This is a cartoon image of three NBA Championship Trophies. Below them are the words: The Bulls Second Threepeat.

The Bulls Second Threepeat: All You Need to Know!

The Bulls second threepeat was an amazing run. The Bulls first threepeat happened between 1991-1993.This post explores the  second threepeat between 1996-1998. 

After back-to-back playoff losses, including one without the legendary Michael Jordan, the Bulls entered the 1995-1996 season determined to reclaim their glory. This time, they faced the challenge of building a new “Big Three” with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and the controversial Dennis Rodman. 

During the historic 1995-1996 season, the Bulls etched their names in NBA history, setting a remarkable record of 72 regular season wins, a feat that stood for two decades. 

They went on that season to capture the first of their three straight NBA titles. 

Join us on this unforgettable journey as we delve into the Chicago Bulls’ second threepeat, their extraordinary accomplishments, and the challenges that ultimately led to the disintegration of one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

The Time Between Threepeats

At the start of the 1995-1996 season, the Bulls were coming off back-to-back playoff losses. The first loss was without Michael Jordan.

Jordan had retired after the Bulls first threepeat. He announced his retirement in October of 1993 and was playing baseball for a minor league White Sox team during the 1994 NBA playoffs. 

The Bulls still won 55 regular season games without Jordan but were knocked out of the playoffs by Patrick Ewing’s Knicks in round two. At that point, the Bulls still had Horace Grant to go along with Scottie Pippen. 

In the 1994-1995 season, Grant moved along to the Orlando Magic to serve as a mentor to a young Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. 

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The Bulls won fewer regular season games, 47, but got some incredible news late in the season: MJ returned to the team with 17 games remaining in the ‘94-’95 season. 

The Bulls got by Alonzo Mourning’s Hornets but then were beaten by Shaq and the Magic in round two. MJ was still rounding into playing shape, but the Bulls roster was still a bit short without Horace Grant as well. 

The following season is when the Bulls second threepeat began. 

The Forming of the Bulls New Big Three: Jordan, Pippen and Rodman

With the loss to Horace Grant and the Magic fresh in their memories, the Bulls knew they needed to add a third star to their roster. 

They turned to an unlikely hero: Dennis Rodman. The man known as the Worm had earned a new nickname in his two seasons in San Antonio: The Demolition Man.  

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Rodman earned the name the way you would think: he blew things up in San Antonio. After a bad first season where he kicked several opponents, things only got worse for Dennis the Menace in Texas.

During his second year Rodman was suspended for insubordination and then verbally attacked his coach in the media following a playoff loss to the Houston Rockets. It is no surprise the team was willing to move on from him. 

The Bulls were only too happy to take a risk on a player like Rodman. He had the defensive chops they needed in a power forward and could rebound like a fiend

The Bulls figured they had the leadership in Phil Jackson and MJ to handle a player who presented as many challenges as Rodman did. And they didn’t need scoring from the position because they had Jordan, Pippen and some other secondary scorers.

It seemed worth the risk to the Bulls: they were quite correct. Dennis Rodman, with all his troubles, fit in as the perfect third wheel in the Bulls second threepeat. 

1995-1996 Chicago Bulls def. Seattle Supersonics

Regular Season Record72-10
Head CoachPhil Jackson
Bulls StartersMichael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley and Ron Harper
Key Bench PlayersToni Kukoč, Steve Kerr

The chance the Bulls took on Dennis Rodman paid off handsomely. The 1995-1996 Bulls might well be the best team in NBA history. 

They set the record for most wins in an NBA season with 72. They held that record for twenty years until the 2016 Warriors eclipsed it by one game. 

The starting five was downright daunting: it is hard to imagine how anyone scored on this team. 

The team was absolutely loaded on defense. MJ and Pippen were two of the greatest wing defenders in the history of the game. 

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Dennis Rodman was a unique and versatile defensive force himself – he made the Hall of Fame despite only averaging 7 points per game!  The team also featured Ron Harper, a former All-Star who dedicated himself fully to shutting down opponents on a team that did not need his offense. 

The offense mostly took care of itself with Jordan leading the way in Phil Jackson’s triangle. Their starters were strong offensively. MJ by himself was probably enough to make that true. But both Harper and Pippen could fill it up when called on. 

The offense was bolstered by the bench: Toni Kukoc played starter minutes and was the team’s third leading scorer. Steve Kerr was the second player off the bench and he was a certified sniper. 

It all added up to incredible results. The team led the league in offensive rating, defensive rating and net rating. They were a total wagon! 

The playoffs provided more of the same results for one of the best teams in league history. The Bulls went 15-3 to start their second threepeat. 

MatchupBulls ResultGames
Bulls vs HeatWIN3-0
Bulls vs KnicksWIN4-1
Bulls vs MagicWIN4-0
Bulls vs SuperSonicsWIN4-2

In the first round of the playoffs, the team got by the Miami Heat starring Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. 

In round two, the Bulls suffered their only playoff loss before the Finals to Patrick Ewing, John Starks and the New York Knicks. 

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls were out for revenge from the prior year’s defeat at the hands of Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic. They got it by sweeping the Magic. 

In the NBA Finals, the Bulls faced an opponent I don’t immediately think of when I think of their second threepeat: the Seattle SuperSonics.

The Sonics were a really fun team starring the Reign Man Shawn Kemp and the Glove Gary Payton.  Even with two young stars, the Sonics were no match for this Bulls team. Winning two games was an accomplishment.

The Bulls took a 2-0 lead before the Sonics came back to tie the series up 2-2 by winning two straight at home. But the Bulls finished them in six, holding the Sonics to 90 or fewer points in five of the six games: it really was impossible to score on this Bulls team! 

1996-1997 Chicago Bulls def. Utah Jazz

Regular Season Record69-13
Head CoachPhil Jackson
Bulls StartersMichael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley and Ron Harper
Key Bench PlayersToni Kukoč, Steve Kerr, Bison Dele

In season two of the second Bulls threepeat, the team eased off the throttle ever so slightly in the regular season. They only won 69 regular season games in 1996-1997.

The roster stayed largely intact with no changes in the starting five and very few changes in players who substantially contributed to the team’s victory. 

The top seven players in minutes did not change for the Bulls: the starters plus Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr off the bench. The eighth player in minutes played was Jason Caffey, a future journeyman forward in his second season out of Alabama. 

Caffey only played 19 minutes a game. And his minutes were reduced in playoffs. Bison Dele picked up those minutes. He joined the Bulls late in the regular season and was the 8th man for the playoffs. 

Dele’s solid play for the Bulls in the playoffs earned him a big contract with the Pistons the following season. He was an atypical NBA player and, aftering disagreeing with the Pistons organization, retired at age 30 rather than be traded. 

Dele then sailed the South Pacific among other activities before dying tragicallly in a incident aboard his boat that involved his brother 

The regular season Bulls still finished first in offensive rating but slipped to fourth in defensive rating, likely due to the fact they had less to prove after winning a championship the prior year. 

In the playoffs, the 1997 Bulls lost only one more game than they had the prior year. 

MatchupBulls ResultGames
Bulls vs BulletsWIN3-0
Bulls vs HawksWIN4-1
Bulls vs HeatWIN4-1
Bulls vs JazzWIN4-2

The early rounds of the 1997 playoffs saw the Bulls slipping past a few young teams: the Bullets and the Hawks. The Bullets had a solid young trio of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland while the Hawks starred Dikembe Mutombo and Steve Smith.

The Eastern Conference Finals saw the Bulls cruising once again. In 1997 they got a rematch from their prior year’s matchup with the Miami Heat with the same result. The Heat had a tough team but only won a single game. They starred Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. 

The NBA Finals in 1997 featured a matchup between the Bulls and another team with multiple all-time greats. The Utah Jazz had one of the best duos in league history: Karl Malone and John Stockton. 

The series, unsurprisingly, was a great one. MJ hit a game-winner to take game 1. 

He also famously scored 38 points to help the Bulls win game 5 despite having the flu. The series was won not by Jordan but by future Hall of Fame coach Steve Kerr. 

The Bulls made it back-to-back with their first victory over Utah and the only question at that point was were they going to have a second threepeat.

1997-1998 Chicago Bulls def. Utah Jazz

The Bulls clinched their second threepeat with another win in the 1998 NBA Finals. 

Regular Season Record62-20
Head CoachPhil Jackson
Bulls StartersMichael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley and Ron Harper
Key Bench PlayersToni Kukoč, Steve Kerr, Scott Burrell

Much like the prior year, the Bulls eased up a bit more during the regular season in ‘97-’98. The team won “only” 62 games that year. 

The team dropped to 9th offensively and 3rd defensively in league regular season rankings. 

The roster was almost entirely unchanged from the prior year. Bison Dele signed with Detroit but, other than than, nothing really changed.

The top seven players in minutes played were identical with the starters being joined by Toni Kukoc, who played starting minutes and got plenty of starts himself, and Steve Kerr. 

In the regular season, the Bulls had a number of players like Bill Wenington and Dickey Simpkins who got some minutes but, in the playoffs, only Scott Burrell played more than ten minutes per game in addition to the core seven players who led the team throughout the second threepeat. 

The playoffs saw all new faces for the Bulls in the East but a rematch in the Finals. 

MatchupBulls ResultGames
Bulls vs NetsWIN3-0
Bulls vs HornetsWIN4-1
Bulls vs PacersWIN4-3
Bulls vs JazzWIN4-2

The early rounds saw the Bulls only losing one game. They swept a weak Nets team with Sherman Douglas and Kerry Kittles then got by the Hornets featuring Glen Rice and Vlade Divac.

The East Finals proved difficult for the Bulls in 1998. They were taken to seven games by an upstart Pacers team led by sharp-shooting Reggie Miller, future coach Mark Jackson and the Dunking Dutchman Rik Smits. 

The NBA Finals in 1998 were a rematch with the Utah Jazz. Like the year before, the Jazz pushed the Bulls to six games. This time, MJ ended it himself with one of the most iconic plays in his career: the shot (part 2). 

With their six game victory over the Jazz, the Chicago Bulls second threepeat was complete. 

After the Bulls Second Threepeat: the Bulls Break Up

The end of the Bulls dynasty after their second threepeat seems entirely avoidable in hindsight. Sure MJ was getting older at 34, but the team just came off three straight championships! 

It seems like it would have been a good idea to run it back, but that is not what happened.

For years, Bulls coach Phil Jackson had been battling with their general manager Jerry Krause. Krause, for some reason, was in a hurry to move players like Scottie Pippen before they lost their value across the league. 

That is just what he did after the 1998 title. The Bulls let Dennis Rodman leave through free agency, traded Pippen and let Jackson walk away. 

Those decisions led Jordan to call it quits and, before you could blink your eyes, the dynasty was over. 

Jordan returned several years later to play for the Wizards, but the magic was gone. The Bulls second threepeat was the end of an era for MJ and the Bulls franchise. 

See My Other Posts on Michael Jordan

  • I wrote about where MJ is from here.
  • I wrote about when MJ started playing basketball here.  
  • I wrote about the 1992 Dream Team here
  • I wrote about MJ’s crazy Finals record here.
  • I wrote about MJ’s prime here. 
  • I wrote about MJ’s playoff record in depth here. 
  • I wrote about MJ’s first championship here.
  • I wrote about the only two times MJ missed the playoffs here.
  • Featured Image Photo Credit: Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy icon.svg Xander89 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

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