Michael Jordan

Bulls observations: Bulls smother Magic and mount furious, historic comeback

Bulls observations: Bulls smother Magic and mount furious, historic comeback

The title ticker flicks to six. The Bulls overcame an 18-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Orlando Magic 93-88 and grab a 2-0 Eastern Conference series lead. Observations:

A team effort

This game was such that The Sports Channel's player of the game award was bestowed upon 'The Chicago Bulls.'

At a glance, that may feel peculiar. Only three Bulls tallied double-figure point totals (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman) and as a group they shot 40% from the field. But this one was truly a clinic in smothering defense, and contributions from all around made it possible.

Pippen's length and work on the glass (he had six offensive rebounds) seemed to impact the game at its most crucial moments. Ron Harper ended the night with two steals, but you could have said he had 10 and I would have believed you. He was everywhere, and continues to cement himself as on the short-list of most underrated contributors during the dynasty. Rodman and the team's rotating cast of bigs played a huge role in bottling Shaq as the Bulls made their decisive third-quarter run. Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr poured in timely buckets. The team's fullcourt press ground the Magic down to perfection.

All in all, it amounted to flipping a 15-point halftime deficit (which in the third quarter grew to 18) into a five-point victory — and a demoralizing one at that. Fifty-three first-half points by the Magic against this team was a feat. Their 35 in the latter half  compared to 55 for the Bulls) felt a correction. Soul-snatching stuff.

A different time

The United Center was an absolute madhouse, you could feel it through the television screen. These Bulls give 'flipping the switch' new meaning.

It all culminated with 'MVP' chants for Michael Jordan in the game's waning moments, as he put the finishing touches on a 35-point, six-assist, four-steal outing. It is astounding how routine he makes these types of nights look.

And, oh yeah. This was a thing.

No, I mean a really different time

In a playoff run filled with celebrities, this has to be the most riotous beneficiary of a Rodman jersey toss so far: 

Brian freaking Knobbs. Chicago really was the center of the basketball universe.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bulls' defensive dominance was something to behold during 1996 title run

Bulls' defensive dominance was something to behold during 1996 title run

Over 18 playoff games in 1996, the Bulls held their opponent under 80 points the same number of times — three — that they allowed 100 or more points. And the Knicks needed overtime to produce one of those century mark outputs.

The Bulls’ defense, well, never rested.

“It’s been unbelievable,” said current radio analyst and then reserve center Bill Wennington on reliving the run.

And Wennington said he’s only been intermittently tuning in to watch what he lived 24 years ago.

Watching the rebroadcasts of the 1996 playoff run has been a revelation and a reminder. The Bulls possessed so many different manners in which to smother teams defensively and match up against virtually any player and opponent. The job Dennis Rodman did on a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1 is just one example.

What other team could use a 6-foot-7 power forward in single coverage on the 7-1 behemoth of Neal?

“Just the rotations and how everyone worked together, whether it was Michael (Jordan) or Scottie (Pippen) or Ron Harper. I hate to say it, even Toni Kukoc with his olé defense was making the right adjustments at the right time,” Wennington joked. “The different lineups that (coach) Phil (Jackson) could go with — small with Dennis or Toni at center or big with me and Luc (Longley) and James Edwards. Every guy on the floor barring the 7-footers could guard pretty much anyone on the floor.”

And this played out most spectacularly when the Bulls unveiled any variation of their fullcourt pressure, a favorite tactic of legendary assistant coach and defensive mastermind Johnny Bach.

The Bulls needed it in Game 2, which airs Friday at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago, overcoming a large third-quarter deficit to prevail. How’d you like to try to bring the ball up against the length and athleticism of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman?

The Bulls led the NBA by allowing just 86.8 points during their title stampede. They also enjoyed a plus-7.9 advantage in rebounding. Those are ingredients for playoff success in any era.

Bach, whose twin brother was lost on an airborne mission during World War II, used to sometimes end his video edits with an ace of spades — the card of death — on a rifle butt to signify an enemy kill.

Dramatic? Perhaps. But symbolic, too, for the dominance his defense displayed consistently.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bill Simmons recalls behind-the-scenes Michael Jordan footage

Bill Simmons recalls behind-the-scenes Michael Jordan footage

A palpable buzz is building as we creep closer and closer to the April 19 release date for ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Bulls.

Former ESPN employee and current CEO of the Ringer, Bill Simmons, added to that in a recent appearance on FS1’s "The Herd," a radio show hosted by Colin Cowherd.


In Simmons’ time at ESPN, he famously pioneered the "30 for 30" documentary series that has since swelled in popularity and name-brand recognition. In a six-minute interview with Cowherd, Simmons recalled the universal reverence for Jordan and the ’90s Bulls, and Jordan’s reluctance to peel the curtain back on their exploits.

“We [ESPN] tried to do it [a Jordan documentary] after we finished the first "30 for 30" series when we had everything going in 2009,” Simmons said. “We knew about this documentary that NBA Entertainment had. You know, they had filmed his whole season. They had all this behind the scenes stuff. So we got a copy of it, and we watched it. And the behind the scenes stuff, it was the real Jordan. It was the homicidally competitive Jordan, the guy yelling at his teammates. It was all the stuff we had always heard of but never seen. And we were just like, how do we get this made?”

But…

“Jordan never wanted it, and I think what happened, middle of the (2010s) decade, especially when LeBron won that Cavs title, when things really started to shift and all of a sudden there was an MJ vs. LeBron argument. I think for the first time, Jordan and his camp realized, ‘Oh, we gotta protect our legacy here,’” Simmons said. “People are starting to forget how great and famous and how universally everyone thought, who was there, this is the best basketball player I’m ever going to see. And I still feel that way.”

To be clear, there’s no evidence of the footage Simmons alluded to being directly related to “The Last Dance.” But it shows that there is a side to Jordan that the masses have yet to see.

Hopefully, we get to experience that side in all its flaws and glory come April 19.

RELATED: How to watch 'The Last Dance' docuseries on MJ, '98 Bulls

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.