Once Michael Jordan and the Bulls broke through for their first championship in 1991, there was absolutely no stopping them... at least not while Jordan was with the team.
We all know the legacy Jordan left when he led the Bulls to six NBA titles. But what’s often forgotten is the legacy he denied to some of the NBA’s other incredible players from that era.
It got us thinking: Who are some players we would likely hold in a higher regard if MJ weren't around to rack up rings?
9. Mark Price
Price is widely regarded as the second-best Cleveland Cavalier in franchise history behind LeBron James. He was the second player in NBA history to post a 50-40-90 season (50% field-goal shooting, 40% 3-point shooting, 90% free-throw shooting) after Larry Bird. Price was bounced out of the playoffs twice by MJ and the Bulls during their championship runs (1992 Eastern Conference finals, 1993 Eastern Conference semifinals).
He did notch one “first” as an All-NBA First-Team selection in 1993.
8. Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp and the Seattle SuperSonics met Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals. The ’96 Sonics had 64 wins but, unfortunately, faced a 72-win Bulls team looking to regain supremacy in the NBA after Jordan unretired.
Despite a strong duo between Kemp and Gary Payton, the Bulls with Pippen and Dennis Rodman were too much. The Bulls won the series 4-2, along with their fourth NBA title
7. Penny Hardaway
In 1995, the Orlando Magic beat the Bulls 4-2 in the conference semifinals but were later swept by the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. Jordan had just unretired weeks earlier. Heading into the 1996 NBA Playoffs, the Magic were looking to win that elusive NBA championship when they encountered Jordan and the 72-win Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals.
Jordan and the Bulls swept the Magic.
6. Tim Hardaway
Tim Hardaway is a Chicago native and local hero who was never able to win an NBA Championship. The first part of his career was spent with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference with little success, and in the middle of the 1995-96 season, he was traded east to the Miami Heat.
That first season, Hardaway and the Heat were swept by the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. In '96-97, they met the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals and were beaten 4-1.
5. Reggie Miller
Miller is one of the best pure shooters in NBA history and arguably came the closest to knocking out Jordan and the Bulls in those six championship seasons. In the 1998 Eastern Conference finals, Miller and the Pacers became one of only two teams to force the Bulls to a Game 7. They led that game 79-77 with less than six minutes to play before the Bulls took over to win 88-83 (The Knicks forced a Game 7 in the 1992 conference semis, but the Bulls won that game decisively).
The Pacers eventually made the NBA Finals in 2000, but Miller and his team were bested again by Phil Jackson. Only this time, it was Jackson’s first season with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers.
4. John Stockton
Stockton played his entire 19-year career with the Utah Jazz and never missed the playoffs. He played all 82 games in 17 of those 19 seasons. He has the most assists (15,806) and steals (3,265) in NBA history. He led the league in assists for nine straight years. His .515 career FG% is third-best among point guards, behind only Magic Johnson and Maurice Cheeks.
But the two years he made it to the NBA Finals with the Jazz were 1997 and 1998, the final two years of Jordan’s career with the Bulls. So Stockton has no championship hardware to go with his other accolades.
3. Charles Barkley
Picked just two spots after Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft, Charles Barkley’s career basically lined up with Michael Jordan’s, and he was an obstacle on more than one occasion. In back-to-back seasons from 1989 to 1991, Barkley and the 76ers made it to the Conference semifinals and both times were sent packing by the Bulls 4-1. After another season in Philly, Barkley headed west to join the Phoenix Suns and, in his first season with the team, ran into the defending champion Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. MJ averaged 41 points, leading to a 4-2 series win and completing the Bulls first three-peat.
In 1996, Barkley joined the Houston Rockets who were one season removed from back-to-back NBA titles, but the Bulls were en route to a second three-peat.
2. Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing may have the biggest beef with Jordan and the Bulls dynasty. Ewing and the Knicks were knocked out of the playoffs by the Bulls four times during the dominant Jordan era.
The Bulls got the Knicks in the first round once (1991), the conference semis twice (1992, 1996) and the conference finals once (1993).
Ewing had his chances to break through, though. In the 1993 Eastern Conference finals, the Knicks won Games 1 and 2 at Madison Square Garden, but the Bulls won the next four to clinch their third straight Finals appearance. One year later, with MJ out of the league, the Knicks made it to the NBA Finals, but lost Game 7 to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets.
1. Karl Malone
Malone would also probably rank first on the “Most Underrated Players of All Time” list. We bet the only reason Malone doesn’t crack more Top-10 lists is because MJ denied him two rings in 1997 and ‘98.
“The Mailman” currently ranks second all-time in the NBA for total points scored (36,928), seventh all-time in rebounds (14,968), and first in free throws attempted (13,188) and free throws made (9,787).
He played 19 seasons in the NBA, never missed the playoffs, won MVP twice, was an 11-time All-NBA First Team member, 14-time All-Star and made it to the NBA Finals twice. The problem is he ran into Jordan and the Bulls both times.