Expectations were high for the Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan's first full season back from his 17-month retirement, and they became even higher just before training camp opened when the Bulls dealt workmanlike center Will Perdue to San Antonio for controversial Dennis Rodman, the league's best rebounder and a defensive force. If anyone could get Rodman to toe the line, the theory went, it would be the combination of the free-thinking Coach Phil Jackson on the bench and the strong-willed Michael Jordan on the court. And the idea of plugging a rebounder and defender like Rodman into the hole left by the departure of Horace Grant as a free agent a year earlier was attractive to Bulls management and fans alike.
For the most part, the union of Rodman and Bulls went smoothly-except when Rodman incurred a six-game suspension for head-butting a referee late in the season, raising the ire of his teammates. Otherwise, Rodman pretty much stuck to business on the court, winning his fifth straight rebounding title at 14.9 rpg and playing solid defense, both individually and within the Bulls' team concept. That proved to be all Chicago needed for a record-setting season, because Jordan had spent the offseason preparing to reestablish himself as the game's dominant force and lead the Bulls back to the summit. And if he had lost a half-step during his hiatus, he made up for it in the smarts gained over a decade of NBA competition. Showing increased range and accuracy with his jump shot, Jordan won his eighth scoring crown at 30.4 ppg and ranked third in the league in steals at 2.60 spg.
Also important to Chicago's success were the adjustments made by Scottie Pippen to Jordan's return, and Toni Kukoc to Rodman's arrival. Pippen, having tasted the individual glory of an All-Star Game MVP in 1994, settled comfortably into his role as the second star in the Second City and had a great all-around season, averaging 19.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg and a team-high 5.9 apg. And Kukoc, the Croatian star whose spot in the starting lineup was taken by Rodman, played well off the bench and as a fill-in starter, contributing 13.1 ppg. Ron Harper emerged as a defensive force at the guard spot alongside Jordan, and when three-point shooting was needed, Steve Kerr came in off the bench and shot .515 from behind the arc, second-best in the league. And Luc Longley did a solid job as the pick-setting, rebounding center, heading a group of pivotmen that also included Bill Wennington, John Salley and James Edwards.
The result was nothing short of spectacular. Winning 18 games in a row in one stretch, the Bulls became the first team in NBA history to win 70 games and finished at 72-10. They led the league in scoring at 105.2 ppg and were third in defense at 92.9 ppg for a spectacular +12.2 point differential. They lost only two home games all season, and they won more road games, 33, than any team in NBA history. In the playoffs they lost just one game en route to the NBA Finals, sweeping Miami, beating New York in five and sweeping an Orlando team weakened by an injury to Horace Grant. In the NBA Finals they raced to a 3-0 lead over the Seattle SuperSonics, dropped a pair of games in Seattle and then used their stifling defense to close out the series with an 87-75 win in Game 6.
The Bulls dominated the league's annual awards. Jordan captured the trifecta of regular season MVP, All-Star MVP and Finals MVP, joining Willis Reed (1970) as the only men to do so. Jordan and Pippen were voted to the All-NBA First Team, and Rodman joined them on the All-Defensive First Team. Kukoc won the Sixth Man Award, Jackson was voted Coach of the Year and GM Jerry Krause was named Executive of the Year.