Tuesday, June 3, 2014

No, the Bulls Would NOT Have Won 8 Straight Titles Had Jordan Not Retired

Would the Chicago Bulls have won 8 straight titles
if Michael Jordan didn't retire?  Would they even
had won a total of six?
It has been 20 years since 1994 and ESPN and other parts of the media has been looking back at the NBA Finals that year.  ESPN has dubbed them the "Forgotten Finals" and for good reason, even though the series went the full seven games with the Rockets beating the Knicks.

During Game 5 of that Finals (the series was tied, 2-2), NBC interrupted the game to show the infamous white Ford Bronco chase involving O.J. Simpson.  The game was shown on a split screen alongside the chase, but the game was in the smaller box and there was little to no audio.  Also, this series isn't given the credit it is due because many people felt the Knicks wouldn't have been in those Finals and the Rockets wouldn't have won them had Michael Jordan not retired.

That may be true.  But we will never know.  That also spawns the question that I'm actually curious about: how many consecutive titles would the Bulls had won if Jordan hadn't retired?

It is an interesting question.  I know it seems easy to say that the Bulls would have won those two titles that bridged their two three-peats.  They might have, but would that have been certain?  And would their titles in 1996 through 1998 even had happened if Jordan never left?

There is an obvious butterfly effect to any of these questions.  The Bulls would have won this game or lost that game they hadn't and it would've affected playoff seeding, draft order and the like.  It's hard to put all of that together and make an ultimately educated guess, but you can ask yourself if the franchise's path would have changed.

Remember that Jordan retired on October 6th of 1993 [ed note: I was at college at that time and was at the student activities center ready to order a personal pizza when the TVs were all on the announcement.  I lived in North Carolina at the time and it was quite the buzz] which means that the Bulls roster was pretty much set heading into the season.  The Bulls' newcomers were Corey Blount, a rookie drafted out of Cincinnati, Toni Kukoc who was a rookie after being drafted back in 1990, and Steve Kerr, a backup shooting specialist who mainly played for the rival Cavaliers.  Other than some minor role players coming and going, and the midseason trade that sent Stacy King to Minnesota for Luc Longley, this was pretty much the same team coming back.

You can debate whether the Knicks may have finally stopped the Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  You can assume the Bulls would advance like they always had, but these Knicks were talented, experienced and were thiiiiiis close to winning the title that year.  If you have them back in the Finals, you can also debate whether they would have beaten the Houston Rockets.  The Rockets finished with 58 victories during the season.  The Bulls without Jordan finished with 55.  That would've been a great series but I can't fault anyone for believing that Chicago would have won.

This is where the split of my argument begins.

Understand that in the summer on 1994, the Bulls ... unlike the previous offseason ... knew that Jordan would not be on the roster (and, ironically enough, he would come back to the team midseason).  So the Bulls and their players made decisions with that knowledge.  Horace Grant left for a young budding Orlando Magic squad that was nearing title contention.  Bill Cartwright left for Seattle.  The Bulls also signed Ron Harper to a big free agent deal to try to replace Michael Jordan's production at the off-guard spot.  Would any of this happened had Jordan never retired?

Who knows?  Would Grant have left a team that had won 4-straight titles and looking for more?  I mean, he did leave for the Magic as the apparent missing piece to their roster (Orlando would go on to the Finals that season).  Obviously Harper never would have been a Bull since they wouldn't have needed him nor would they have paid him.

Then, if Grant resigned with the Bulls, the Bulls would have had no reason to trade for Dennis Rodman in 1995.  People forget that Harper would be the de facto point guard for Phil Jackson's triangle offense alongside Jordan.  Neither would have been there for the second three-peat.  Could they have won titles without them?  That's definitely up for debate.

Then you must factor in fatigue.  There are reports that Jordan was talking about retiring as early as 1992 after the Dream Team run in that year's Olympics.  That fatigue, along with him achieving champion status and an all-time great had him ready to call it quits.  But he did play one more season, a season that saw the Bulls not have the home court advantage in either the Eastern Conference Finals or NBA Finals.  As we all know, the murder of his father shortly after the 1993 NBA Finals helped make his decision to hang them up.  Jordan may have retired after the 1994 season/championship anyway.  The drive that pushed him as people questioned him during his stint in baseball may not have been there.  His hunger may not have been there.  That's why it is rare for three-peats to happen and while anything past that has happened just once.

As I have said, there is a butterfly effect to Jordan's decision that would will never be able to quantify.  But that's the point.  To think that everything would have happened after October 6, 1993 if His Airness never had that press conference is a bit naive.  Heck, the Bulls may have never won a total of six rings had he didn't retire the first time.

Either way, it is a fun debate.

No comments: