The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, greatly enhanced by Michael Jordan’s return after a two-year hiatus, won an NBA record 72 games en route to three consecutive titles.
The Golden State Warriors, led by the incomparable Steph Curry, have tied Chicago’s mark and can break it Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzles in the regular-season finale.
There have been endless debates about which team would prevail in a championship series, which is kind of silly considering that the rules and style of play are drastically different today compared with the mid-’90s. However, that doesn’t stop us from thinking about that storied Bulls team. Here’s how some key members were back then and what they’re up to now:
Then: The ’95-96 season was Michael Jordan’s first full campaign after giving baseball a try, the first time we ever saw him fail. But when he returned to the hardwood, it was as if he’d never left. His Airness led the league in scoring, field goals and field goals attempted; he also won NBA, NBA Finals and NBA All-Star MVP honors.
Now: Jordan is principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets and pitches Hanes underwear, not to mention his ubiquitous Air Jordan brand, all of which contributes to his status as a billionaire.
Then: Quite possibly the best wingman in history, Scottie Pippen was Robin to Jordan’s Batman. He was a do-everything player—leading the team in assists while finishing second in scoring and third in rebounding—who carved his own niche as a member of the NBA’s official 50 Greatest Players team.
Now: Pippen works as a special adviser to Bulls President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Reinsdorf. He has made headlines for financial troubles and a physical altercation with a fan who gave unwanted attention to Pippen’s wife, a former reality-TV star.
Then: Extensively tattooed with multiple piercings, “the Worm” seemed better-suited as a WWE wrestler or carnival act. But he was voracious and relentless at rebounding, displaying a knack for gathering caroms despite standing only 6 feet 7. Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounding in ’95-’96, one of seven consecutive titles.
Now: Other than befriending North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and taking a stab at unconventional diplomacy, Rodman has been relatively quiet of late. He has spared us from seeing more pictures of him wearing makeup and a wedding dress.
Then: The “Croatian Sensation” was a popular whipping boy when he came to Chicago just as Jordan went off to play baseball. But by 1996, when he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, Toni Kukoc had proved himself to be a skilled, multifaceted big man … unless you count defense.
Now: A compulsive golfer, Kukoc won Croatia’s national amateur championship in 2011. He has plenty of time to play, thanks to his cushy job as a special adviser to the Bulls’ Michael Reinsdorf.
Then: Filling the role previously played by John Paxson, Steve Kerr was the sharp-shooting 3-point specialist off the bench. He led the league in 3-point shooting percentage in 1995 but finished second in 1996 and 1997. Kerr went on to hit the winning shot in the 1997 NBA Finals.
Now: In his second season as Golden State’s coach, Kerr already has one NBA championship ring and is eyeing another. He’s already made history as the only man to play for a 70-game winner and coach a 70-game winner.
Then: When Ron Harper entered the NBA in 1986, some observers considered him to be a poor man’s Jordan, another explosive shooting guard who played above the rim. But he suffered a serious knee injury and came to Chicago as a defense-oriented, ball-handling utility player, a natural complement to Jordan. Harper started all 80 games he played in 1996, averaging 7.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Now: He enjoys retirement as one of the few players to win back-to-back championships with two different teams (Jordan’s Bulls and Shaq-Kobe’s Lakers).
Then: A hoops pioneer, Luc Longley was the seventh pick in the 1991 draft, making him the NBA’s first Australian player. He came to Chicago when Jordan left for baseball but was the Bulls’ starting center during their 72-10 season. He never put up eye-catching numbers, since Rodman grabbed all the rebounds while Jordan and Pippen did most of the scoring, but he managed to average 9 points and 5 boards.
Now: Longley is an assistant coach with the Australian national basketball team.
Then: Bill Wennington was the unassuming and almost unnoticeable backup center, focused on setting picks, making passes and grabbing the occasional stray rebound if it wasn’t too far from him. He spent two years in Italy before returning to the NBA for the ’93-’94 season, putting him in a perfect position to win a title after Jordan returned in ’95. In the ’95-’96 season, Wennington averaged 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds.
Now: Wennington enjoys a courtside seat as the Bulls’ radio announcer who’s openly rooting for the Warriors to lose Wednesday.
Then: A former member of the two-time NBA champion Detroit Pistons, John Salley joined Chicago late in the 1996 season and played sparingly. He averaged 11 minutes per game in the regular season and half that in the playoffs. But the wily veteran provided comedic relief and became more popular than his playing time would suggest.
Now: Salley has enjoyed success in TV and film, with credits in Bad Boys and Bad Boys II and as the longtime host of The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Currently a wellness advocate, he produces a line of vegan wines.
Then: The “Zen Master” won his fourth NBA title as a coach in 1996, again proving that the triangle offense works just fine when M.J. is part of it. Phil Jackson’s quirky approach to coaching—giving players books and presumably burning incense (if not other items) with them—made him as much a celebrity as the players.
Now: After leaving Chicago with six rings and adding five more with the Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson came out of retirement two years ago to serve as president of the New York Knicks.