With hundreds of thousands of fans assembled in Chicago’s Grant Park on June 16, 1998, to celebrate the third title of a second three-peat, the end of that decade’s great NBA dynasty could no longer be denied.
“This was our last dance, and it was a wonderful waltz,” Bulls head coach Phil Jackson said from the park’s band shell stage. “Thank you, all.”
“It’s been a great run,” Scottie Pippen added. “Thank you for our last dance.”
“Nobody knows if we’re going to be in Grant Park next year,” Michael Jordan said, with a bit more ambiguity. “No matter what happens, my heart, soul, and love will still be in the city of Chicago.”
Chants of “One more year!” rose from the tearful crowd. But, of course, there would be no more.
Jackson rode off into the sunset on a motorcycle to begin a yearlong sabbatical. On January 13, 1999, in the midst of the bitterly waged lockout, Jordan retired from the NBA for a second time. In the 10 days that followed, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause (widely blamed for the breakup) went about dismantling the dynasty and selling it for parts. Pippen went to Houston in a sign-and-trade. Dennis Rodman was released. Steve Kerr was sent to San Antonio, Luc Longley to Phoenix. Krause named Tim Floyd head coach. Holdovers like Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc marveled at the swiftness with which the Unstop-a-Bulls had become the Replace-a-Bulls—guys with names like Rusty LaRue and Kornél Dávid, the league’s first Hungarian player.
Following the last dance, the Bulls organization suddenly found itself learning to walk again. The team would go on to compile the second-worst six-season record in NBA history: just 119 wins and a dismal 341 losses (including the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season). Along with all the losing came innumerable indignities. Scoring 49 points in an April 1999 game, a record low in the shot-clock era. Winning a franchise-worst 15 games in 2000-01. Suffering a 53-point beatdown in November 2001. Superstar free agents thumbing their noses at a once-proud franchise that had become the league laughingstock.
But just as fans were giving up hope along with their season-ticket packages, there came a glimmer of promise: the so-called Baby Bulls of 2004-05. The story of that Cinderella season, during which the team ground out 47 wins to secure a first post-dynasty playoff berth, is a tale of redemption, the stuff of sports movie mythos: Through hard work and defensive grit, a no-nonsense coach (Scott Skiles) shepherded his dark-horse squad of precocious rookies (Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Andrés Nocioni) and grizzled veterans (Antonio Davis, Adrian Griffin) back into contention, effectively exorcising the stubborn ghosts of recent futility. Along the way, the Bulls clawed back from an 0-9 start that tied the franchise-record worst, weathered clashes between Skiles and center Tyson Chandler, and pulled together after the late-season loss of scoring leader Eddy Curry, who was sidelined with a career-altering heart arrhythmia. Gordon asserted himself as the most clutch Bulls scorer since Michael Jordan, earning the nicknames Ben Jordan and Heir Gordon in addition to the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, the only rookie ever to receive the honor.
That young team gave Chicago basketball fans an invaluable, if illusory, gift: a reason to believe that the Bulls would soon dance again. But 15 years later, the misbegotten Boylen Bulls now pitifully limp along on two left feet. And it’s the first-to-worst Warriors and their fans who are now getting a preview of the precipitous fall that will come for Golden State, as it has for every dynasty. This is the story of the Baby Bulls, as told by the coaches, the players, and others who lived it.
Chapter 1: Post-Dynasty Misery
K.C. Johnson (Chicago Tribune Bulls beat reporter, 1996-97, 2000-05, 2006-19): After the dynasty broke up, the Bulls had the [second-]worst six-season stretch of losing in NBA history.
Jack Silverstein (Chicago sports historian, author of the forthcoming 6 Rings: The Bulls, the City, and the Dynasty That Changed the Game): The destruction of the dynasty was complete and devastating. Suddenly it was this completely different team. The uniforms were the same, but the experience was totally different. I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. And I didn’t think it was going to go on as long as it did.
Sam Smith (Chicago Tribune sportswriter, 1979-2008): The first post-dynasty season, there were still remnants of the championship teams. Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper. [Assistant coach] Tex Winter. Initially there was hope, like “Who knows what’s ahead?” And the fans were still grateful for all the winning that had so recently occurred.
Silverstein: All of a sudden the Bulls went from 62 wins to being 13-37 in the 1998-99 lockout season. In the ’98 Finals, the Bulls had held Utah to 54 points in one game, a record low for the shot clock era. And then the very next season, the Bulls go and break that record—but on the losing end—scoring just 49 points against Miami.
Smith: The accumulation of losses grew embarrassing. Seventeen wins in ’99-00. Fifteen wins in ’00-01.
Silverstein: You want to talk low points of being a Bulls fan in that era? We had four games in 2000 with John Starks in a Bulls uniform. Of all the indignities of that period, having to decide whether or not to root for John Starks for four games is up there.
Johnson: In a 2001 game, the Bulls lost to Minnesota by 53 points. Afterward, Charles Oakley said, “We couldn’t beat a snappy junior high team with this group tonight.” The Bulls fined him $50,000 for that.
Lawrence Funderburke (Bulls center, 2005): For years, when I was playing in Sacramento, you would see the Chicago Bulls on your schedule, and it was like, “Oh, it’s a guaranteed win.”
Silverstein: Sometime in ’99, before I went off to college, I put my name on the Bulls’ season-ticket waitlist. The Bulls were just starting to get bad. My plan was that by the time my name would be up on the list, I’d be out of college, I’d have a job, I’d have money to afford the tickets, and the Bulls would be better. A year later, I get a call. It’s the Bulls’ season-ticket office: “We’re excited to tell you you’ve come to the top of the season-ticket waitlist.” I was like, “No! That’s not the plan!” People getting rid of their season tickets was a sign of how fast the bottom fell out.
Johnson: After two or three losing seasons, a sense of frustration crept in. In 2000, general manager Jerry Krause had targeted big-name free agents: Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Eddie Jones—all of whom spurned the Bulls. They ended up instead with Ron Mercer.
Silverstein: That was the big “uh-oh” moment—when it became clear that the Bulls could be losing for the long haul. After the first three seasons, I was reminded of the quote from Macbeth: “I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” In other words, I’d gone this far with the post-dynasty Bulls, I might as well keep watching them lose. Among those of us who were still watching the team during that historic run of losing between ’99 and ’04, there was a strange bond.
Johnson: The organization and the fan base and even some of the beat writers had become ... I don’t want to say numb to all the losing, but the losing just kind of became part of the Bulls. There was a lot of dysfunction around the team. I used to get to practice and go, “What’s going to happen today?” As a young, impressionable beat writer, I had great stuff to write about every day, but it was chaotic. Krause’s plan and philosophy always seemed to be changing and shifting, including drafting Elton Brand and then trading him pretty quickly for the draft rights to Tyson Chandler and rolling the dice with Chandler and Eddy Curry, two 7-footers who had come to the NBA straight out of high school.
Silverstein: When the Bulls got Tyson and Eddy, it was a big reset of the hope meter for Bulls fans. It felt like Krause taking his shot, looking for the next Scottie [Pippen] and Horace [Grant] in one night.
Smith: Curry was an amazing athletic talent. The guy was like a gymnast, a 7-foot gymnast.
Johnson: The frustration culminated with Floyd’s resignation under pressure on Christmas Eve 2001. [Former Bulls center] Bill Cartwright came in as head coach, and with him a surge of optimism. The team started to play a little better. Jamal Crawford provided some hope initially and there was excitement around the 2002 trade for Jalen Rose.
Silverstein: The ’02-03 Bulls won 30 games for the first time since the dynasty dissolved. That felt like a huge leap forward.
Johnson: In the spring of ’03 came probably the biggest shock: Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf finally decided to part ways with Krause, who had helped build the dynasty. The Bulls disclosed the reason initially as health. Krause had been suffering some health issues, but it was more or less a graceful arranged exit. That led to John Paxson’s ascension to general manager.
Chapter 2: A Complete Culture Change
Silverstein: This gets lost now because of what the Bulls have become in recent years under John Paxson, but Pax turned the team around at their lowest point. During the 2003-04 season, he traded Jalen Rose to Toronto for Antonio Davis, who became the veteran rock of the Baby Bulls. He got rid of Scottie Pippen, whom he had previously brought back to provide veteran leadership. He fired his former teammate Bill Cartwright as coach, a sign of moving away from the Bulls’ long-standing love of nepotism. And he hired Scott Skiles as head coach. That was the foundation of a new team and truly a new culture.
Smith: Paxson built the roster in his own image. He had been an overachiever; a tough, physical player for his size; the ultimate grinder. Who’s his first draft pick? Kirk Hinrich, a major grinder. He got rid of “soft” guys not known for their defense, like Jalen Rose, Jamal Crawford, and Eddie Robinson. He brought in a hard-nosed coach in Scott Skiles.
Kirk Hinrich (Bulls guard, 2003-10, 2012-16): When I got to Chicago in 2003, I sensed everyone was tired of losing, but also that there had become an acceptance that, well, this is just how it is.
Tyson Chandler (Bulls center, 2001-06): We had become one of the worst teams in the league. We had a losing culture. We had to try to change the culture.
Johnson: Scott Skiles was the perfect coach for that young team. He was no-nonsense, didn’t accept excuses, didn’t accept mediocrity. He demanded a lot of his players and held them accountable in a very blunt and fair way. He would say, “This is what I expect, this is what we need to do, and this is how we’re going to do it.”
Smith: Scott is tough, direct, the ultimate no-bullshit guy. He and Paxson were in tune completely about playing with discipline, holding players accountable. Scott also had a great sense of humor. Famously, when reporters asked him what Eddy Curry could do to rebound better, Scott said, “Jump.” He also had a staff of veteran assistants who were good teachers, especially Ron Adams, who’s now with Golden State. It was a far cry from the minor-league bunch of clowns that Tim Floyd had brought in—his high school buddies and stuff.
Ron Adams (Bulls assistant coach 2003-08, 2010-13): Scott was a marvelous coach. He was a great organizer and had a clear-cut idea of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to insert discipline into the Bulls program.
Hinrich: Pax and Scott began implementing a complete culture change. The Bulls for so long had been just a bunch of different talented parts. They were never one group playing together for a goal. Paxson understood hard work is what the city wanted. It was going to help us win games, but it’s also Chicago’s identity. We wanted to gain respectability back in the city and around the league. When Scott got there partway through my rookie season, it was clear that things were going to be different. The team culture was going to be based on character and hard work and defense and playing for the team.
Chandler: My prior years with the Bulls, we weren’t playing the right way. It was guys out for their own. Selfish play. That season was the first time we started to play team basketball.
Hinrich: Scott’s mentality was: If you aren’t playing defense, you aren’t going to play. Period. It doesn’t matter if you’re scoring. That was a big change. He made it clear we needed to be a group of guys who were buying in, willing to play hard and do the things asked of them every night, no matter what. Put the team first, defend, and compete your butt off—that was our mission statement.
Smith: What the 2004-05 team represented was Paxson’s view of what an NBA team should be. Paxson was intent on changing the character of the team and adopting the character of what Chicago likes to see in itself—hard-working, tough, blue collar. He wanted hard-hat, lunch-bucket guys. The veterans he brought in were the same profile of tough overachievers: Adrian Griffin, Othella Harrington, and Antonio Davis.
Silverstein: The Jalen Rose trade felt like it signaled something deeper about how Paxson was going to build the team. Because on paper, it’s a loser. You trade a 20-point scorer plus Travis Best for … Antonio Davis? It didn’t totally make sense.
Antonio Davis (Bulls forward/center, 2003-05): Getting to Chicago in 2003 and talking to Scott, I realized veteran leadership was one of the primary reasons he wanted me there. I took that to heart because I remembered my first years with the Pacers and having guys take me under their wing and show me how to be a professional every day.
Johnson: Paxson’s team-building philosophy was generally to draft multiyear players from blue-chip programs. And you can include Andrés Nocioni in that, because he had won the gold medal with Argentina in 2004. Paxson started acquiring all these young players who came in as veteran as you could be as a rookie—the complete opposite of Krause getting high schoolers. In the ’03 draft, Paxson picked Kirk Hinrich, who had gone to the NCAA championship game in  with Kansas. Then in the ’04 draft, he used the third pick on Ben Gordon, who won an NCAA championship with UConn. In the second round, Paxson took Duke’s Chris Duhon, who won an NCAA championship in 2001 and was in a Final Four in 2004. Duhon’s Duke teammate Luol Deng was drafted seventh overall by Phoenix and then traded to the Bulls. Nocioni signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. It just felt different, like a new direction forward.
Chapter 3: Youth Movement
Chandler: Going into camp, I didn’t know what to make of the team. I didn’t know how good Ben and Luol and Chris and Nocioni were. I watched some of those guys in college, but you never know how it’s going to transfer to the NBA. I knew we’d had some high draft picks, some guys coming from Duke, some winners. But that didn’t mean anything until I saw what they could bring to the table. Initially, I was like, “It seems like they’re pretty good.” But then as camp went along, I’m like, “OK, no, these guys are really good.”
Silverstein: More than a third of that roster was rookies: Gordon, Deng, Duhon, and Nocioni, plus center Jared Reiner.
Johnson: There was certainly an air of excitement going into that training camp with those four rookies coming in. But the expectations were low because the Bulls had been losing for so long. There was a mix of veterans and some exciting new talent. But no one expected the rookies to contribute the way that they eventually did.
Smith: Ben Gordon, he’d had this incredible workout with the Bulls. I heard stories about it. Apparently he hit, like, 50 straight 3s or something, from everywhere on the court. Never missed. Hands in his face and everything.
Chris Duhon (Bulls guard, 2004-08): I was excited with the guys that the Bulls had gotten. I’d competed against Kirk in college, so I knew the intensity he brought to the table. I played with Luol at Duke, so I knew his work ethic. I’d watched the improvement of Eddy and Tyson. So I knew we had talent and could compete. At the same time, I was aware of the Bulls’ recent struggles. I looked at it as a challenge, a chance to turn the franchise around.
Smith: The Bulls initially told Chris Duhon, “We don’t need you on the team. We’ve got enough guards coming in.” They told him to go to Europe. Back then, teams would pick guys from U.S. colleges and tell them to go overseas for a couple of years. Duhon said, “Screw you! Not only am I not going to Europe, but I’m going to come to camp and beat out your guys. I’m going to make this team.” And he did! That was Scott’s kind of guy. Duhon would end up being part of the starting backcourt that season.
Adams: Chris Duhon came up to me in the summer and said, “Ron, I’m not going to make this team unless you invest some time with me.” I’d never heard that before from a player. I hadn’t paid too much attention to him because there was no plan to keep him. Chris could guard multiple positions, which made him valuable. But I told him, “We have to develop your 3-point shot.” And so for a month, we worked on his shot. He became a decent 3-point shooter and, progressively, far more than that.
Chandler: Duhon came in and it was clear he was a winner. Coming from under Coach K, you saw that influence. He didn’t get rattled playing pickup. He was vocal off the top, leading at the point guard position. And then Luol, I saw his defensive gifts and knack to score. I just started to think, “Finally! We got a roster! We got guys in every position that can play!”
Andrés Nocioni (Bulls forward, 2004-09): The training camp was a really rough one. Really, really physical. Really competitive. And I knew almost zero English. I could probably say “hello” and “thank you.” I took English lessons after practice every day.
Johnson: These guys had already been coached hard in college and overseas. Skiles’s approach just made it a seamless transition for them to the NBA. I remember talking to Kirk once about Skiles as a hard-nosed coach. He was like, “Doesn’t faze me at all. I had Roy Williams at Kansas. You do what your head coach tells you.”
Adams: Scott was extremely good with the young point guards. I coached against Scott in college. Here was a 6-foot-1 guy who was not very fleet of foot but could shoot the ball so well from the 3-point line and was a tremendous quarterback in running a team and just marvelous at getting the ball to people.
Davis: Getting to training camp and meeting those guys, I saw how young they were. They were really young! Guys like Ben and Chris and Luol, they’d grown up watching me play for the Pacers [in the mid-to-late ’90s]. But I had experience dealing with young guys. For a couple years when I was in Indiana, I nurtured Al Harrington, who had come to the NBA straight out of high school. That role actually really helped me because I knew the rookies were watching me, so I was getting to practice early and staying late and making sure I got my lifts in and did everything asked of me. I wanted to show them that after all these years, it’s still important to remain true to being as good as you can be every day. So they helped me out a lot too.
Adams: Antonio Davis was a critical player for us that year. He was just a marvelous leader and he could still really play the game at that point, too. Every day he was a leader in subtle ways. In sports, we often talk about these peak moments in which someone does something or says something that rallies people around them. But really, the core work is done every day in that locker room.
Duhon: We had great vets on that team. That was one of the big advantages for us young guys. I grew up watching AD with the Pacers. There was amazing leadership from him, Eric Piatkowski, Adrian Griffin, Othella Harrington. We just followed their lead. Those guys were always there early, always there late, always were encouraging us to continue to get better and go out and play as hard as we could.
Fred Tedeschi (Bulls athletic trainer, 1998-2014): Othella was a gritty, physical veteran; Piatkowski could shoot the 3; and Griffin was a hard-nosed defender that added an air of toughness to the bench.
Adrian Griffin (Bulls guard/forward, 2004-05): AD and I had a good cop/bad cop thing going. He would get on a rookie for making a mistake, and then I would go and smooth things over. Skiles appreciated us being another voice in the locker room for him and his philosophy, a bridge between him and the younger guys. I really bought into Skiles’s vision. He demanded we be professional. He demanded we play hard and know our jobs. And I thought that this was the way it should be.
Davis: Knowing we had a young squad, Scott did not spend a lot of our team time talking about how we were going to score the basketball. Mostly we talked about defense. He knew if he could get the young guys to buy into the defensive concept, we were going to be pretty good.
Duhon: Coach wanted to build our foundation defensively and make us one of the NBA’s best defensive teams. So practices were very intense: one-on-one drills, learning how to close out, a lot of running and conditioning.
Griffin: Skiles had these speakers, and he would pump in loud crowd noise during scrimmages to re-create a game atmosphere. He believed that we needed to play together in order to build chemistry. I remember how intensely competitive those games would be. It was taxing on me because I was older. It was hard keeping up with those younger guys! I had to go against Luol every day and he never stopped moving. And Nocioni had an unbelievable motor. You could see their talent.
We didn’t do rookie hazing. But I assigned the young guys to get Krispy Kreme donuts for every practice.
Nocioni: We had a schedule. Some rookie always had to bring donuts to the practice facility. I did it, too. But nothing else. My first practice, Skiles came to the team and said, “Look, Noce is a rookie, but he’s a special rookie because he’s played overseas many years.” I was only 23 or 24, but I already had about nine years of professional basketball experience.
Griffin: After practices, the vets would get the team together and say, “Even though we’re a young group, if everyone buys in and plays for each other and gets on the same page, we’ve got a chance to do something special.”
Adams: Going into any season with a new, young team, you just never know. The hope is that they will grow and come together and amount to something. And that’s pretty much what happened with that Bulls team.
Silverstein: The first time I heard the term “Baby Bulls,” it was referring to Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, but it actually dates back to the franchise’s inaugural 1966-67 season. Bob Logan of the Chicago Tribune called that very first team the Baby Bulls.
Chandler: We got tagged “the Baby Bulls.” I thought it was pretty dope. We were babies in the league trying to define ourselves, the same as babies in the world. I didn’t take it as knock. I took it as a new beginning.
Chapter 4: A Perfect Storm of Crap
Jared Reiner (Bulls center 2004-05): Antonio Davis set the tone for that whole season in a preseason game against the Washington Wizards. On a fast break, Larry Hughes shoved Kirk Hinrich into Luol Deng, sending Luol crashing to the floor. When Kirk got in Hughes’s face about it, the Wizards’ Brendan Haywood went and shoved Kirk.
Davis: When I saw that happen and realized somebody could’ve gotten hurt, I was like, No, I’m not gonna let that slide. That whole season, especially at the start, I felt like Papa Bear. I felt like I had to protect those young guys. I was acting completely out of instinct.
Reiner: Antonio swooped in and ended up body-slamming and punching Haywood. When those two were on the ground, Eddy came in and threw punches.
Griffin: Antonio Davis, he was the enforcer. No one messed with AD.
Davis: We talked about it in the locker room after the game. I said, “Listen, no matter what happens, the guy next to you has to know you got his back. Period. It’s us against the world. The only thing that matters is us in this locker room.”
Hinrich: I appreciated what AD did. It told us young guys, here’s a guy who has been through a lot in this league and now he’s looking out for us. That’s something we look back on and laugh about now. We were fighting in a preseason game!
Davis: Eddy and I got suspended for the first two regular-season games. But sitting out wasn’t a big deal to me. I definitely would have done it all over again.
Duhon: During the first game of the regular season in Chicago, I was excited when Skiles told me to go check in. I ran up to the scorer’s table and went to take my warm-up shirt off and just felt the cool breeze on my chest. [Laughs.] That’s when I realized I didn’t have my jersey on! Skiles just looked at me and started laughing. I sprinted back to the locker room and only missed, like, two possessions.
Silverstein: In that game, the Bulls took the Nets, who were then a pretty good team, to double overtime. Even though the Bulls lost that game, immediately something felt different about this group. Kirk had 34 points. Deng had 18 points off the bench. They were more competitive, they were fiery, they were defending. And there was a feeling that this was the best Bulls team since the Jordan-Pippen dynasty.
Smith: After a few home games to start the season, the Bulls headed out West on a long road trip. The annual “circus trip” coincided with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus taking over the United Center for two weeks every November. In the post-dynasty years, the Bulls had been massacred on those trips by the top Western Conference teams. The gruesome losing streak on the circus trip had ballooned to, like, 30-some straight games over the previous six seasons.
Davis: The circus trip was a perfect storm of crap: a bunch of young guys, a long road trip, some good Western Conference teams. All this stuff was working against us.
Hinrich: The start was brutal. Us young guys were looking at each other like, “Man, we’re never going to get up this hill. We’re never going to get a win.” We just had this cloud over us that we couldn’t get out from under. We continued to get our butts kicked. We were just trying to figure out our identity, figure out how to win. There is a big learning curve to understanding how to win in the NBA.
Chandler: We kept losing games, but we were right there, getting better every night. Kirk and I were walking to the bus after losing one close game, and I was like, “Yo, we’re going to make the playoffs this year.” Kirk was like, “I was just thinking the same thing!” I was like, “Yo, man, it ain’t been like this since I’ve been here. We’re playing good basketball, we’re just losing. It’s going to turn for us if we keep this up.” And eventually, it turned.
Duhon: On plane rides, we’d all hang out together and AD would continue to encourage us.
Davis: When you’re on a losing streak like we were, young guys especially will start pointing fingers. It’s always somebody else’s fault. My main message was, “We’ve got to stick together. Don’t get caught up in the ups and downs.” That was huge because we would have stretches later in the season where there were a lot of ups and even more downs, but we remained consistent. I told them, “We’ve got to play to win, not play to not lose.” There’s a big difference.
Johnson: What I remember more than any main problem is how impressed I was with the defiance of such young players. Gordon and Duhon and Deng and Hinrich—they were pissed about losing. They were like, “We’re not used to this.” I was impressed by their refusal to accept losing. It signified a big change from the Bulls teams of the few previous seasons.
Smith: I wrote a tough piece several games in, because the Bulls still hadn’t won a single game, asking, “What is Skiles doing?” Skiles came to me later and said, “Let me show you.” He showed me this book in which he had written down plays since he was in high school, from different games, different coaches. By the time he came to the Bulls, it had become a pretty thick book. It was clear he had been studying to be a coach. He said, “It’s going to take a little time, but it’s going to work.”
Jannero Pargo (Bulls guard, 2004-06): No one was happy during that losing streak. We had some rookies who were not doing their duties, so they got punished really hard. Veterans at the end of the bench, myself included, thought we could help, but we weren’t seeing much playing time.
Hinrich: Did Scott get angry? Oh, gosh, yeah. In his eyes, the worst thing you could do is not give effort on defense. And we practiced our asses off. The veterans were probably like, “Man, this is crazy.”
Adams: We had some really intense competitors involved in that team—and there was no more fierce a competitor than Scott. That’s how he was as a player. He had to do that to survive. So he expected a lot.
Hinrich: The biggest shock for some of the younger guys was coming in the day after a game and getting called out by Scott while watching game film. It was always worse after a loss. We were held accountable for turnovers, blown defensive assignments, bad decision-making. The biggest thing to remember was not to be sensitive. Not to take it personally. To take it as constructive criticism.
Chandler: Skiles and I, we didn’t get along. I respect all my coaches. But it felt like he had something personal against me. The hard practices and the discipline? That stuff I liked. I was cool with that. I thought Skiles brought a great edge. I thought he whipped us in shape, built a defensive identity, held guys accountable—all of those things I thought were great. But at some point that turned from a guy coming in to change a culture to him just being too much, taking things too far.
Nocioni: Back then it was a little bit easier to be that kind of tough coach. Skiles put pressure on everybody, every day. That was rough on some players. Sometimes Tyson would be upset. He would say, “Man, this guy is crazy! He’s mad every day!”
Smith: Skiles was on Chandler and Deng a lot, because they weren’t his kind of players. They were more finesse kind of players. He did succeed in getting them to play tougher and harder, but it was painful. Chandler used to come into Paxson’s office crying sometimes from Scott yelling at him so much. As difficult as that was, I think Tyson years later was appreciative of Scott’s tough love.
Chandler: AD is the only reason I survived that season with Skiles. He was constantly in my ear and he helped me keep my head together. When I would get frustrated, he would always be right there at my locker afterwards, smiling, calm, bringing my focus back to where it needed to be. He’d tell me, “Hey, just don’t let that stuff get to you.”
Chapter 5: 0-9
Smith: In the ninth game, the Bulls got blown out by Phoenix.
Johnson: That tied the franchise record for worst start at 0-9. With one more loss, they would set a team record for futility to open a season.
Griffin: We had a very young team, so we expected to hit some adversity early. But we never thought that it would be to that level. 0-9? I don’t care who you are, whether you’re rebuilding or not, 0-9 is tough to swallow.
Smith: On the way to Utah for the 10th game, Skiles says to me, “I’m telling you, we are really close to being a good team.” I’m thinking the guy’s nuts. At that point, all the predictions were that they would be lucky to win 20 games, that Skiles is Tim Floyd all over again, that the Bulls are dead, done.
Hinrich: We said as a collective, “Nobody thinks we can do anything. We are putting so much work in behind the scenes. Let’s not let all this hard work go to waste. If we’re gonna work our asses off in practice every day, let’s give it everything we’ve got in the game. Let’s come together and figure it out and make this thing work.”
Tedeschi: After the ninth-straight loss in Phoenix, Scott and his assistant Jim Boylan had a glass of wine at the hotel where we were staying, and I listened to them talk about what they thought they needed to do to turn the team around. They mentioned putting Chris Duhon in the starting lineup.
Silverstein: The regular starters became Hinrich, Curry, Deng, Duhon, and Davis. Sometimes Nocioni.
Chandler: I was OK coming off the bench. I could not care less as long as we won. It wasn’t so much the demotion that I was upset about. It was the way that I was treated through miscommunication about the change. I thought Skiles was playing a lot of petty mind games that were unnecessary because I was already all in for whatever it took for the team to win. You just got to be straight with me in meetings and tell me what’s going on, and I’m gonna do what I can for the team. We just didn’t have a great relationship. It wasn’t a relationship, to be quite honest. I don’t think he dealt with me correctly.
Tedeschi: After Chris was inserted into the starting lineup, things started improving. He just knew how to run a team and was a hard-nosed defender.
Johnson: That 10th game in Utah was a ridiculously entertaining way to win their first of the season. It was a tight game down to the final minute. And then the jubilation …
Hinrich: We didn’t even know what to do. Like, For real, we just won? Did it really happen? It was as if the weight of the world had come off of us.
Pargo: That was a great feeling. On the plane ride home, there were lots of laughs and smiling faces and playing cards and not a lot of guys wanting to sleep. It felt like finally we had gained some momentum and could start winning games.
Smith: After the win in Utah, Skiles told me, “Really, we are going to be good.” This is after winning one game! The Bulls were 1-9! But then they absolutely took off.
Chapter 6: Digging Out With Defense
Nocioni: After we won in Utah, we started to feel it. We started to say, “We overcame this. We are a good team. We have the young guys who can compete, we’ve got the veteran leaders, we’ve got the dude from Argentina. He can’t speak English, but he can play!” [Laughs.]
Silverstein: When you start 0-9 and you end up with 47 wins, there’s something really special happening there between the players.
Chandler: We started to understand how to play together. We were learning on the job: how to start games, how to make adjustments at halftime, how to finish games. We learned and all the hard work finally started to pay off.
Hinrich: The next thing we knew, we were stringing together wins. A five-game winning streak in December. A seven-game winning streak in early January. Another five-game winning streak at the end of January.
Johnson: Scott deserves a lot of credit for the Bulls digging themselves out of that 0-9 hole. This young team had a desire to win and was thirsty for coaching, and they lapped up what Scott was selling.
Davis: We knew we were only going to be as good as we defended. Scott homed in on all the little things it was going to take for us to win. We began taking pride in each deflection, each box-out.
Griffin: He would track the game behaviors he wanted to see. Did we sprint the floor? Did we box out? The next morning, Skiles would post our individual scores on our lockers. Some guys would complain about their scores, and he would say, “Hey, there’s the film right there.” He would also give us pop quizzes on the offense. We’d just walk in the locker room and he’d hand out notebooks and pens and say, “Draw up this set.” It kept us engaged, built us up, brought us together.
Smith: Skiles saw things on the court that other people don’t see. He had such a gift for knowing how to play the angles, teaching his players to anticipate what opponents are going to do. He was always playing 3-D chess. I always thought he could’ve been a great mathematician.
Davis: Scott created games within the game. Hold opponents to only so many points in the first quarter. Win the third quarter. If we held teams to under 100, we knew we had a good chance to win.
Duhon: Actually, our goal was 88 points or less—22 points or fewer per quarter. So if a team would score 26 in a quarter, we would all start challenging each other: “Hey, we gotta buckle down!”
Johnson: Through December and January, the Bulls went on a streak of holding opponents to under 100 points in 26 straight games—a franchise record. Of course, that was a different NBA era, you have to remember. What’s more telling is that they went from last in the league the previous season to first in the league that season in opponents’ field goal percentage.
Hinrich: Our goal was to keep every opponent at or below 42 percent field goal shooting every night.
Adams: We had several guys with a defensive mentality: Kirk, Chris, Luol, Andrés Nocioni. Adrian Griffin was a bear defensively. Tyson was a defensive factor on the interior. We emphasized the small things such as challenging shots. Everyone made an attempt to defend on that team. Even guys who were not as gifted in that regard or were more offensive-minded, such as Ben Gordon and Eric Piatkowski. Our team defense then was structured to help the guys who were not top-of-the-line defenders.
Hinrich: Part of what made us so good defensively was our communication. I’d be on the wing guarding Allen Iverson, and AD and Tyson would be constantly talking to me, telling me what’s going on behind me.
Griffin: One of our competitive advantages was that we were young and mobile and fast and in great condition. We wore teams down. We played so hard on defense in the first three quarters, most of our opponents seemed to dwindle a bit in the fourth quarter. Their legs would be gone and we would wrap it up. That’s how we won a lot of our games.
Hinrich: We were young and a bit overconfident and would need to be reminded along the way that we couldn’t win the way that other teams in this league win. We had to win our way.
Griffin: If you practiced hard, Skiles would find minutes for you. Jannero Pargo and myself, we were sometimes the 11th and 12th guys on the bench. We’d be losing by 20 in the fourth quarter, and Skiles would put me and Jannero in. Jannero, he’d hit a few 3s in a row. I’d get a couple steals. We’d bring energy and turn the game around. We ended up winning three, four games in the fourth quarter.
Duhon: That’s just how that team was going to be. We were going to scrap, play until the end, no matter if we were up 20, down 20. That was the mind-set of that group.
Chapter 7: Heir Gordon
Silverstein: Eventually Ben Gordon started cooking as the sixth man, and the team just really took off.
Smith: Offensively, Eddy Curry was the Bulls’ most talented player, the leading scorer. He would have these great first halves, but he would get nervous at the end of games and didn’t want the ball down the stretch, so he often wouldn’t play much in the fourth quarter. Skiles coached around it. Down the stretch, he’d put in Ben Gordon, who began saving the Bulls. After the New Year, Gordon had this incredible stretch where he was making big shots all over the place, and they started winning. He became a feared scorer, despite playing off the bench. He had 21 double-digit fourth quarters that year, second only to LeBron James. That galvanized the group, like “Hey, we got a go-to guy, even though our go-to guy doesn’t start!”
Davis: Ben would come off the bench and score 18 in a quarter, 20-something in a quarter once he really got going.
Hinrich: BG was a talented, talented scorer, man. About as good as I’ve ever seen. He was unbelievable. Strong, athletic. Ben knew he could go out there and get 20 every night, but he was willing to buy into the team mentality and play the sixth-man role. For a guy like that to buy in without complaint, it says a lot about his character. He did an amazing job of being selfless.
Tedeschi: Ben was so impressive coming off the bench. I don’t think it was a role he completely loved, but it suited him well. And, obviously, he ended up winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Duhon: We fed Ben, relied on him to be our closer, and he was coming through, making big shot after big shot. We felt a lot more confident late in close games knowing that we had a guy who could get us points when we most needed them. Michael Jordan had been one of the best clutch players in the league, and now Ben was starting to build that type of reputation.
Smith: People were calling him “Ben Jordan” and “Heir Gordon” because he was hitting game-winning shots. He was absolutely clutch, wanted the big shot, loved the moment. The Bulls hadn’t had anybody like that for years.
Silverstein: In mid-January, the Bulls had this goofy schedule with back-to-back games against the Knicks. Both ended up being nail-biters. The first game, at the United Center, was tied 84-84 in the final seconds, when Nocioni blocked a potential Knicks game-winner with eight seconds left, Tyson saved the ball to Kirk, who threw it ahead to Eddy for a go-ahead layup with two seconds left on the clock. Tyson then made a huge block on the Knicks’ buzzer-beater and immediately began high-fiving fans. The Bulls won 86-84. In the second game, on Martin Luther King Day at Madison Square Garden, Ben hit a big-time running floater in the final seconds to win it, 88-86. That was the Bulls’ seventh win in a row.
Duhon: Ben used to call it “Madison Square Gordon.” A lot of his Big East tournament games were there, and he always seemed to play well in New York.
Johnson: In that postgame locker room at Madison Square Garden, you could feel the belief and the excitement that the team had. That belief built gradually over the course of the season.
Duhon: Those Knicks games were big wins for us, because we were building confidence to be able to finish games, to close out teams late.
Griffin: When Ben started winning games for us, I made a rule that he didn’t have to fetch donuts anymore. All the other rookies said, “Hey, that’s not fair!” I said, “Well, get us 20 points tonight and you don’t have to get donuts in the morning.”
Tedeschi: In late January, we had a good win in Detroit against the defending NBA champions to finally get to .500—19-19. The next game was in Atlanta. Atlanta being Atlanta, famously teams would usually go out at night and do whatever and not play well on game day. Antonio told Scott, “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure these guys are ready to play against Atlanta.” Sure enough, the team came out and played really well and beat the Hawks. That’s the moment I realized that this team might be for real, because finally we had some true leadership.
Hinrich: When we started bringing it together and playing really well together toward the second half of the season, the atmosphere in the United Center was pretty amazing.
Smith: They were the kind of blue-collar team that Chicago likes to embrace. They didn’t have a superstar like Jordan—but Jordan wasn’t the archetypal Chicago athlete.
Duhon: Even though the Bulls had been struggling the last couple of years, the stadium was packed. You could feel their appreciation for us going out there and playing our tails off, and I think that helped build up our confidence.
Joe O’Neal (Bulls senior director of ticket operations), quoted in the Chicago Tribune: People have called and wanted their [United Center] seats back, but in some cases somebody else has them now. They were like, “Hey, Joe, it’s a blast from the past, guess who?” … I’ve only seen this type of response here once before. That was 1986.
Chapter 8: Matters of the Heart
Smith: Along with Gordon, Eddy Curry kind of exploded that season. He was a big part of the team digging themselves out of the 0-9 hole. He was as good a big man as there was in the NBA in that stretch. After all the difficulties under Tim Floyd, he had looked like a draft bust. But he bloomed that season under Skiles. Internally among the Bulls front office, the discussion was “We’re going to give Curry a maximum extension. He is who we thought.” Then, suddenly, just as the team was rolling, they lost the centerpiece of their offense when Curry went out with the heart condition.
Chandler: I remember when it happened. We were in Charlotte at the time. He was on the sideline and he was telling me that he felt a little weird. And that’s when it all started.
Davis: Eddy came up to some of us at one point before the game and he was like, “Man, look at my chest.” You could literally see his heart pumping. Like, you could see a little lump coming out of his chest. We were like, “What the heck?” He wasn’t panicked. He wasn’t hyperventilating or anything like that. He was concerned, but he wasn’t feeling bad. It was just weird that his heart was beating so hard and so fast.
Duhon: I remember Eddy saying he felt something wasn’t right. “My heart should not be beating this fast.”
Johnson: The Bulls initially said Eddy was out with flu-like symptoms, but somebody gave me a wink to pursue it a little bit more. They didn’t tell me what it was, but they said, “No, you should check into that.” I remember going to where the team buses parked postgame and basically grilling everybody to find out the truth. It turned out to be a serious life-and-death issue. The Bulls worried that Eddy was predisposed to a heart-muscle disorder called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is what contributed to the deaths of basketball players Hank Gathers [of Loyola Marymount University] and Reggie Lewis [of the Boston Celtics].
Davis: Losing Eddy at that point in the season wasn’t just like losing any old player. It was losing a big piece of who we were. Shoot, Eddy was having a good year. His numbers were great. He was really starting to understand things about the game. So I really felt awful for him. That really sidetracked his whole career. I don’t think he ever recovered.
Chandler: It was such a tough blow, personally. I didn’t care about the basketball stuff. At that time I was concerned for my friend, for his life and his livelihood. I thought about his children. It was just a shock, especially because we were both only 23 years old.
Johnson: The prevailing vibe among the players was one of care and concern for Eddy as a person and as a teammate, but also one of not being deterred from the belief that they had to keep moving forward as a team. That team was just so tough-minded.
Duhon: In meetings, Coach Skiles would update us on how Eddy was doing. Losing him for the rest of the season was tough. At the same time, we knew we still had a job to do. We knew we were all going to have to step up and pick up his slack. He was our leading scorer.
Smith: Who were they going to get inside scoring from now? Adrian Griffin?
Hinrich: A lot of what we did was feed Eddy the ball inside. But when we lost him, we turned into more of a drive-and-kick offense. We leaned heavily on our defense to create offense.
Duhon: We had some lineups where Ben, myself, and Kirk were out there at the same time, just trying to play faster on the offensive end but still able to maintain what we were doing defensively. Around that time, Noce started playing really well, too. So we ended up playing a lot more small ball. Noce was a pest! He took the challenge of guarding bigger guys and was always taking charges.
Duhon: Not long after Eddy went out, Luol tore a ligament in his wrist. Out for the season. It was tough to lose him. So guys had to step up even more. Eric Piatkowski and Jannero Pargo came in and played good minutes. We all just rallied around each other, knowing that we had to play even harder.
Tedeschi: Any team poised for a playoff run that loses two significant contributors—that’s a blow any way you shake it.
Davis: With the momentum we had, losing Eddy and Luol put us in a real pickle. When you lose players, it’s a big deal. But you’ve got to find a way to regroup and get back in and do your thing. I don’t think our young guys knew how to adjust, and we never really, truly regrouped.
Chapter 9: The Playoffs
Johnson: There was an accumulative power to that season. It built slowly and climbed up from this 0-9 hole. There was this growing belief and confidence that permeated throughout the locker room. The national writers really never discovered the Bulls that year, never really paid much attention. The local beat writers, we had the team all to ourselves as this little undiscovered gem. That changed somewhat once the playoffs approached.
Adams: Spirits were high seeing as we’d even made it to the playoffs and we started 0-9 and were relying on a number of rookies. It was miraculous, really.
Smith: The fourth-seed Bulls got the fifth-seed Washington Wizards in the first round. Like the Bulls, Washington was another surprising young team on the upswing that year. They were considered more talented than the Bulls. Larry Hughes and All-Star Gilbert Arenas were a really electric backcourt, superior to Hinrich and Duhon. They also had Antawn Jamison, who was an All-Star.
Johnson: The Bulls had home-court advantage, and they sensed that they could win. They had been through so much that season.
Hinrich: The playoff preparation was crazy. Scott wanted me to know all the Wizards’ plays and the tendencies of all their personnel, so I knew what was coming. It was like studying for final exams.
Funderburke: A lot of the young guys would ask some of the veterans advice about playing in the playoffs. We told them to expect the intensity level to increase, along with the pressure, the focus required, and the physicality—hand-checking, pushing, bumping, hard fouls. “Look, whatever happened in the regular season, put that on the back burner.”
Duhon: Being a lengthier team across the board, the Wizards gave us matchup problems. They had big guards Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes on the perimeter and Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood in the frontcourt. Gilbert was one of the best scoring guards in the league.
Silverstein: I’ve never climbed a mountain, but I watched the 1999 through 2004 Bulls. And being at the first playoff game at the United Center in six seasons, it was like being on the mountaintop. It wasn’t a championship, but it finally felt like, Ah, we’re back.
Nocioni: The people in Chicago had been waiting for many years to be in the playoffs again. So there was a lot of emotion there.
Chandler: It was exciting to be playing at that level. That was my first taste of what basketball was really supposed to be like.
Hinrich: The atmosphere was electric. It was awesome. I knew right there that’s why you play in the league, for playoff basketball. That intensity, that excitement on every possession.
Johnson: Nothing compares to the atmosphere of the Jordan-era playoff games, but I have a strong memory from Game 1 of Nocioni going off.
Smith: Nocioni was flying all over the court, making plays, downing shots, pulling down rebounds. The arena went nuts, especially after all those terrible years. To go so quickly from dynasty to laughingstock, it was a much-appreciated revival. It felt like the championship years again.
Johnson: This chant of “NOC-I-O-NI” started in the upper reaches of the 300 level. It was kind of faint at first and built in intensity and cascaded down to the 200 and 100 levels. It grew louder and louder as Nocioni went crazier and crazier. He was practically frothing at the mouth that night. Near the end of the game it was a full-throated chant around the arena. Andrés looked like he was ready to bite the head off of a live chicken because he was so fired up.
Nocioni: That was one of the most special nights in my career. The Chicago fans showed me love for how I play: work hard and give everything I got in my body.
Silverstein: Nocioni had 25 points and grabbed 18 boards, and the Bulls won Game 1. I remember being in the men’s room at halftime. I was washing my hands and there was a kid at the sink next to me. I said, “Hey, you having fun?” He said, “Yeah.” He was wearing fresh, new Bulls gear. I asked, “When were you born?” He said, “1997.” I thought, “Good, the Bulls are back and this kid doesn’t even know what he missed.”
Hinrich: Us young guys were high off winning Game 1. But then Scott brought us back to earth, like, “Hey, great job. On to the next one.”
Davis: Going into the locker room, I remember the young guys being excited, getting that feeling of being in that situation, and responding the way that they did. We talked about: “Go out and celebrate a little bit, then back to work tomorrow.” And they responded.
Hinrich: The first game I played well but knew I could play so much better. In Game 2, I was more aggressive and playing more confidently. I hit some shots early and just kept going. I ended up with 34.
Silverstein: The Bulls won Game 2. And then they went to Washington ... and there was this free fall. They ended up losing Games 3 and 4.
Hinrich: Games 3 and 4, they took care of us pretty good. Road playoff games are a whole other challenge. For a young team like us, we just didn’t play as well, didn’t know how to close.
Davis: You’ve gotta give the Wizards some credit, man. They made adjustments and we were short-manned. I definitely think it would’ve been a different story if we’d had Eddy and Luol. Things just fell apart and we didn’t recover.
Duhon: Our youth started to show. We made too many mistakes and not enough winning plays late in those games.
Silverstein: In Game 5, the Bulls were getting blown out at home by, like, 20 points. But they fought all the way back. The big push came at the very end, when Skiles put in Jannero Pargo.
Pargo: There was 41 seconds left. We were down 10 points after battling back from a 20-point deficit. Back then it wasn’t a good sign if I was in a game. It meant we were not playing well and we needed a spark. Any time I got put into a game at the end of the fourth quarter, it was my job to score a lot of points quickly and give us a chance. So I got in, made one 3. We fouled Gilbert Arenas, who made one of his two foul shots. Then I made a second 3, cutting their lead to five. And now I was feeling pretty good. Antawn Jamison missed both of his free throws. Then Kirk hit a 3 to cut the lead to two. Larry Hughes then split a pair of free throws to put the Wizards up by three. Kirk got fouled with nine seconds remaining. He missed both free throws but got his own rebound and scooped it over to me for the 3 to tie the game. It was an out-of-body experience. That was like no other feeling that I’d ever had. Washington called a timeout with five seconds remaining. Coming out of the timeout, I was guarding the inbounder. He hit Gilbert, who wound the clock down, drove left on Kirk, pulled up, and shot. Kirk was all in his face. Tyson was a quarter-inch from getting the block.
Chandler: As Gilbert was running the clock down, I was thinking, “He doesn’t have time to get this shot off if we press up.” I was screaming to Kirk to press up on him, but he couldn’t hear me. So I just took off at him myself. Gilbert dribbled and went up to shoot. I thought I was going to make the game-winning block. I got within a fingertip.
Pargo: Gilbert made a hell of a shot. He was called Agent Zero for a reason.
Smith: Arenas kind of pulled that one out of his ass.
Chandler: It was heartbreaking. It took all the air out of us. That shot changed the series. If we go up three games to two at that point, we probably go on to win. But instead they go up, and the rest is history.
Pargo: We could’ve been fueled off the late comeback in Game 5 and use that as momentum going into Washington. But it seemed most guys already felt like the series was over.
Funderburke: Looking at the guys in their eyes after we lost Game 5, it was like a different team. The mentality from Game 1 to Game 6 had changed dramatically.
Smith: The Bulls put themselves in position to win Game 6 in Washington and bring the series back home for Game 7. Then they made a bad turnover at the end and things got away from them. That play turned the game.
Hinrich: I remember the turnover. It was a tie game. We had the ball with about 30 seconds left. I inbounded the ball to Chris, but he wasn’t looking, and it hit him in the back.
Duhon: Kirk and I were not on the same page. I thought I was supposed to come out and be a decoy on the inbound and Kirk was going to hit somebody else. But while I was running, I stopped looking at Kirk, he threw the ball to me, and it hit me on the back. Jared Jeffries picked it up, went down, and dunked it to put Washington ahead and ultimately win the game.
Hinrich: The atmosphere in the locker room after we lost Game 6 was quiet. There wasn’t much to be said. Losing four straight was really tough.
Duhon: Us having been up 2-0 and then to lose four straight? We felt, in a way, that we got swept. Guys were really disappointed. There was also a sense of confidence that we’d be back in the playoffs the next year, knowing that we had a lot of young guys. So that was encouraging.
Chapter 10: A New Hope?
Smith: Everyone was disappointed, but the feeling was, “Hey, this could be the start of something big.” This was a great first step for this team. They lost a tough series, but they’d come from nowhere to have a great season and had the possibility to continue being an interesting team. That Bulls team had a chance to become something special, maybe a championship team. Having guys with talent is the main thing, and they had that. But they also had high-character guys and a knowledgeable coach enforcing accountability. A lot of teams are constructed by fantasy, by putting together a lot of talent. That doesn’t necessarily always make a team. Just because you have five All-Star players doesn’t mean you’re going to win. You also need guys who are willing to play roles. That Bulls team had all the elements.
Davis: After having a dynasty like Jordan’s Bulls, how do you bounce back? Taking a chance on some young guys was bold. But after that season, the organization started feeling like, “Hey, this was a good gamble.”
Tedeschi: You had a team of no stars that brought the city back to basketball. It reengaged fans in Chicago. Basketball became more relevant again.
Duhon: The lesson of the ’04-05 Bulls is that you can compete with a young team if you get guys that can buy into the system. With us, everybody bought into Coach Skiles’s vision and plan. Everybody was selfless. Everybody made sacrifices to accommodate putting the team first. And if you’re able to do that, you might be able to build a special team.
Johnson: You got the sense that this could be the start of something special. This team helped you forget the futility of the post-dynasty years, and it certainly looked like a young team planting its flag for possible ascendancy through the Eastern Conference. When Paxson took over for Krause as GM, he talked about changing the culture. The main theme that I took away from that season was, OK, culture changed. Now, what can this team accomplish moving forward?
Duhon: We made it back to the playoffs the next two years. The main thing was we still continued to be really, really good on the defensive end. That was our identity and each year we made being one of the top defensive teams in the league our main goal. That drove us and helped us win a lot of games.
Johnson: The Bulls traded Eddy after the ’04-05 season.
Davis: Once Eddy was gone, I knew that the team was going to be different. It wasn’t going to work unless you had both Eddy and Tyson along with the young guys, because they had depth at each position and could fill in the gaps with veterans. But without Eddy there, the whole team was just a different dynamic.
Johnson: When they signed Ben Wallace in the summer of 2006, they thought he was the final piece to the championship puzzle. He certainly wasn’t as impactful as he was with the Pistons, but he was pretty instrumental in the Bulls beating the Heat in the first round of the ’06-07 playoffs. It wasn’t a championship, but at last they’d won the first playoff series since the dynasty ended.
Hinrich: We just kept adding pieces. B.G. got really good, started averaging 20 points. Luol became a big scoring threat. Noce became a good shooter and a tough matchup offensively. We were good enough to play with anybody. In ’06-07, when we had Ben Wallace and P. J. Brown, we won 49 games. We were able to get by the first round and then just ran into Detroit.
Johnson: The Baby Bulls of ’04-05 started out as a fun team that looked like it could challenge the Eastern Conference. It was such an unexpected story. The postscript is that they went from the Baby Bulls to the Try-Hard Bulls. That’s what the sound bite is on that team now, because they just weren’t quite good enough. As good as Gordon was down the stretch, as dependable as Hinrich was, and as effective as Deng could be as a two-way player, they weren’t superstars. Then the Bulls crashed and burned when Skiles flamed out in ’07-08. That was a quick era. Four years—2004 to 2008. The positive, of course, from that era flaming out was the Bulls kicking into winning the 2008 draft lottery and landing Derrick Rose. He won Rookie of the Year, became the franchise’s first All-Star since MJ and the youngest MVP in league history in 2011. A new era of greatness seemed possible—until he tore his ACL.
Silverstein: No matter what happened later, that ’04-05 team gave Bulls fans a gift, a reward for sticking around during the previous six dismal post-dynasty years. To this day, when I come across someone else who was watching the Bulls from 1999 to 2004, there is an unspoken connection. We know what we’ve both been through. We respect each other because for six years we said, “This ride sucks, and I’m staying on.”
Jake Malooley is a writer and editor based in Chicago.