When Michael Jordan came out of retirement in 1995, the Chicago Bulls were in a good, not great, position.
They had just won 47 games and lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals in six games. That year came on the heels of a 55-win season in 1993-94, when they also lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals, this time to the New York Knicks in seven games.
Horace Grant, who won three championships with the Bulls in the early 90s, departed for Orlando in 1994 after being named an All-Star in his final season in Chicago. That left a gaping hole at power forward as Will Perdue, Luc Longley, Bill Wennington and Corie Blount tried to fill it.
So the Bulls looked to upgrade the position during the offseason. And according to Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman was the last power forward on his wish list.
"We had to start over when Michael came back,” Jackson said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference yesterday. “We had to start with Toni (Kukoc), Scottie (Pippen) and MJ, and I wrote out a list of seven power forwards.”
At the top of his list was Derrick Coleman. The 6-foot-10 power forward had averaged 20.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists the year prior in New Jersey, but Jackson said "the mentality was not there. The skills were there, but he was in the middle of a long-term contract.” Coleman wound up signing with the 76ers, and the five other power forwards eventually signed elsewhere, leaving just one player (Rodman) available for the Bulls to sign.
“That was the best we could do,” Jackson joked.
The Bulls traded CSN Chicago's own Perdue and cash considerations to San Antonio in exchange for Rodman, hoping the volatile loose cannon would straighten out under Jordan's, Pippen's and Jackson's tutelage.
The rest is truly history. Rodman led the NBA in rebounding all three years he played in Chicago, averaging 15.3 boards in 177 career games. In 58 career playoff games in Chicago, he averaged 11.3 rebounds and, of course, helped the Bulls win three championships.
So as the Bulls go after free agents this offseason, just remember not to get your hopes up if they miss on their first target. Or their sixth. The seventh just might be the key piece to bringing an NBA championship back to the Windy City.