NBA

Ranking every NBA Champion from No. 72 to No. 1 — The Definitive List

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From left, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc were big parts of Bulls teams that won three straight NBA titles from 1996 to 1998. Jordan and Pippen were members of the first ‘three-peat’ team, which won titles from 1991 to 1993. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

1. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan returned to the NBA with a vengeance that showed itself before the season before the season started.

On Steve Kerr’s face.

Jordan had returned for the final 17 games of the 1994-95 season and averaged 26.9 points a games after almost two years away. However, Jordan was embarrassed in the playoffs, shooting only 41 percent from the field in a series loss to Orlando. Critics ripped Jordan and said the time off had cost him. He was no longer the same player.

He came back trying to prove he was better than ever and would let nothing stand in his way. During a practice, he and Kerr started talking to each other and the intensity grew to where it got physical. Then it got really physical, Jordan leaving Kerr, who was new to the team, with a black eye and Kerr throwing his punches along the way. The two became better teammates for it and that paid off at the end of the next season when Jordan fed Kerr for the game-winning shot in the championship-clinching victory over Utah.

Long before any of that, Jordan took a chunk out of the NBA and all his critics. Chicago set a regular-season record with 72 wins and post the second-best strength-of-schedule-adjusted point differential in NBA history. Scottie Pippen was still in his prime. The offense was freshly spaced by the shooting of Kerr and Toni Kukoc and the defense and rebounding of Dennis Rodman helped hold it all together.

The Bulls rolled through the playoffs, losing just one game (to the Knicks) in the first three rounds. Their four-game sweep of the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals was sweet revenge for the previous season’s playoff elimination and, ultimately, may have nipped a budding dynasty in the bud as Shaquille O’Neal decided to leave Orlando for Los Angeles that summer. In the Finals, the Bulls met the swagger and trash talk of Gary Payton and the Seattle SuperSonics in kind, rolling to a 4-2 win and establishing the second wave of their dynasty.

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