|Eastern Finals:||Bulls defeat Magic, 4–0|
|Western Finals:||SuperSonics defeat Jazz, 4–3|
The Western Conference champion Seattle SuperSonics (64–18) played the Eastern Conference champion Chicago Bulls (72–10), with the Bulls holding home-court advantage. The teams' 136 combined regular-season wins shattered the previous record of 125, set in 1985 between the Los Angeles Lakers who won 62 games and the Boston Celtics who won 63 games in the past regular season. The series, the 50th NBA finals in league history, was played under a best-of-seven format. This was the first championship in the Chicago Bulls' second three-peat.
1996 NBA Playoffs
|Seattle SuperSonics (Western Conference Champion)||Chicago Bulls (Eastern Conference Champion)|
1st Pacific, 1st West, 2nd Overall
|Regular season||72–10 (.878)
1st Central, 1st East, 1st Overall
|Defeated the (8) Sacramento Kings, 3–1||First Round||Defeated the (8) Miami Heat, 3–0|
|Defeated the (5) Houston Rockets, 4–0||Conference Semifinals||Defeated the (5) New York Knicks, 4–1|
|Defeated the (3) Utah Jazz, 4–3||Conference Finals||Defeated the (2) Orlando Magic, 4–0|
|Game||Date||Home Team||Result||Away Team|
|Game 1||June 5||Chicago||107–90||Seattle|
|Game 2||June 7||Chicago||92–88||Seattle|
|Game 3||June 9||Seattle||86–108||Chicago|
|Game 4||June 12||Seattle||107–86||Chicago|
|Game 5||June 14||Seattle||89–78||Chicago|
|Game 6||June 16||Chicago||87–75||Seattle|
In the playoffs, the Bulls lost only three games in four series, defeating Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, head coach George Karl and their Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals to win the NBA Championship. The Bulls won the first three games of the best-of-seven series, but the Sonics avoided the sweep and rallied back to win the next two at home. Eventually, the more experienced Bulls proved to be too much as the Bulls captured their fourth title (after a two-year hiatus). For his performance in the series against Seattle, Michael Jordan was named the Finals MVP.
Michael Jordan decided to return to basketball in 1995, after a short stint as a baseball player. Although he failed to lead the Bulls to the Finals in that year, he returned to pre-retirement form the next year and led the Chicago Bulls to one of the most memorable seasons ever. Freshly motivated by the playoff defeat against the Orlando Magic, the Bulls trained aggressively in preparation for the 1995–96 season.
In the offseason, the Bulls lost B.J. Armstrong in the expansion draft, but Bulls general manager Jerry Krause pulled off a masterful deal by trading Will Perdue to the San Antonio Spurs for notorious rebounder Dennis Rodman, who had won the past four rebounding titles.
That year, strengthened by the addition of Dennis Rodman, the Bulls dominated the league. With a lineup of Ron Harper, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Luc Longley, and perhaps the league's best bench in Toni Kukoč, Steve Kerr, Jason Caffey, Bill Wennington, Dickey Simpkins, and guard Randy Brown, the Bulls posted one of the best single-season improvements in league history and the best single-season record. They moved from 47–35 to 72–10. Jordan won his eighth scoring title, and Rodman his fifth straight rebounding title, while Kerr led the league in three-point shooting. Michael Jordan won the league's regular season and All-Star Game MVP awards.
Jerry Krause won the executive of the year award, Phil Jackson won the coach of the year award, and Toni Kukoč was the sixth man of the year. Both Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan made the all-NBA first team, and Jordan, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman all made the all-defensive first team, the only time three players from the same team had done so.
The Chicago Bulls had no problems during the playoffs. After demolishing Miami by over 15 points per game in the first round, they would go 4–1 against the Knicks in the semifinals to get revenge and sweep the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the 1994 playoffs, the first seeded Seattle (63–19) lost 3 games to 2 to the eighth seeded Nuggets (42–40). Seattle would once again be upset in the 1995 playoffs against the L.A. Lakers.
After two first round defeats, Seattle would make a major come back in the 1996 season. Led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, the SuperSonics went 64–18, leading the Western Conference, and setting the record for highest single-season win total in Supersonics history. Seattle blew through Sacramento in the first round; 3 games to 1. It also had no problems with defending champion Houston, sweeping them. However, their playoff troubles re-emerged after dropping two games to the Utah Jazz to bring the series to 3–3. However, Seattle took game 7 and won what was one of the most exciting series of the 1996 playoffs. Seattle would finally go to its first NBA Final game since 1979.
1996 NBA Finals Roster
1996 Chicago Bulls
Head Coach: Phil Jackson Michael Jordan | Scottie Pippen | Dennis Rodman | Toni Kukoč | Luc Longley | Steve Kerr | Ron Harper | Bill Wennington | Jack J. Haley | Jud Buechler | Dickey Simpkins | James Edwards | Jason Caffey | Randy Brown | John Salley |
1996 Seattle Supersonics
Head Coach: George Karl Gary Payton | Shawn Kemp | Detlef Schrempf | Hersey Hawkins | Sam Perkins | Vincent Askew | Ervin Johnson | Frank Brickowski | Nate McMillan | David Wingate | Sherell Ford | Eric Snow | Steve Scheffler |
|Game||Date||Home Team||Result||Road Team||TV Time|
|Game 1||Wednesday, June 5||Chicago||107-90||Seattle||NBC 9:00et|
|Game 2||Friday, June 7||Chicago||92-88||Seattle||NBC 9:00et|
|Game 3||Sunday, June 9||Seattle||86-108||Chicago||NBC 7:00et|
|Game 4||Wednesday, June 12||Seattle||107-86||Chicago||NBC 9:00et|
|Game 5||Friday, June 14||Seattle||89-78||Chicago||NBC 9:00et|
|Game 6||Sunday, June 16||Chicago||87-75||Seattle||NBC 7:00et|
Bulls win series 4-2
Wednesday, June 5, at the United Center 9:00et on NBC
Although Chicago was not playing well offensively, they were able to compensate with superb defense. Chicago was leading only by 2 at the end of the third quarter, however in the final quarter shots by Toni Kukoč and 2 key steals by Ron Harper clinched the Bulls a win.
Friday, June 7, at the United Center
Game two was fortunate for Seattle in the first quarter, with a 27–23 lead. However Seattle would once again lose the lead. Despite attempts at catching up by Gary Payton in the second quarter, Toni Kukoč clinched the Bulls' win in the third quarter, with a final score of 92 to 88. In the victory, Dennis Rodman tied an NBA Finals record with 11 offensive rebounds.
Sunday, June 9, at the KeyArena
First game at Seattle. Even though Seattle had the home-court advantage, they would still be blown out by 22 points.
Wednesday, June 12, at the KeyArena
Seattle did not want to suffer the ignominy of a sweep. Going into this game, the SuperSonics were looking to rebound from the deficit. They succeeded with a 107–86 win over the Bulls. The series would now go to five games. The Sonics were helped by the return of team captain Nate McMillan whose presence entering the game brought the KeyArena crowd to its feet.
Friday, June 14, at the KeyArena
Seattle would once again deny the Bulls the championship, stretching the series to six games. Payton had this to say: "We feel great. We knew we could play with this team. It just took too long. We should have come with this a little earlier." Shawn Kemp's performance in this game was considered by many to be his best in a Seattle uniform.
Sunday, June 16, at the United Center
Chicago wins the series 4 games to 2 on Father's Day. The victory was partly due to the stellar performance of the Bulls power forward Dennis Rodman, who repeated his Game 2 performance of 11 offensive rebounds, tying his own NBA Finals record.