Chapter 33: Heightened expectations and early challenges
The improvement of the Bulls
The impact Michael Jordan had on the Chicago Bulls was tremendous. The Bulls had gone from a team that struggled against weak opponents to a team that could take down NBA giants.
Chicago Bulls record year by year:
Before Jordan: 27-55
Rookie year: 38-44
Sophomore year: 30-52 (Jordan missed 64 games with a broken foot)
Third year: 40-42
Fourth year: 50-32
However, once a team starts winning, the expectations to keep winning grows stronger. No where was that pressure stronger than on the shoulders of Michael Jordan. Although he carried it well so far, the load was about to get a little heavier.
The departure of Charles Oakley
During the off season, the Bulls traded forward Charles Oakley to the New York Knicks for center Bill Cartwright. The trade potentially made things more difficult for Jordan because Oakley’s game complimented Jordan’s while Cartwright’s did not. Oakley was a great defensive rebounder and outlet passer, and helped to create fast break opportunities for Michael. Oakley also had a solid outside shot, and could draw defensive attention away from the paint, opening up lanes for Michael’s drives. Cartwright on the other hand plays in the low post and would draw defenders into the paint, closing off Michael’s paths to the basket.
Michael was also angry about the trade because Oakley was his good friend and protector. Oakley was known as one of the toughest guys in the NBA, and when the other teams like the Pistons tried to rough Michael up in the lane, Oakley was not afraid to take a stand against them. However valuable Oakley was to Michael did not seem to matter to the management.
Coach Doug Collins and assistant coach Phil Jackson had long believed that the Bulls needed a low post scoring threat to counter the opposing centers in the East. They also wanted to give Horace Grant an opportunity to start next to their other young star Scottie Pippen. The fact that Oakley was very vocal and often clashed with coach Collins only made their decision easier.
Early season challenges:
The addition of Cartwright gave the Bulls a new starting lineup to get used to. Also, Pippen was coming off back surgery and would miss the first 9 games of the season. The first month of the season would be a difficult one for the Bulls, and reaching the 50 win mark again was beginning to look impossible.
Despite those challenges, Michael Jordan continued to perform at peak level night after night. Jordan reached the 52 point mark 3 times in November, including this 9 steal effort against the Boston Celtics. He always seemed to play his best games against the NBA’s best.
Which one of Michael Jordan’s moves in this game was your favorite? Let us know in a comment below!
This is one of Michael’s most beautiful games. He makes so many great moves and makes things look so easy that it’s difficult to believe that he is playing against one of the best defenses in the league. But he does it so often that it almost seems like a routine to him. He would repeat his performance 8 games later, this time against Charles Barkley and the Philadelphia 76ers. Jordan shot 24-29, while Barkley scored 42 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Great players are great because of their ability to consistently perform at the highest level, and Michael Jordan was proving his greatness night after night. After only 4 years in the league, Michael Jordan was approaching a career landmark of 10,000 points.
What do you think the critics said about Michael Jordan?