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The History of the Chicago Bulls Team
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
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?
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.
|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|
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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.
|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|
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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.