Michael Jordan’s six championship Bulls teams, ranked

With the final episodes of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” set to air Sunday evening, it probably is not offering any spoilers to remember the Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships with Michael Jordan as their superstar during the 1990s.

Which one of those teams, though, was the best?

Which was the least?

Sporting News decided to rank the relative strength of those six NBA titlists, whose banners still hang proudly at the United Center and whose memory has inspired one of the highest-rated sports documentaries ever to air on U.S. television.

Since Jordan played for all of them — and played great for all of them — deciding among the six teams is not so easy:

1. 1995-96

The stats

What made them great

There was a moment a few years back when it appeared this team’s supremacy would be usurped, but the 73-win Golden State Warriors lost the 2016 NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. So this group of Bulls stands as not only the best Bulls team of the Jordan era but the greatest team of all time.

They won 86.7 percent of all games they played, a ridiculous percentage that places them among the most dominant teams in any major U.S. pro sport. This was the fourth Bulls championship, earned in the first full season after Michael Jordan returned from his mid-90s “retirement.” They had winning streaks of 13 and 18 games and only once lost consecutive games, to the Nuggets and Suns on an early February trip West.

They won 14 of their first 15 games in the playoffs, and the loss to the Knicks came in overtime. Of the 15 postseason victories necessary to claim the NBA title, 10 came by double-digit margins.

2. 1996-97

The stats

What made them great

Although there is no question the 1996 team was superior, coming back a year later and nearly matching that performance might was, at its essence, even more impressive. Jordan and Pippen ranked among the top 20 in the league in minutes, even though each already had four championship rings. Toni Kukoc’s versatility off the bench continued to escalate. He ranked third on the team in shots and scoring and second in assists, behind Pippen. They opened the season with a 12-game winning streak, an amazing feat given this was a team that knew very well the championship was not going to be won in November.

3. 1991-92

The stats

What made them great

This was the year of Jordan’s famous shrug, a gesture during Game 1 of the Finals series with the Blazers that underscored not only a moment, but an era. It was an acknowledgment that, indeed, even he could not believe he’d gotten so good. He earned 80 of a possible 96 first-place votes for MVP, 93.8 percent of a perfect score.

Cartwright missed 18 games because of injury but was back for a strong run in the playoffs, when he averaged 28 minutes, including a challenging matchup with Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing in which Ewing shot 8-of-19 from the field in the decisive game.

4. 1990-91

The stats

What made them great

This was not a strong year for the NBA overall, still absorbing the expansion by four teams in the previous three years. Detroit’s Bad Boys were showing wear and won only 50 games. The team with the best record in the league, the Trail Blazers, proved not ready for the spotlight and fell easily to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

The Bulls had to surmount mental hurdles to at last win a championship with Jordan on their side. Most notable among those was getting past the Pistons, but they also had to conquer a Lakers team accustomed to winning titles (but not used to doing it without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). John Paxson’s 44 percent shooting from 3-poit range and Horace Grant’s growth into a 34-minute player were essential to the breakthrough.

5. 1997-98

The stats

What made them great

The injury that kept Pippen out at the beginning of “The Last Dance” season led to him starting only 44 games to Kukoc’s 52. By the time they Bulls were back to the playoffs, they were again using the rotation similar to what worked so beautifully the previous two years, albeit with Kukoc frequently filling Rodman’s spot as a starter.

Even with Pippen missing for so long, the controversy regarding the declaration by Bulls management that Jackson would not return the following season and the distraction of Jordan constantly being asked about his future plans, the team still managed to tie the Jazz for best record in the league. It was another example of Jordan and the Bulls demonstrating that when it would be easy to relax – explicable, even – they still discovered the motivation to push through toward greatness.

There never was a “Super Bowl hangover” with Jordan’s Bulls. Their Finals series against Utah was the most competitive of the six title teams; five of the six games were decided by two or fewer possessions. The title was won on a Jordan step-back jumper that has become among the most iconic shots in the game’s history.

6. 1992-93

The stats

What made them great

This was the only Bulls title team that didn’t reach the 60-win plateau, with the offense fading and more reliant on Jordan than at any point during the team’s championship run. Cartwright needed more help from Scott Williams to man the middle. They essentially split time at the center spot, and together they produced a double-figure rebound average.

There was a shaky moment in the conference finals against the blossoming Knicks, who rode the tough-guy front line Ewing, Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley to 60 victories and the No. 1 seed in the East. The Bulls lost the first two games of the series at Madison Square Garden, then blew out the Knicks in the next two games to remind them what they were facing in challenging this dynasty.

The closest the Bulls came to losing a championship arrived then, with each having won two games and the Bulls ahead by a point with 20 seconds remaining. Forward Charles Smith got the ball inside and had four attempts to make a game-winning layup, but all were challenged and/or blocked by Bulls defenders. That was it for the Knicks. No one ever came so close again to eliminating a full-strength Jordan/Bulls team.

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