Top 5 All-Time Chicago Bulls
After a few-week hiatus, we’re back to looking at All-Time team rosters for every organization in the league. So far we’ve knocked out the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and Charlotte Bobcats, but alphabetically it was only a matter of time before we got to the nearest and dearest organization to my own heart, the Chicago Bulls.
The top couple of guys on this list aren’t going to be a huge surprise, but not a lot of people can rattle off a ton of successful past Bulls beyond those two. And no, Derrick Rose isn’t in my top five. So chew on that as you peruse the list, and as always any disagreements can be expressed in the comments section!
#5 – Bob Love (1968-1976)
What he did for the Bulls: Love was Chicago’s leading scorer for seven straight seasons in the ‘60s and ‘70s, during which time he made three All-Star teams and was named to two All-NBA teams and three All-Defensive teams. He led the league in games played three out of four straight years, and his #10 was the second jersey number retired by the team. He never averaged fewer than 19 points or 6 rebounds per game as a Bull, and “Butterbean” is still considered one of the best scorers in team history.
Worth Mentioning: Love still works with the team as Chicago’s Director of Community Affairs. He comes to most home games is very active with fans. In other words, his effect on the team is obviously ongoing.
#4 – Artis Gilmore (1976-1982, 1987)
What he did for the Bulls: Gilmore’s first five seasons of professional basketball occurred as a member of the ABA’s Kentucky Colonels (where he won the ABA championship in the league’s final season before contraction), but his first NBA gig came as a member of the Bulls, where he’d spend the next six seasons establishing himself as one of the better players in the league after the merger. He was named an All-Star four times while in Chicago and was named to an All-Defensive First Team in 1976. He led the league in field goal percentage in both 1981 and 1982, and is still the Bulls’ leader in career blocked shots. Teamed up with Norm Van Lier, his Bulls teams of the mid-to-late ‘70s were some of the better groups in Chicago hoops history.
Worth Mentioning: After years of narrowly missing the vote for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Gilmore was finally admitted this past summer. As far as non-first-ballot players were concerned, he had long been considered the most deserving non-member out there. But not anymore.
#3 – Jerry Sloan (1966-1976)
What he did for the Bulls: Sloan was the first Chicago Bull ever to have his number retired, which is pretty fitting considering he was the first Bull, period. Taken with the first pick in the 1966 expansion draft, Sloan would go on to be the face of the new franchise, and during his tenure with Chicago he’d make two All-Star teams, four All-Defensive First Teams, and two All-Defensive Second teams. His 1966-67 expansion Bulls made the playoffs their first year of existence, and no expansion team has done that since. His defense (along with backcourt mate Norm Van Lier) was his calling card, and what he learned as a player obviously applied well to his life as a coach. He got the Chicago Bulls started on a good note, and things only got better from there.
Worth Mentioning: Sloan holds the record for career technical fouls. Between his time as a player and a legendary coach for the Utah Jazz, he amassed 413 of them. To show how insane that is, Rasheed Wallace retired with “only” 304.
#2 – Scottie Pippen (1987-1998, 2003-2004)
What he did for the Bulls: More than anybody this side of His Airness. Pip was a seven-time All-Star (all as a Bull), an eight-time All-Defensive Team selection, and a seven-time All-NBA selection. He’s sixth all-time in career NBA steals and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Plus, he has those six rings and is one of the most unique physical specimens in the history of the game.
When Pippen first came into the league there were few players with his combination of size, length, and quickness, and that provided for some of the most smothering defense opposing players had ever seen, especially in the 1990s when Pip was at his best. His scoring was also more than credible, and his chemistry with Michael Jordan obviously played a huge factor in the six championships they won together. Jordan’s the best Batman of all time, but you could argue pretty convincingly that Pip is also the best Robin.
Worth Mentioning: Pippen was actually drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics, but Seattle traded him to Chicago for Olden Polynice. Officially, that’s one of the worst trades in the history of the sport, and there’s no telling how different Jordan’s career may have been without Pippen.
#1 – Michael Jordan (1984-1993, 1995-1998)
What he did for the Bulls: Do I really need to justify this? Hall of Fame, six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, six-time Finals MVP, 11-time All-NBA selection, nine-time All-Defensive Team selection, 12-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, first all-time for career ppg average in league history, and third in career steals and career points. The man was the Greatest Of All Time. Of course he’s the greatest Bull.
Worth Mentioning: Despite the rumors, Michael Jordan never did actually play for the Washington Wizards. That was all just a very, very bad dream. That, at least, is the way Chicagoans choose to remember it.
Derrick Rose (2008-present)
What he did for the Bulls: Only two Chicago Bulls have ever been named league MVP—Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose. While at age 22 (the youngest MVP ever) it’s still hard to gauge where he’ll end up on a list of the league’s all-time best players, right now he’s still proven too little to be called a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate someday. Sure, if he continues on his current arc, averaging 20.9 ppg, 6.7 apg, and 3.9 rpg per game over the course of his three-year career, he could very easily end up the second-best Bull to have ever played the game. But the reality is that he’s only been an All-Star twice thus far and has appeared in one Conference Finals. That’s plenty of success early in his career, but he’ll need a ring or six to do any serious moving up the list of best Bulls of all time.
Worth Mentioning: Rose, who grew up on Chicago’s south side, is the only player in the league to be announced in the starting lineups as a resident of his home city (“From Chicago…”) rather than as an alumnus of a high school or university (Memphis, in D-Rose’s case).
Dennis Rodman (1995-1998)
What he did for the Bulls: I’ve said before that a player’s standing on one of my all-time team roster lists only includes that person’s contributions while he was with that organization. Dennis Rodman did enough in only three seasons to make honorable mention.
In all three regular seasons leading up to Chicago’s second three-peat in the late ‘90s, Rodman led the league in rebounds per game. He also led the league in offensive rebounding twice, total rebounds once, and was named to one All-Defensive Team in 1996. And, of course, he won those three championships and was arguably the most tenacious (and entertaining) rebounder in the history of the league.
Worth Mentioning: Rodman wore #91 with Chicago because the #10 he’d worn his entire career up to that point was retired for Bob Love. Why #91? Because 9+1=10. That’s the same reasoning he used for wearing #73 a few seasons later in Dallas.
Chet Walker (1969-1975)
What he did for the Bulls: Chet “The Jet” Walker, acquired from Philadelphia in 1969, is probably best known for his role on the unstoppable 1967 Sixers, but he did pretty well as a Bull, too. In six seasons in Chicago, Walker was an All-Star four times and never averaged fewer than 19 ppg and 5 rpg. He also led the league in games played in 1974 and led the league in free-throw percentage in 1971.
Worth Mentioning: After retiring from basketball, Walker went on to produce direct-to-television movies and also wrote a memoir entitled, “Long Time Coming: A Black Athlete’s Coming-Of-Age In America.”
Horace Grant (1987-1994)
What he did for the Bulls: It’s easy (very easy, actually) to say that the first three Bulls championships between 1991 and 1993 were won because Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen willed it so. Fair enough, but Horace Grant and his own contributions during that era were integral in getting Chicago through a very difficult Eastern Conference.
He only made one All-Star team while with the Bulls, but he was a two-time All-Defensive Team selection and is still the team’s all-time leader in offensive rebounds. After his rookie year, Grant never averaged fewer than 12 ppg or 7.9 rpg, and that contribution as the third best player on any team is noteworthy. Of course, the third best player on a team isn’t going to make the top five players for a franchise’s history, but he’s certainly worth mentioning nonetheless.
Worth Mentioning: Grant won another title in 2001 with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also appeared in the 1995 NBA Finals as a member of the Orlando Magic, who were promptly swept by the Houston Rockets.
Norm Van Lier (1971-1978)
What he did for the Bulls: Easily one of the best defensive players the Bulls have ever seen, Van Lier was a perfect complement to Jerry Sloan in the 1970s and really helped transform the Chicago Bulls into a perennially competitive team. In seven years with the Bulls he made an All-Defensive team seven times, and he was elected to the All-Star time thrice during that time. He even got named to the All-NBA Second Team in 1974, and his outgoing personality made him one of the more beloved players in the history of the team.
Worth Mentioning: Both Van Lier and fellow Bulls broadcaster Johnny “Red” Kerr passed away on the same day in 2009—February 26th—an eerie but fitting end to the lives of two Chicago sports legends.
The Chicago Bulls are largely considered one of the more storied organizations in the league, but that’s mostly because of the championships that Jordan and Pippen won. Would they be considered quite so legendary without those rings? Probably not, but the guys who built the Bulls up to the Jordan Era deserve some love, too, and they’ve gotten that here in this week’s Top Five.