Derrick Rose’s Bulls remind Scottie Pippen of '89-90 team

Roughly forty percent through the 2010-11 regular season, Derrick Rose’s Bulls are on a similar pace as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s Bulls were 20 years ago—but what does it mean?

Jackson and the Bulls
“Phil always did a great job with our structure and keeping us focused,” said Pippen of Jackson. “Not to take anything away from Phil, but from a basketball standpoint, we were ready to win a championship. Doug Collins, who was fired two seasons before, had us on pace to win a championship. We just weren’t ready. Horace [Grant] and I were only in our second years. We were not at a level mentally or physically to beat the Pistons. Getting to that point doesn’t happen overnight and you have to take your lumps.”
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

By Adam Fluck | 01.06.2011

Through 33 games, the 2010-11 Chicago Bulls had an identical record to the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls, 23-10. The latter team, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, went on to win the franchise’s first world title 20 years ago.

The anniversary is being celebrated throughout this season, so naturally, the timing is right to make room for a seventh championship banner and reserve Grant Park. Probably, but the statistic is an interesting one.

Clearly, the 2010-11 Bulls are not at the level of the 1990-91 Bulls. The 1990-91 Bulls were led by two members of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and consisted of a group whose core had been together for multiple seasons, gradually rising to a championship level.

Rose and Paxson
Rose's numbers have improved in each of his three professional seasons, and this year, he’s added a three-point shot to his arsenal.

They dominated on both ends of the floor, setting the team record for most points scored in a regulation game with a 155-127 win over Phoenix, then ten days later holding Cleveland to just five first-quarter points. Perhaps their most impressive accomplishment was finishing 15-2 in the postseason. Besides falling to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Chicago’s Game 1 loss to Los Angeles in the NBA Finals was their only other defeat.

But Pippen believes this year’s team could be headed in that direction, referencing the season one year before Chicago claimed its first world championship.

“This year’s Bulls remind me of our 1989-90 team,” said Pippen. “That season, we were good enough to win and we felt like we could win, but we fell short. It wasn’t quite our time. But we took the Pistons to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals and that was an accomplishment in itself. It took us awhile to figure them out. Once we did, it was a huge confidence builder that ultimately resulted in a championship.”

Getting past Detroit was monumental for the Bulls. It signified the passing of the torch, whether the Pistons wanted to admit it or not. Taking everything from the prior few seasons and applying it to 1990-91, Pippen said the familiarity amongst the team’s core was one of the team’s biggest assets.

“We knew at the time we were on pace to win a championship,” recalled Pippen. “We had played against the Pistons, who were two-time defending champions and the team that had kept knocking us out. They were the obstacle that we had to overcome, but we’ve yet to indentify who is the nemesis of this year’s Bulls. There are probably a few teams who are between them and a championship right now.”

As for this season’s Bulls, they have been without two of their top three players for virtually the entire year, yet they manage to keep winning with superstar performances from Derrick Rose and gritty defensive efforts that have become increasingly reliable.

Rose rhetorically asked at the team’s media day, “Why can’t I be MVP?” Most people heard it and appreciated the sentiment, but now his claim is taken quite seriously. At the rate the Bulls are playing, they may soon be asking themselves why they can’t be legitimate contenders in the NBA.

"[The Pistons] were the obstacle that we had to overcome, but we’ve yet to indentify who is the nemesis of this year’s Bulls," said Pippen. "There are probably a few teams who are between them and a championship right now.”
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

“Individuals need to continue to develop and mature as players,” said Pippen as to how that might happen. “Derrick has played at an MVP level, and he’s got to keep that up for the Bulls to be a championship contending team. But it is going to take more than that. You need Carlos [Boozer] to dominate the inside. Once Joakim [Noah] is back, he needs to re-establish himself and show he’s one of the best rebounders and defenders in the game while also contributing offensively. Luol [Deng] has been playing like an All-Star and that has to continue.”

As Pippen well knows, it’s a state of mind that has to be acquired and a process that must take place before a team can elevate to a championship contender. But he believes the pieces are in place and those steps are being taken.

“Before a championship can become a reality for the Bulls again, they need to do these things night in and night out,” said Pippen. “If they aren’t competing at a high level and winning, then a championship isn’t even going to be on their minds. Right now, it’s still very early in the season and it’s too hard to know how things will pan out. As the Bulls know, injuries come into play which can knock some teams down while allowing others to move up. That’s the thing about the game—it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.”

More on the 20th anniversary of the Bulls’ first NBA championship

On March 12, the Bulls will welcome back former players and coaches from the 1990-91 season for a recognition ceremony during halftime of the Bulls/Jazz game. Jordan, Pippen, John Paxson and Stacey King are among those scheduled to attend and participate in the celebration.

In addition, this year’s team is wearing a special 20th anniversary logo patch on the upper right hand corner of the players’ uniforms and on the left sleeve of their warm-ups and shooting shirts.

The 1990-91 team finished with a regular season record of 61-21 and won the NBA Championship on June 12, 1991 by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals.