable to say that without Scottie Pippen and his many contributions, we wouldn’t even consider Jordan as the greatest of all time. He’d likely be just a high scorer with no championships.
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