6.27.2014

Were the Chicago Bulls a Dynasty?



10/2004

For 12 days in the middle of August, a research firm commissioned by Sports Illustrated polled 1,004 sports fans on a variety of topics for the magazine's 50th anniversary issue.

The sampling error, according to the magazine, was 3 percent, plus or minus.

   Except for one query: What is the greatest professional dynasty? In this response, the sampling error was 100 percent. That's because one-third of the respondents listed the Chicago Bulls.

That is pure, unadulterated rubbish.

One of the greatest myths and misconceptions perpetrated on supposedly knowledgeable sports fans is that the Bulls were a dynasty. They were not. They were an eight-year phenomenon because of the singular presence of Michael Jordan. They were the best team of the 1990s, hands down. But in no way does that make them a dynasty.

A dynasty by definition extends over decades, even generations. The Yankees, of course, are the gold standard in this category, yet somehow they got only 28 percent of the votes. (The magazine limited the Yankees' dynastic years to 1954-64, when they won the World Series four times.) But the Yankees won in the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and are winning still. Now that's a dynasty. (We could go back to Ruth and Gehrig as well.   The Celtics finished third with 20 percent, but in the years selected for their dynasty, 1957-69, they won 11 championships. Yet the Bulls, who won six, are a greater "dynasty"? Please. There's not even a mention of hockey's greatest dynasty, the Montreal Canadiens. The top hockey "dynasty" in the minds of these witless wonders is the Edmonton Oilers. From 1956-69, the Canadiens won nine Stanley Cups, including five in a row (1956-60). The Oilers won five from 1984-90.

But as this is a basketball column, we will zero in on the fraudulent supposition that the Bulls represent a dynasty. It's impossible to make that case. They didn't do anything before Jordan came around (and they didn't do anything with Jordan until seven years into his career) and, as we all know, they've been pathetic since Jordan left in 1998.

The Bulls came into existence in 1966. From 1966 through 1987, they had 14 losing seasons. Their playoff record over that span was a hideous 27-57. In that span of 21 years, the Bulls participated in the playoffs in 13 seasons - and won a total of three series, one of them a best-of-three. They did get to the Western Conference finals in 1974 and 1975, but back then, that required winning only one playoff series. They never made it any farther.

From 1988-90, the Bulls did get to the Eastern Conference finals on two occasions, losing both times. Their six-titles-in-eight-seasons run began in 1991 and ended with Jordan's jumper in Utah in 1998. That was an impressive run, no question, but that's all it was.

The Celtics are an NBA dynasty. They won with Russell in the 1950s and 1960s, with Havlicek, Cowens, and White in the 1970s and with the Big Three in the 1980s. The Lakers are an NBA dynasty, winning in the '50s with George Mikan, in the '80s with Magic and Kareem, and in the new millennium with Shaq and Kobe.

The Bulls? There was not a scent of a winning tradition when Jordan got there in 1984; they had missed the playoffs in seven of the nine previous seasons. They've missed the playoffs in each of the six seasons since he left, finishing last in five of those seasons.

You can make a case for the individual greatness of Jordan; 72 percent of respondents said he was the greatest basketball player in the last 50 years. But no one won with more numbing regularity than Bill Russell. You can make a case for Phil Jackson being the best NBA coach, which the respondents did, with Red Auerbach coming in second. (How on earth Lenny Wilkens finished fifth is another story.   But you cannot make a case for the Bulls being anything other than an eight-year phenomenon, led by one player, a hoop "cult of personality." The notion that they've been the greatest professional dynasty in the last half-century is utter nonsense.

The Fox channel

So, Rick Fox, what can the Celtics expect from Gary Payton, assuming we actually see Gary Payton? "A very demanding competitor," the just-retired second-time Celtic said of his former teammate. "He has the knowledge. He really does. I don't see how he could look back at last year and not see that it's about the team. It's what you make of it and how committed you are to those around you, regardless of the expectations." Fox had some advice for Payton's new teammates: "The challenge with Gary is to hear the message, not how it's delivered. He's pretty direct. He doesn't dance around things. If you're looking for the truth, that can sometimes be refreshing." . . . Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy has a rebuilt roster with the addition of Tracy McGrady, the erstwhile Orlando scoring machine who demanded an exit from Magicville. "We're getting him at the right time," Van Gundy said. "He understands that he has had a lot of wonderful personal accomplishments. But I think he also knows how fragile this all is. One minute, he's up, 3-1, in a playoff series and then he's lost 19 in a row. He's gone through character assassination of his basketball character and been humbled, all in a space of 12 months. I think he's in a similar situation to Kevin Garnett before last season. Tracy has been through seven years. He's only 25. But his clock is ticking. I think he understands those things. The one myth is that he's a selfish player. He gave up the ball. He's a good passer. And he has the attributes for being a dominant defender as well. I think he's going to enjoy it here." . . . We noted last week that former Celtic (for three games in 1978-79) Earl Tatum was inducted into the Marquette Hall of Fame along with Doc Rivers and others. Tatum's lasting contribution to Celtics history is that he brought Chris Ford in a straight-up swap. But there's a lesser-known piece of Tatum lore. When he was with the Celtics on a road trip to New Jersey, he went to the hotel's front desk and asked to have a $15,000 check cashed . . . Ford, by the way, is still with the 76ers, working as a scout . . . It's against the rules to demand that players report to offseason "bonding" retreats, but the Magic had 100 percent attendance last month for their voluntary get-together. Gee, do you think the reason might be that the session was held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas? All of the players, coaches, trainers, and executives got together for four days in Vegas for some hoops, bowling, dining, and, er, other activities. "Our team went through a ton of changes," general manager John Weisbrod said. "I don't know how many NBA teams start a season with 10 new guys. We thought that that was what we needed from a team-building aspect. It would be hard to ask these guys to just show up on the first day of camp and jell." Grant Hill and Steve Francis were in charge of recruiting the players, a task made demonstrably easier by the location. (The real challenge would have been Omaha.) "A lot of the guys were cynical at first," Weisbrod said. "I wasn't certain what to expect. But everything went well." Even better, some of the guys got to spend an extra day in Vegas because the scheduled flight back to Orlando was delayed by Hurricane Frances.

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