What happened to the Bulls After 1998?
Phil Jackson Being Forced Out
After wrapping up the 1997-1998 NBA Championship against the Utah Jazz in six quick games, the Chicago Bulls were on top of the world. This victory marked their sixth NBA Championship trophy and second three-peat in eight years—something no other team has managed to beat so far. This profound winning streak was led by none other than Phil Jackson, Head Coach of the Bulls since 1989.
However, as Jackson became more successful, racking up more and more NBA Championships for his team, General Manager of the Bulls, Jerry Krause, begun to resent his success. While Jackson dominated the headlines, Krause plotted his downfall. This behind-closed-doors battle ended with a simple ultimatum—Jackson was ordered by Krause to leave the Chicago Bulls after the 1997-98 season, regardless of team’s final result. His departure at the end of the season sent shockwaves through the Bulls.
Losing the GOAT: Michael Jordan
Unsurprisingly, losing one of the greatest players of the current generation can be hugely damaging to a team’s mental state and ability to win games. Off the back of ESPN’s The Last Dance, Jordan clearly expressed his regrets of not trying for a 7th title, saying, “It's maddening because I felt like we could have won seven. I really believe that. We may not have, but man, just to not be able to try, that's something that I just can't accept for whatever reason. I just can't accept it."
But why did Jordan leave the Bulls? It’s simple, no Phil Jackson meant no Michael Jordan. MJ openly admitted on many occasions that he would not play for the Bulls again under any other coach apart from Jackson. That original falling domino of Jackson’s exodus led by Krause caused more and more pieces to fall, ultimately losing Jordan and the rest of the legendary Bulls team.
What Happened To the Rest of the Bulls Dynasty?
While the loss of Jordan was immensely impactful to the team, the disbandment of Pippen, Kerr, Rodman, Harper, Longley and the rest was equally as devastating. The dynasty was no more, and the once unstoppable dream team faded away. Many of the alumni players have had mixed results over the years, more often than not unable to find the same success than when they were with the Bulls:
- Scottie Pippen: After years of battling Bulls management for equal pay, Pippen finally got his just desserts, landing maxed contracts with the Houston Rockets in 1998 before switching to the Portland Trailblazers in 1999. In his final years before retirement Pippen returned to the Bulls in 2003 for a final victory lap.
- Steve Kerr: It’s no secret that Kerr saw the most success once leaving the Bulls for the San Antonio Spurs the following year. He managed to scoop up his fourth straight NBA Championship and first with the Spurs in 1998. In the following years, Kerr spent some time at the Portland Trailblazers before returning to the Spurs for another NBA Championship victory in 2003.
- Dennis Rodman: The wild child of the Bulls, Rodman played briefly for the L.A. Lakers in 1998 before switching to the Dallas Mavericks in 1999. While his antics were tolerated by Phil Jackson, he irked his new teams and found an early retirement in 2000.
- Luc Longley: The giant from down under, our own Luc Longley moved to Phoenix Suns in 1998 and then again to the New York Knicks in 2000 before retiring due to injuries.
- Toni Kukoc: Unable to lead the Bulls after the core group departed, Kukoc spent another two seasons with the team. Ultimately Kukoc left Chicago for bigger and better things, playing alongside the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks before his retirement in 2006.
- Ron Harper: Quickly leaving the Bulls after the atrocious 1999 season, Harper followed ex-coach Phil Jackson to the L.A. Lakers for another two seasons in 2000 and 2001.
- Bill Wennington: Wrapping up his NBA career with the Bulls in the 1998-99 season, Wennington moved to the Sacramento Kings before calling it quits in 2000. However, Wennington returned as a colour commentator for the Bulls in recent years.
- Randy Brown: Brown was another key holdover from the unstoppable dynasty, finding another two seasons with the Bulls. However, after his 1999-2000 season, Brown moved between the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns before retiring in 2003.
- Jud Buechler: Shifting between the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic as a reserve in the coming years, Buechler finished in 2002.
What Happened To the Bulls After 1998?
With the key players of the previous championship-winning season now retired, traded or leaving as free agents, Jerry Krause finally had his dream of a post-Jordan blank slate to build a new Bulls team from the ground up. While Krause imagined this would be a difficult, yet doable process, only the former proved true.
With a focus on new talent rather than aging star players, the new strategy meant the Bulls were destined to struggle for years to come. To make matters worse, the 1998-99 season started as a lockout due to issues passing the pre-season collective bargaining agreement for players and teams. The new 50-game season only stoked the fires happening in Bulls headquarters as they struggled to recruit new talent.
For years to come beyond the Bulls’ apex 1997-1998 season, fans and players alike pointed the finger at management (namely Krause) for the team’s extremely underwhelming performance. Under new head coach Tim Floyd’s guidance, the Bulls finished the 1999 lockout season with 13 wins and 37 losses—quite a stark difference compared to the previous year’s 62-20 and a championship with Phil Jackson. Fans were understandably angry and viewership for any Bulls’ games dropped over the following years.
Only when the Bulls recruited Derrick Rose in 2008 did they begin to see success. They managed to battle their way into the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, before ultimately being defeated by the Miami Heat led by LeBron James. Since then, the Bulls have continued to struggle in the shadows of the NBA.
While it’s not necessarily fair to blame one person for the downfall of a dynasty, many factors contributed to the changing of the guard. We’ll never know if Jordan, Pippen, Kerr, Rodman and the rest could have pulled off a magical seventh win. Maybe they could have, maybe not. We like to think they would if given the opportunity back in the day.
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