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The History of the Chicago Bulls Team

By Jennifer Hassan in NBA
| November 30, 2020 2:35 am PDT
Chicago Bulls History

There was an entire generation of young people in the eighties and nineties who thought the Bulls were basketball, and basketball was the Bulls. In the 1990s, the team won the NBA title an astonishing six times (and there are teams in the NBA who have never even made it to the NBA finals).

The Bulls were rarely out of the headlines in Sports Illustrated and on ESPN and other sports networks.

Let’s take a look at how the team got started in the NBA.

Bulls History Overview

1960'a unrest in the United States

It was the mid-1960s, and America was feeling the pinches, tugs, and discomfort of leaving the war memories behind and entering the modern era, an era in which families could own an automobile, and possibly even a television.

Schools were struggling to become integrated, cities were dealing with shifts in racial and economic changes in the status quo, and everyone felt restless.

Enter the Bulls.

Who Founded the Bulls?

Chicago had a professional basketball team back in the late 1940s called the Stags. That team folded in 1950, and the Windy City went without a pro team until the Chicago Packers played in town in 1961, lasting in the area until they moved away in 1960.

So much hope in Chicago for a professional basketball team, and so much disappointment.

Then Chicago won an NBA expansion team in 1966, a team which would go on to dominate the league and capture the imagination of sports fans the world over.

Dick Klein, a local businessman and former pro ball player with the Chicago American Gears, was the person responsible for winning the Bulls for Chicago.

Klein convinced the NBA that Chicago was ripe for another try at hosting a team. He said that the post-war, baby boom generation was going to keep the team profitable and popular. Families were moving to urban environments from small towns, and an exhausted populace needed entertainment.

He could not have known just how successful the team would become. The Bulls are currently valued at more than $3 billion.

When Did the Chicago Bulls Join the NBA?

Workers in Meat Packing Factory

As noted above, the Bulls franchise was granted to Chicago in 1966 by the NBA.

Therefore, the Bulls have never existed independently of the NBA.

As to why the team was named “the Bulls,” rumor has it that was to honor Chicago’s meatpacking industry, which employed many of the city’s workers.

Perhaps not the most glamorous of origins for a sports team’s name, but pertinent to the people of the city.

Bulls NBA Playoff History

From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, this is the team that dominated the playoff season. They had a solid run in the sixties and seventies, as well; but it is the later streak that gave the Bulls their reputation of total domination.

Of course, it will come as a surprise to no one that the Bulls’ prowess through the eighties and nineties coincided with the presence of Michael Jordan on the roster.

Season Result
1966 – 1967 Lost to Hawks in conference semi-finals, 3 – 0
1967 – 1968 Lost to Lakers in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1
1969 – 1970 Lost to Hawks in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1
1970 – 1971 Lost to Lakers in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
1971 – 1972 Lost to Lakers in conference semi-finals, 4 – 0
1972 – 1973 Lost to Lakers in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
1973 – 1974 Lost to Bucks in conference finals, 4 – 0
1974 – 1975 Lost to Warriors in conference finals, 4 – 3
1976 – 1977 Lost to Trail Blazers in opening round, 2 – 1
1980 – 1981 Lost to Celtics in conference semi-finals, 4 – 0
1984 – 1985 Lost to Bucks in opening round, 3 – 1
1985 – 1986 Lost to Celtics in opening round, 3 – 0
1986 – 1987 Lost to Celtics in opening round, 3 – 0
1987 – 1988 Lost to Pistons in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1
1988 – 1989 Lost to Pistons in conference finals, 4 – 2
1989 – 1990 Lost to Pistons in conference finals, 4 – 3
1990 – 1991 Defeated Lakers in NBA finals, 4 – 1
1991 – 1992 Defeated Trail Blazers in NBA finals, 4 – 2
1992 – 1993 Defeated Suns in NBA finals, 4 – 2
1993 – 1994 Lost to Knicks in conference semi-finals, 4 – 3
1994 – 1995 Lost to Magic in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
1995 – 1996 Defeated SuperSonics in NBA finals, 4 – 2
1996 – 1997 Defeated Jas in NBA finals, 4 – 2
1997 – 1998 Defeated Jazz in NBA finals, 4 – 2
2004 – 2005 Lost to Wizards in opening round, 4 – 2
2005 – 2006 Lost to Heat in opening round, 4 – 2
2006 – 2007 Lost to Pistons in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
2008 – 2009 Lost to Celtics in opening round, 4 – 3
2009 – 2010 Lost to Cavaliers in opening round, 4 – 1
2010 – 2011 Lost to heat in conference finals, 4 – 1
2011 – 2012 Lost to Sixers in opening round, 4 – 2
2012 – 2013 Lost to Heat in conference semi-finals, 4 – 1
2013 – 2014 Lost to Wizards in opening round, 4 – 1
2014 – 2015 Lost to Cavaliers in conference semi-finals, 4 – 2
2016 – 2017 Lost to Celtics in opening round, 4 – 2


Chicago Bulls Head Coach History

The Bulls have gone through a significant amount of coaching drama. There were coaches who were dismissive of players, coaches who couldn’t get along with other staff, and the release of players that were necessary to the team (I’m thinking of the loss of Bobby Wilkerson in 1981 as he entered free agency, and the Bulls neglected to jump on him with a stellar offer.)

But as their playoff records show, the team managed to bounce back from these kerfuffles and personality clashes. And let’s be honest; if you have dozens of men on a roster, and dozens of staff members, contradicting medical and training advice, and constant financial issues, there will be tension.

Fun fact: You will note that the team had two coaches with very similar names: Jim Boylan coached the Bulls from 2007-2008, and Jim Boylen coached from 2018-2020.

Tenure Coach Prior Experience
1966 – 1968 John “Red” Kerr Bucks coach
1968 – 1976 Dick Motta Weber State Univ. coach
1976 – 1978 Ed Badger Wilbur Wright College coach
1978 – 1979 Larry Costello Bucks coach
1979 R. “Scotty” Robertson Jazz coach
1979 – 1982 Jerry Sloan player, Bullets
1982 Phil Johnson Weber State Univ. coach
1982 Rodney Thorn Spirits of St. Louis coach
1982 – 1983 Paul Westhead Lakers coach
1983 – 1985 Kevin Loughery Hawks coach
1985 – 1986 Stan Albeck Nets coach
1986 – 1989 Doug Collins player, 76ers
1989 – 1998 Phil Jackson Nets asst. coach
1998 – 2001 Tim Floyd Iowa State coach
2001 Bill Berry Kings scout
2001 – 2003 Bill Cartwright player, SuperSonics
2003 Pete Myers player, Knicks
2003 – 2007 Scott Skiles Suns coach
2007 Pete Myers see above
2007 – 2008 Jim Boylan Suns asst. coach
2008 – 2010 Vinny Del Negro player, Suns
2010 – 2015 Tom Thibodeau 76ers asst. coach
2015 – 2018 Fred Hoiberg Iowa State coach
2018 – 2020 Jim Boylen Pacers asst. coach
2020 – present Billy Donovan Thunder coach


The Bulls Could Have Had Magic!

Magic Johnson was the number one draft pick back in 1979. The Bulls participated in a coin toss to see if they could snag this future legend. Unfortunately, the Bulls lost the toss, and Magic ended up playing with the Lakers instead.

Like the town of Show Low, Arizona, which was won in a poker game, it is amazing how many big life decisions hinge on a coin, or a card.

Michael Jordan, who played with the Bulls from 1984 through 1998 (taking 1994 off), is considered the best player in franchise history. Imagine if Jordan and Magic had been on the Bulls roster at the same time! Would the prima donnas have clashed, or would we have witnessed a sports synergy that could have changed the game forever?

We will never know, and all because of a quarter.

A Final Word

After their dominance in the nineties, the team dropped back to “decent” status in the 2000s. Yes, they have made the playoffs in the past two decades, but they’ve only gone to the conference finals once, more frequently getting knocked out of the opening round.

The Bulls—and every other team in the NBA—is desperately searching for its next superstar, the next player that will set fire to the players already on the roster, elevating Chicago’s game, and reminding the world what the Bulls were like just a few years ago.

These are exciting times for Bulls fans. What will the future hold? Can we get back to Number One? Should I be dry cleaning my jerseys and foam fingers in anticipation of a victorious winning streak?

Only Father Time knows the answer to these questions, and he doles out his answers one day at a time.



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