1996 NBA champions Chicago Bulls had quite a season to remember in 1995-96. On their way to the fourth title, they set the NBA all-time record with a 72-10 record; they finished 1st in the Central Division while scoring a league-leading 105.2 points per game.
When it comes to individual accolades, Toni Kukoč was voted as the NBA Sixth Man of the Year while Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen earned yet another selection to the 1st All-NBA team. NBA’s Batman & Robin also joined Dennis Rodman on the 1st All-defensive team, while also earning another All-star berth.
There is a series of factors which contributed to the tremendous overall Bulls success during that unforgettable year – Michael Jordan had a great comeback season which renewed Phil Jackson’s passion for coaching, Scottie Pippen was relieved from the team leader’s role, Dennis Rodman made a significant contribution on the defensive end, and Toni Kukoč provided excellent support from the bench.
But maybe the most overlooked aspect of the team’s success in the 1995-96 season is the overall impact of the players who were once the cornerstones of the Bulls’ the late 1980s and 1990s Central Division rivals – Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. That season the Bulls had as many as five such players!
Once considered jordanesque himself, Harper was an ideal fit for Jordan in the backcourt. While providing the Bulls starting five with size, he would usually guard opponents’ best scorer at the guard positions, thus freeing Jordan to concentrate on what he did best fully – play offense and score.
Harper split minutes at the nominal point guard position (the Bulls didn’t need it because of the triangle-offense) with another converted shooting guard, three-point specialist Steve Kerr.
The two were teammates on the 1989-90 Cleveland Cavaliers squad, which, like the Chicago Bulls, encountered many fierce battles with the 1989 and 1990 NBA champions – Detroit Pistons.
At first, the ‘Bad Boys’ had only one representative in the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls squad – it was the league’s leading rebounder ever since 1991-92 Dennis Rodman, who got sick of coach Lucas’ request to cover up for David Robinson‘s defense in the San Antonio Spurs. The Worm was traded to Chicago in exchange for the center Will Perdue on October 2nd, 1995.
After the initial shock with the trade all around the globe, longtime Bull’s foe Dennis Rodman was fully accepted by his new teammates. After that, the Bulls GM Jerry Krause decided to go even further.
Knowing that the Portland Trail Blazers had just released longtime Detroit Pistons center James Buddha Edwards, Krause immediately took action and signed Edwards on October 26th, 1995.
Similar to this move, knowing that the Toronto Raptors had released the 6’11’ forward/center John Salley, Krause signed him to two 10-day contracts and then on March 24th, 1996 as a free-agent.
While appearing together in only eight regular-season and six postseason games, the three ex-Pistons anchors provided the Bulls with additional size and bulk. But, even more importantly, they armed the raging contender with the additional dose of postseason experience, with a touch of ‘Bad Boys’ invincibility!
Then came the 1996 NBA play-offs. The Bulls, on a mission of revenge for the two previous years early exits, literally stormed through a tough group of the Eastern Conference contenders, sweeping Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, and giving up only one game to the New York Knicks!
It was supposed to be a war, but this time it was all Bulls domination. In the Finals, the Bulls beat the Seattle Supersonics 4-2 and won their fourth NBA championship title.
While for 40-year old Edwards that season was his last, Salley formally stayed with the Bulls until January 21st, 1999, the same day when he and Dennis Rodman were released. After winning the championship title with 1997-98 Bulls, Steve Kerr joined San Antonio Spurs.
Harper went through all the struggles with 1998-99 Bulls (13-37), before re-joining head coach Phil Jackson in Los Angeles Lakers. In the LaLa Land, Harper served as a mentor to a young Kobe Bryant while making a huge contribution as a starting point guard for the 2000 and 2001 NBA champions.