This is an addition to a previous installment (v0.2: Bulls After MJ). It was inspired by a comment below it left by a reader, James.
Sir James had this to say:
“The only thing I will say about the Jordan Postretirement season is look at who the Bulls added when Jordan left. Chicago added Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington, and Steve Kerr while retaining their Championship team. When Lebron left, multiple players left and/or were injured. Cavs lost Big Z, Shaq, and Delonte West. They added Baron Davis but he only played 15 games. When Hickson and Jamison are your best players, you’re not going back to the ECF. I like Lebron, but I hate when people use this ‘fact’ out of it’s proper context to assess the value and contribution of Lebron when he left the Cavs vs Jordan leaving the Bulls.”
I responded to James in the comments section and touched on a few different things, but afterwards I realized that I probably didn’t stress the 2nd most salient point enough. So I have turned that thought into this rambling post.
(The 1st most salient point was the rise of Scottie Pippen from Robin to a legitimate Batman)
The 2nd most important point:
In 1993-94, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong were all selected as All-Stars.
Armstrong and Pippen were selected as starters.
Now, it is fair to argue that B.J. Armstrong was only an outlet for sentimental votes intended for Michael Jordan. That might be the case, of course – Armstrong was the leading vote getter for all guards in 1993-94, and came in 3rd overall, but he wasn’t in the top 10 the year before, the year after, or any other year.
Nevertheless, the Bulls still had Pippen and Grant as All-Star selections. And Pippen, of course, turned into a major MVP and DPOY candidate, finishing 3rd and 4th for those awards.
Even if Cleveland kept Shaq, Big Z and all of the other players from 2009-10 besides LeBron, the Cavaliers still had no chance in hell of:
- Sending even ONE player to the All-Star game, let alone two or three
- Getting anywhere near the Eastern Conference Finals again
The Bulls were able to keep winning after MJ because they still had star ability on the team besides MJ. LeBron’s Cavs did not.
The Bulls did not reach the desperate level of the 2010-11 Cavaliers until 1998-99 – after the entire championship regime disbanded.
In other words, Chicago needed to dump Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Jackson in order to approximate the effect of LeBron James leaving Cleveland.
Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim made a good point about this in 2012 after the Olympics:
“But what I think people miss the boat on – [LeBron] took Cleveland to the Finals. And when he left they finished last didn’t they? That means he elevated them what? 28 places? To me, that’s more of an achievement than taking a really good team like the Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal… [pause]… if Kobe Bryant didn’t play on the Lakers they would’ve finished in the top 5, right? Well, they won the championship, so Kobe elevated them 4 or 5 places.”
Apparently that also applied to Jordan, Pippen and the Chicago Bulls from 1993 to 1994.
Jordan elevated that team about 5 or 6 places.
It’s interesting to recall that in 1993 the top 2 overall vote getters for the All-Star game was Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Top 5 All-Star Voting, 1992-93:
Yes, Pippen was a star player. Yes, people are still sleeping on the true importance of him.
The fable of MJ requires Pippen to be torn down in order to build the infallibility of Air Jordan up. It’s unfair to Scottie, but perhaps it was inevitable playing next to the Babe Ruth of basketball.