Had the last month of the 95/96 season played out differently, the Bulls record for most regular-season wins might’ve proven to be an unattainable threshold for the 15/16 Golden State Warriors. Instead, the Bulls closed out the season going 12-3 in what was their worst 15-game stretch of an otherwise historic NBA year.
Don’t get me wrong, those three losses don’t make their run any less historic, the same way the Warriors being the new record holders doesn’t diminish how high the Bulls set the bar in 96. But flip any of those three losses into wins and the bar might’ve been too high for anyone to reach – Golden State included. And while this belongs to the NBA’s alternate history edition, the best part is history doesn’t have to be too alternated for it to work, since Chicago lost all of the three games by an average margin of one point.
The first one came on March 24, when the Bulls lost to the Toronto Raptors 109-108. This one was hard to swallow since Steve Kerr’s open-three miss was followed by Michael Jordan’s “game-winning” fadeaway jumper seconds after the final buzzer had sounded. MJ finished the game with 36, Toni Kukoč added 23 and Kerr had 17 off the bench but failed to deliver when the game was on the line. The Raptors were led by Damon Stoudamire’s 30 point-outing for their 15th win of the season.
Two weeks later, after winning six straight, the Bulls fell to the Hornets 98-97. And no, this one wasn’t on Michael’s miraculous shot after the buzzer. This was on the inability of the entire Bulls unit – Steve Kerr excluded – to tip the ball in after Kukoč’s spin layup miss with around 5 seconds left on the clock. Michael couldn’t do it, Pippen couldn’t do it, Rodman couldn’t do it, and Chicago lost their 9th game of the season, despite MJ’s 40-point performance.
After losing to the Hornets, the Bulls went on another six-game winning streak before falling to the Pacers for the second time of the season. This was also Chicago’s second home loss of the year, and it came in the penultimate game of the year. The way it happened some would describe as controversial, as Indiana’s game-winning free throw came after a questionable foul-call on MJ with 0.5 left on the game clock. Six Pacers scored in double figures, as they beat the Bulls 100-99 handing them their 10th and final loss in what was at the time a record-breaking NBA campaign.
And while the record was broken by the Dubs, that doesn’t take away from how historically great the 95/96 season was for the Bulls. But think about it; they were two seconds, one tip-in, and one foul-call away from perhaps still being called the record holders. You can’t help but wonder…