MJ contemplates the question.
The story we don't know is how the careers of those he beat along the way would have changed if he had not won all those rings.
Let's roll call those that saw their careers end without a ring, at the hands of the greatest of all time.
And these are just the guys I remember!
So in '91, the Bulls and Jordan swept the Knicks, beat the Sixers 4-1 and destroyed their biggest foe, the Pistons, 4-0. They went on to beat Magic and his Lakers 4-1 to be crowned NBA champs for the first time.
Had Jordan and the Bulls lost to the Sixers in their series, I think it's safe to say that Philly would have gone on to beat Detroit and also the aging Lakers in a six- or seven-game series.
Barkley would have got his first ring, and he'd forever finish ahead of Duncan in the "Who is the best PF all time?" conversations.
In '92, MJ and the Bulls locked horns with the Knicks in what some still consider one the greatest playoff series of all time.
Going seven long, thrilling games that saw me taking the week off work just to watch was by far the Bulls' greatest test. Had they lost, I have no doubt that Ewing and his Knickerbockers would have disposed of the Cavs for the East title, and then collected their ring in seven games against Clyde Drexler and his Blazers.
Ewing would have given the critical city of New York their much-demanded championship, and he would be considered the greatest center in the game after Bill Russell by someone other than me.
Truth be told, despite being a lifelong Bulls fan, I always admired Ewing's game and rate him the best center in the last 20 years. That's a different argument, though.
In '93, I'd see the Bulls losing a five-game series to Atlanta, who then went on to beat the aging Cavs, only to be beaten in six games by the Knicks to take the East again.
Meeting the younger and fast paced team of Phoenix, I have Barkley getting his second ring and smashing the Knicks 4-1 in a five-game series.
The Suns had a fantastic team in '93, with Barkley as league MVP and KJ, Majerle, Chambers and super-rookie Richard Dumas. Even Oliver Miller made a positive contribution.
Then for two years Jordan and the Bulls gave the NBA a chance for someone else to win one, and Houston took that opportunity to win two. In 1994 and 1995, the Houston Rockets featuring Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and a host of great role players reached the pinnacle of the NBA.
Bring on the 1995-96 season, when Jordan and his Bulls had their easiest postseason ever, which is why is makes it so hard to predict who should have advanced to the finals.
Miami was too inexperienced and New York was too old, which really only leaves an Orlando team that had knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs, just like Nick Anderson knocked the ball out of Jordan’s hands in the playoffs the previous year.
Let’s assume Orlando knocked the Bulls out in the East finals—you would have seen the Magic take on Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton’s Sonics. This would have been an interesting series filled with highlight plays.
However, I think Orlando’s depth combined with their strength in the middle with a young and athletic Shaq and Penny Hardaway would get them the rings in six games.
The 1997 season saw the Bulls coast through another series of playoff games, with a total of two losses in 13 games.
Looking at the rosters of the teams the Bulls faced, it’s obvious that despite losing in the East finals, Miami had a strong team. Had the Heat gone on to play the Jazz, it would have made for an exciting NBA finals.
Despite probably going seven games, I think the class of Stockton and Malone would have ultimately prevailed and they would have captured their first rings.
The flow on effect of the Jazz winning would also further cement Malone as one of the greatest power forwards in the history of the NBA, and Stockton would be mentioned more often when discussing the greatest point guards.
Despite how easily the Bulls disposed of the Nets and Hornets, it’s difficult to write those opponents off as championship-worthy teams.
Having said that, Indiana was by far the most deserving of them to head to the NBA finals if one of them had to.
Had Indiana faced Utah in the NBA finals, we would have seen one of the greatest shooters and most despised players in NBA history get his ring.
Reggie Miller and his Indiana Pacers would have disposed of the aging Jazz in six games.
So there we have it. Had the Bulls not been champions each of their six years, here is who history would have changed for:
1991: NBA Champions—Philadelphia 76ers; Charles Barkley gets his first ring
1992: NBA Champions—New York Knicks; Patrick Ewing gets his ring
1993: NBA Champions – Phoenix Suns; Charles Barkley gets his second ring
1996: NBA Champions—Orlando Magic; Shaq gets his first ring, Penny gets his ring
1997: NBA Champions—Utah Jazz; Malone and Stockton cement their place in history by getting their rings
1998: NBA Champions—Indiana Pacers; Reggie Miller gets his ring
History would have changed forever with some of the NBA’s most amazing players being crowned NBA champions and their careers ending in more fitting style.
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