Phil Jackson used to be our coach and the head of our tribe, but Michael was the leader, the person guaranteeing the execution of headman’s rules. You need a system and a clear hierarchy. It all went down from Michael.
Sometimes decision about a day off was taken by Phil, sometimes it came from Michael. We never asked who exactly it was, but we always knew that each and every rest day was agreed by Michael.
Michael expected that once you get out on the floor, you must show everything no matter if it is a game, training or pre-match warm-up. In his eyes, that’s where professionalism lies.
I know, each of our team members could easily understand when Michael liked or disliked the game.
In my case, Michael accepted the fact that Shaq weighed 30 pounds more and was 5 centimetres higher. Michael had no claims if Shaq crashed me down. But he went mad in case I avoided the contact with Shaq. Michael was constantly arguing with the others: their desire to play well and knock themselves out in the court often did not match expectations he had.
I clearly remember one game, after which Michael got angry with Luc Longley, our joyful Australian center. Luc didn’t focus on catching the ball and Michael was tired of him being constantly mistaken and stopped passing him the ball.
Triangle offense is arranged in such a way that if a ball doesn’t go where it has to, all are puzzled. Phil Jackson took the time out and said: “Michael, you have to pass Luc the ball.” But Michael refused: “I don’t have to do anything. I gave him a ball twice and he didn’t catch it. I’m not going to pass someone who doesn’t catch a ball.”
Next day we had the pre-training meeting. Phil said again: “Michael, you must give the ball to Luc.”
“Michael, I try my best,” insisted Luc.
“No, Luc, no way. You don’t catch the ball. If I pass you the ball, you have to catch it.”
They discussed that. Had a fruitful talk. Nothing tense. But, finally, Michael said: “Luc, I will pass you the ball next match, but if you don’t catch it, it is going to break your nose.”
The day after Michael passed Luc, straight to his face. Luc caught the ball a few centimetres from his nose. But he caught it.
Michael always did what he had promised. And he expected that you would react in a certain way, show that you are ready to play basketball at the highest level.
Is it hard to believe? But so it was.
There are no words to describe Michael Jordan’s desire to win. He knew that he needed us to help him, and none of us wanted to let him down, without showing our best.
Michael hated players missing trainings. He put up with it only if saw bone sticking out of a key body part. He brought guys from our team to task, got angry at them, thus motivating himself. He forced Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc to practice, although they had slight injuries. He was telling them: “You are a part of the team. We need you.” Then he deliberately put pressure on them.
We had to stand up to Michael in order to show that our level of willingness is nearly equal to his driving force. For sure, in this case you had to pay for this.
Once, at the beginning of practice we were engaged into two-sided game. I played for the second team, Michael – for the first. He went into corridor straight on me. I blocked him. I had already done it and was ready to repeat. That moment I became Jordan’s object of motivation to the very end. Each time he shoot – no matter whether we played five on five, four on four, three on three – he shoot over ME, telling each time “Block that.”
Then during the same training he started to dribble, went through defence, and returned to the wing, where I was holding my player. He made me to switch to him, threw through my hands and said: “Block that.”
That day I blocked him one or two times, but he threw through me much more times and did that he wanted. It was a day of shooting over Bill. I was his motivation, that made we work my socks off all day. As a result, both of us had to work more – and all because of me blocking his first shot.
There was one guy who liked discussing contracts. Michael always wanted to know what you bought, when signed new contract. He loved to laugh at you.
“I can’t believe how much you are paid! Are they aware of what you are doing?”
Michael didn’t mean anything by it. To be honest, he didn’t need it. He knew that his salary is the biggest. He just liked laughing, like everyone, though.
Michael liked reading news about himself coming not only from Chicago. He was interested in all that was written about him in other cities too. If we played, let’s say, in Miami, and someone scored 30-40 points on him, and then said something about this – at least said something – in the newspaper the next day, Michael used it as motivation for the next game. We called him “Black cat” – the cat that never forgets anything. He didn’t need to write it down. Everything that was perceived as disrespect or challenge, he fixed in his memory forever. If somebody scored 30 on him, then the next time he tried to score 40. But if 40, then 50, etc.
In the first season after the return, Michael came up with a smile after one of the first practices to me, Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler. We had already played with him in spring, but still didn’t know him well.
“Guys, jump on my cape and hold on tight because I’ll try to detach you,” he told us.
He wasn’t kidding. That’s why everything worked. He even forced the 12th player to go all out, despite the fact that he goes to the court only for 1-3 minutes.
Scottie Pippen is one I loved the most in “Bulls”.
I remember the day when we were watching the video after the game. One of the instructions was that we didn’t have to help Luc Longley defend in the low post. At first, he needed to handle that by himself. Honestly speaking, this task wasn’t for this particular game only. Phil considered that support to center opens the perimeter, producing a situation, in which all begin to run around attempting to fill holes. He was sure that player should be able to defend himself head to head.
Once I shared the floor with Luc. I was up on the wing, far from “paint”. According to Phil, I couldn’t go down below the free throw line. I couldn’t help in the low post as well. Scottie and I were standing near the high post area, between the “paint” and three point line, while Luc was defending. Scottie said me: “Bill, go to help him”. Of course, we hadn’t practiced it, but when you’re on the court, all are trying to work as a single whole and believe that you will be supported as well. When Scottie says something like that, I do so. I knew he was controlling my player. So, I went to the low post and helped – center threw the ball out, which meant that our goal was achieved.
Next day we were watching the video. I understood that I did something that was contrary to Phil’s instructions. Phil was trashing me:
“Bill, what are you doing here? We don’t double-team in such a case.”
I tried to say something:
“I thought I should…”
Here Scottie began to speak.
“Phil, I told him to help. I controlled his player. I wanted him to secure center.”
At that very moment I became Scottie’s biggest fun. Such things happened repeatedly and not with me only, but with others too. It’s not that Scottie stepped up to us. He just let Phil know, that happened in the floor that moment and why we backed away from a plan. He took the role of a leader on the court and defended his decision before Phil during the video sessions. He didn’t escape responsibility.
When such thing happened to Michael, he didn’t intervene. He looked at coach scolding us and listened to what we were saying in our defence. Certainly, I never said: “It is Michael who told me to do this and that.” I listened to the criticism, as I’m still responsible for what I did, the reason is not important here. Michael considered it as a test, he appreciated our willingness to stand up for each other. Did he respect me due to the fact that I took responsibility for a decision more or less? Who knows? But Scottie didn’t make similar experiments.
Phil had many strange thoughts, but I understood a lot from he was saying.
Indians perceive life as a war, and sport is an analogue of military actions in the today’s world. Indian tribes were at war with other tribes. If to look at NBA teams as the tribes, as if today our tribe is playing with the Boston tribe or the Cleveland tribe, and yesterday with the Indiana tribe, it creates a completely different picture and helps to get through the severity of the NBA season.
Phil brought Indian artifacts to the locker room, and there was nothing wrong with it. He kept in his office a pile of Indian things, and he talked about us like we were a tribe. He tried to create a sense of fellowship and desire to fight for each other.
It should be noted that the audience he appealed to in the year of 1996 wasn’t American. He used every muscle in front of the African Americans, a Croatian, an Australian, a Canadian and Dennis Rodman. He brought all these strange things, and in the beginning, nobody could understand what he was talking about.
He spoke about war, causes of the war. He discussed the tribe’s pride. He taught us how to breathe correctly and relax.
Talks about tribes never meant: “our people against others.” It wasn’t a black-and-white look at our situation. He said: “That is what we are. We are the tribe. Only we know who we are, so we need to listen to each other.”
I’m still not sure I understand everything he was trying to tell us.
One more thing was yoga.
Once Phil gathered us after the practice and invited the yoga instructor. He was supposed to help us become the part of the whole. Not everyone was comfortable with it, but we all did what he said. The Lying Dog, The Crooked Cat, the Standing Tree – but mostly we sat on our knees. I cannot express knee pain after playing basketball. We all got on in years, and all wrapped our knees with ice after games and trainings. But all of a sudden Phil put us on knees, trying to help us relax and achieve unity with others, or whatever it was. All we could think about is how great it would be to place the ice bags on our knees to extinguish the fire inside. Instead, we carried the entire body weight on our knees, and it was incredible. But Phil forced us to do it. He convinced Michael and Scottie that it was necessary, so the whole team was doing yoga. Of course, all cursed. But nobody left.
Only thinking player could fully understand Tex. All that he needed while working with “Bulls” was to persuade Michael that his view was correct. When Michael admitted Tex’s point, all the rest just matched. Michael was more influential than coaches were, but he got along with Tex and understood all what he was saying and how he could benefit from that. Tex and Phil convinced Michael to the effectiveness of the “triangle attack”, and it gave the result. It’s a pity that Tex was unable to receive money whenever the phrase “triangle attack” was used to describe our team’s success.
With Tex it was highly difficult to understand how you played basketball. We never knew what he could say to us; the only thing we could be sure about was that he would never praise you. Of course, it was totally useless to ask him about your game and why something didn’t work, because you heard nothing but: “You must work more.” Other coaches paid more attention to words and acted in such a way that you wouldn’t feel like a total loser. Tex belonged to the old school, which believed that praise is for wimps.
It was always amusing to observe how Tex wandered against the hotel or stadium. He loved to walk. Being much older than the other coaches, he had nothing in common with them, so he spent a lot of time alone.
I’ve already said that he was an old school couch and it was reflected not merely in basketball. He was a child of depression, and, in my opinion, he suggested that you shouldn’t neglect anything.
That’s why he was very saving. He picked up everything that had at least any value, all that others were throwing away.
He was obsessed with shoes boxes. Guys bought new shoes and threw the boxes out, but Tex took it home to store his things there. He said: “This is a great box. It cannot be thrown away.”
Same thing with food. It was not that he pulled the food out of the garbage, but he enjoyed those moments when a free meal was given.
The way Dennis Rodman played, and even more, the way he lived, was a great problem for the whole team. But as soon as Phil realized that he could get him, he decided to make use of Dennis’s behaviour, or at least squeeze anything useful from him. When Dennis came to us, media was always concentrated on him, on what he did last night and stopped bothering us with questions like: “Tomorrow you play with “Boston”. What are your strengths and how you will defeat them?”
Instead, media said that Dennis was seen at a nightclub together with Madonna at 3 in the morning and asked: “What are you going to do now?” Jordan, Pippen or no one else felt the pressure. It didn’t matter how I would defend the post. The main thing was whether Dennis was going to wake up and get on time to the game. It became a crucial part of the first season, when we won 72 matches. Dennis removed the pressure from all of us. He never felt it and didn’t even recognize.
Until we win 60 or 65 games, media wasn’t even interested in record and wasn’t wondering: “Will they manage to do it?” No one was focused on that amazing basketball we showed, because all were more fascinated by the adventures of Dennis.
March came. And suddenly everyone started talking: “These guys are playing quite good.” It was a feeling that Dennis Rodman made people not to notice it before.
When Dennis became our teammate, we all were surprised. Even more, his presence was not felt. No one knew how to approach him. Nobody wanted to talk to him, since they couldn’t predict his reaction. Simply preferred not to touch him.
At that moment, Dennis and we had the same business agent. Once we even discussed this on the floor when played for different teams. One day we were sitting in the locker room at our training base and talking about Dennis. Someone asked: “Has anyone talked to him yet?” It turned out that nobody. He already played with us for some time, but no one took the risk of exchanging a few words with him. If it had been anyone except him, common courtesy would appear as a matter of course.
I was surprised that Dennis was so ignored, although I never bothered to talk to him as well.
“Haven’t you guys talked to him yet?”
So I was chosen to establish communication with Dennis Rodman. Apparently, they knew that I could talk to anyone.
I thought: “Well, of course, Canadian is sent to make contact with a crazy guy.”
Well, I greeted him and reminded that we had a common agent. I knew he was into motorcycles, because he had an accident on a motorcycle during the game for the Spurs. I told him that I bought a motorcycle too. We talked a little. He didn’t speak a lot, but I told him: “I´m glad you’re with us. Now, I think we will do something big.” He said: “Thanks.”
I returned and told the guys it was all OK. You can deal with Dennis. I’m not really sure that they believed me. Anyway, it took a long time to get used to him.
There was one unforgettable evening in the Florida bar. It all started as a usual party, but that night entirely changed my perception of Dennis Rodman.
When we played in Miami, I stayed in a unique hotel placed in the nightlife center of the city. There was a small shopping center right across the street, having a sports bar named in honour of the Miami quarterback Dan Marino.
It was midnight. I was sitting in the VIP room at the back side of the bar with a huge plate glass window through which we could see the whole bar, while being invisible to everybody. It happened because we were the Bulls, the basketball equivalent of the Beatles, and Dennis preferred remain in shadow.
We came there with some players, our regular commentator Johnny Kerr and one newspaper reporter. Those times players and press used to hang out together and there was an unspoken rule about what can be published, what – not. These talks were off the record, but the newspaperman tried to go beyond the established framework and extract something interesting from Dennis.
He achieved one thing – it turned out that Dennis Rodman is well-versed in basketball.
Dennis told him that he watched a great deal of videos, especially of shooters. He paid attention to the fact that when they are fresh and the game has just begun, their arms are in a certain position, and shooting and other motions are complete. But after 15 minutes, arms get tired, they stop to follow through, and fall short. Other players make more effort, so their throws go a little further. Dennis had an eye for such things. He analysed the game of many players on the league that night, and I learned a lot in the art of ball throwing. From Dennis Rodman. In bar.
I found out a lot about him that night, about how deeply he knew basketball. I think few people understand how much his actions on the courts depended on his mental process.
The downside of that evening was that it ended at about half past three in the morning. I went to my room, but Dennis stayed in the bar. We flew to Detroit next day and had a practice in the morning. Dennis was also present, and I don’t know how he did it.
Phil Jackson was keen on motorcycles, and I went as far as to order a motorcycle made specifically for me. Luc Longley did the same thing.
Phil doubted whether guys could ride a motorcycle or not. But he rode himself and therefore felt he could allow us to do it too. He said neither yes nor no.
Dennis had a security guard named George. He taught me to ride. I prepared enough and one day came to Dennis and said that if he was going to ride, I could bear him company.
Once Dennis called me: “Do you want to ride?”
I went to his house, and then we rode to downtown Chicago. No far. Just had a snack, rode around the city and headed back to North.
It was an unforgettable experience.
I was wearing a helmet and a shirt covering the whole body. Dennis – bandana on the head, all the tattoos on display, earrings, jewellery sparkling in the sun.
Every car we met on the road slowed down. I couldn’t imagine that so many people rode with cameras. I think that Dennis appeared in at least a hundred photos that day. We drove at about 80-90 km per hour, and all car drives were trying to get closer to us to get a better shot. They hardly knocked me down to approach him.
It got to the point that George had to drive a car behind us to keep people at a distance, so that we could enjoy the ride.
After we won the first title, I invited my wife Anne and my friend Brian to one of Dennis’ favorite nightclubs. Dennis urged us to come there. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Luc, Steve, Jud and Jason Caffey were with us. It was Sunday evening. For me, it made no difference, but for Dennis made. On Sundays the club held gay parties.
Dennis was ready to arrange an incredible evening for all of us.
“Billy, why don’t you climb up on one of these big boxes and dance a little?”
I wasn’t going to do anything like that, but somehow Dennis influenced Brian and Anne, and they began to persuade me. Finally, I gave up, appreciating that my conservative wife Anne, who never curses and drink, asked me to dance on the box in front of homosexual audience.
“Come on, Bill, when will you get a chance like this again?”
“Never, I hope”.
All in all, hearty supported by all my friends I got up on the dance box and danced for a while there. Dennis was laughing like crazy. I grew into my role so much that I took my shirt off. After it happened, a guy in cowboy boots and swimming trunks appeared suddenly, and began to dance with me.
I swear, thing like that, would never have happened if we hadn’t celebrated an NBA title.
Dennis used to smack Mourning on the butt, and Mourning didn’t know how to treat this. In the public eye, Dennis answered questions about his sexual orientation quite ambiguously. Once he appeared in a wedding dress. So, when Dennis spanked Mourning on his bottom, he was really worried. Mourning fought his hands off, while Dennis smiled mysteriously, driving Mourning into complete stress.
Dennis also liked that people talked about him. Part of his strategy was that nobody knew what to expect from him. He liked to throw players off balance, when they stopped thinking about the game, switching their attention to minor issues associated with him.
The only unnecessary thing that he allowed himself on the court was when he hit his head on the referee Ted Bernhardt. I think he planned it before he did it, but didn’t expect that he would do it that way. I think Dennis just looked at him and said to himself: “I need to push him a little.” And in the heat of the moment, it turned out to be so. Dennis got a lot of bad calls on him because of his reputation, and I think that accumulated irritation run out that moment.
But in general, Dennis knew what kind of guys didn’t like to be touched unnecessarily, and always tried to knock them off the stride.
Slam on the butt is a part of sport. But with Dennis it all acquired a slightly different meaning. When we played with Pacers in the 1998 Eastern Conference finals, Dennis used all possible tricks to take an opponent out of the game. His rival was Antonio Davis, whom I met later, after he joined Chicago.
Antonio told me that Dennis clung to him as if trying to unravel, but then grabbed his hand and began to waltz with him. “He touched me, poked me, hugged me, said Antonio. – Then we got a mutual foul and he grabbed me and started dancing. I was about to explode, but restrained myself, keeping into mind that he was trying to provoke me into technical foul.”
Among other pranks, Dennis especially liked to cover other players’ underpants with muscle pain relief creams. This is a very effective trick, although a little mean.
Once we played in Washington, and Dennis managed to turn it round with Jad Muslera and Steve Kerr. He wanted to do the same with Luc Longley, but I talked him out of it – we have a pact on mutual non-aggression. We agreed that if one of us was the target of the drawing, we would warn each other.
Dennis’s attempts often weren’t successful. He put the whole handfuls of cream. I taught him to smear quite a bit. Otherwise, guys will understand that there’s something wrong with their trunks and won’t wear them.
But in Washington, Dennis’s plan worked perfectly. Steve and Jud put on trunks after the match. They didn’t say anything. We boarded the plane, and they stayed silent. Dennis started scolding me, saying that it was necessary to smear more. But I told him to relax, and that he would be satisfied with the result.
Then Steve told me that he was very hot and Jud realized that they were made fools. They just didn’t want to tell the truth and show that our trick got through.
Things are slightly different in Europe. When I played there, we had team meals all the time. A few bottles of wine were put on the table, so you could drink at dinner, even before a game.
In the fall of 1993 we went on our first West Coast road trip. I ran into Tony at one of the restaurants in Seattle. He was having dinner alone. It’s normal for the NBA. If you don’t arrange a dinner with a teammate at practice, or if you have no friends, you usually eat alone. Tony was still getting used to the team and didn’t make friends yet.
He was also trying to understand his role on the court, which made the process of finding friend more complex.
So he was sitting alone in the restaurant before the match with Sonics. I came to the table and asked: “Are you playing today?” He said: “Yes, why do you ask?”
“You’re drinking a beer.”
“I always do it before the game. I drink beer or a glass of wine before games.”
I felt that I ought to tell him that things happen a little differently in the NBA.
“I don’t mind beer, one beer, at lunch, seven hours before the game, but if someone sees you and you play bad, what you think they will say then?”
I remember Phil getting mad when I allowed Luc to move me at post-up position. I remember Phil getting angry at the fact that I scored from the midfield line through Luc. It was my signature and the only attacking strategy. Phil yelled: “Luc, what do you think he was going to do?”
We forced each other to become better. And I think we have succeeded over the years.
Luc and I were different players, that’s for sure. I am more mobile, more athletic. The Bulls tried to make me bigger and stronger, so both size and strength increased during the years. When I got to the Bulls, my weight was 113 kilos, when left – 127. They made me bigger and wanted to change my game, to be more like Luc. When Luc ran under the basket and tried to finish the attack there, I stopped and threw from the midfield. Nothing has changed in 13 years. I didn’t play more because of it, but I was often successful being myself.
Luc loved to have fun, and maybe that was part of his problem. He came from a country with more calm and measured lifestyle as compare to America. He was not always focused on the coming game. He didn’t feel tension. He just enjoyed life and always repeated his Australian phrase, “No worries”, which sounded wonderful with his Aussie accent.
He was a fun guy. He tried to do his best on the floor, but the main thing for him was to have a good time. He never wanted to offend anyone. It seemed that he loved each and everyone in the entire organization.
He drove Michael Jordan mad.
Luc got his most serious injury in November of 1996. It was a unique event, and I remember how much noise it made. But the story itself is excellent.
We arrived to Los Angeles and was preparing to play with the Clippers. We had one day off before the match, so that we could enjoy California. Jud Buechler, a fan of surfing, took Luc who used to surf in Australia when he was a little boy.
I wasn’t there because I had rented a motorcycle and went for a ride. I wonder what might have happened if I had gone with them.
At some point a wave picked Luc up and beat him against the sand. He went forward and hit his shoulder. Such things are not rare in surfing – a wave catches you, then as if stops, and you are hanging a meter above the water, at speed, and, finally, fall down abruptly.
The fact that he hit his shoulder was only a part of Luc’s problem. He panicked, as he didn’t know how Phil would react to this. It’s one thing when you injured playing basketball; it’s yet another thing when seven-foot center injured surfing.
Luc and Jud returned to the hotel and met Steve and me. Luc didn’t know what to do. He realized that he had to call our athletic trainer Chip Schaefer and our doctor. But he didn’t want to do that really.
Jud panicked too. He thought he would get in trouble, since it was he who created conditions that led to Luc’s injury. Jud already didn’t play a lot, but then he was worried that his playing time would disappear completely or that he would be signed off.
When I saw Luc I was amazed at how much scared he was. Although his position in the team wasn’t in danger, he was also afraid of being cut off or having his contract cancelled because he had been doing what players usually are not allowed to do.
The contract didn’t include a point showing that surfing was prohibited, but at the same time it certainly didn’t say that it was allowed. Jud and Luc was sitting in the hotel, horrified at contacting Phil and Jerry Krause.
When Luc dared to tell Phil the truth, I don’t think that Phil got angry at Luc due to the fact that he had been surfing. He just went mad, as Luc managed to injure himself when surfing.
Luc dropped out for six weeks, and story had a happy ending.
All this time he was wearing a huge shoulder pad and looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. That Disney movie was just released, so we all gave Luc Hunchback dolls and toys. It drew him crazy.
Even the best basketball players in the world, knowing all inside out, sometimes miss dunks. Michael missed them too. I remember one Ron Harper’s mistake that became one of the funniest moment that we had on the court.
Ron and Michael were always arguing who is better. They discussed each other’s games, debating who was stronger. When Ron came into the league, he was seen as an equal to Michael, and proved it in matches between Chicago and Cleveland.
It went on forever. One said: “I remember when I scored 40 on this guy.” And the other answered: “Really? I scored 45.”
They looked like brothers, competing with each other in everything.
Once before the match at the United Center, they were arguing about the ability to dunk. When we were in the third quarter, Ron stole the ball in the midcourt. He was alone and, I think, was trying to prove something to Michael and make a spectacular dunk. But he pushed badly, couldn’t jump high enough to reach the ring to make a shot.
I’ve never seen Michael laughing that hard. He laughed for the next possession. But after getting taken out of the game, sat on the bench and couldn’t calm down. He beat everyone on the back, slapped his knee. Ron just stood on the floor and glared at him, knowing that the end is not soon.
In the spring of 1995 we all knew Michael Jordan was getting back. It was a secret we had to keep.
At the beginning of the year Michael practiced with us a couple of times, but it more looked like a big star returning to the TV show, where he started his career. It was a newsbreak, something to speak or write about, but not a return. Two days, two practices in a row. There was no reason to think he decided to come back.
About three weeks before the official announcement he came to practice with us. Only this time he was already in very good shape. It felt that his spirit was different too.
The first day we didn’t have any thoughts. He trained with us before. On the second day we began to suspect something. He knocked himself out, participated in all the exercises. When he came back the first time, he just played with us.
This time it was different, but it seemed that the guy tries to get engaged in something he missed a year and a half.
He was absent few days, and we ceased to think about it. Then he got back and stayed for two weeks.
No needed to be Einstein to guess that he was preparing for something. I believe he was checking what he is capable of, if his body responded the way he wanted. Judging from that he decided to return, he was satisfied with the results.
After weeks of daily practice, we already realized what was happening, but no one asked him: “Are you coming back?” It hard to say if we were afraid to jinx it, or just didn’t want to fall into the trap that Michael had made for us.
By the way he worked, we understood that he was shaping up for a particular purpose and we all began to believe that our dream to play with Michael Jordan could come true. This thought started blowing our minds. We imagined: “If he comes, we will fight for the title again.” We were one of the best teams in the East, but new opportunities could emerge.
We had no meeting at which Michael announced his return. In fact, when it happened officially, the team wasn’t’ notified. We just had to work.
Michael came back into a completely different team. Scottie was the only one; he hadn’t played with the rest. Those who had to experience it for the first time, realized that their dream was approaching reality. I moved to the Bulls for this reason, Steve did it for the sake of it too, the same with Toni. We were looking forward to this moment and understood that anything was possible. Now I can say that it was too much of glee, but all this was compensated in the next three seasons.
One of the funniest moment of the 1995–96 NBA season happened in Salt Lake City. We had a road game almost every Thanksgiving, as the United Center was always reserved for circus performances. During the time I was in club, we spent Thanksgiving in Dallas, Salt Lake City and Vancouver.
When we stayed in Salt Lake City for the holiday, we decided to go to the movies on the evening. There were a lot of us: Jud, Steve, Randy, me, Luc, Dickey Simpkins, perhaps someone else.
The theater was situated three blocks from the hotel, so, we met Michael while we were going there on foot. He, along with five guards, were moving in the same direction. Apparently, there was nothing else to do on Thanksgiving evening in Salt Lake City.
We got to the theatre, which was absolutely empty. It was Thanksgiving dinner time, so all stayed at home. The whole cinema was in our possession. When the movie ended, we went outside. We thought that it would be as quiet as it was, but the lobby was full of people. People were standing in a huge line to get in, which continued outside and around the house. It usually happens at blockbusters’ premieres. I don’t remember which one came out then.
When about 300 people standing in a line noticed Michael, they went after us. It was much more important for them to get an autograph from Michael than to get to the cinema. People did not care about the rest. They didn’t see other members of the championship team. Only huge guys preventing them to approach Michael.
After winning the final in Salt Lake City, we arrived to the hotel by bus. We were going to go to the airport and return home rather than stay in Utah. So we packed up and got on the bus at the hotel. There were thousands of fans greeting us.
Michael was the last to get on the bus. When he got, he opened the emergency exit on top of the bus and got up on the roof. He was standing there and enjoyed the moment with the crowd. He was like a kid. I’d never seen him behave that way before. Michael went through it all five times, but he cheered about the title as if it happened for the first time.
I still have a photo where his feet stick out of the exit hole, when he climbs up to the roof of the bus. I remember I was thinking that this was such an amazing moment for him and for the fans. We felt that we were releasing from the pressure under which we lived all that time. It was a cool moment, and of course, it was one of the last.
Jason Caffey came to us in 1995. He became a part of the team of the season 95/96, the best in basketball history.
One day after training, shortly before the break for the All-Star Game, he was looking at everyone in the locker room, examining all the players and thinking about the situation he had fallen into.
He told me: “This is unbelievable. Is it always like this?”
“Jason, it is never like this. You need to take notes and follow everything that happens in this season, because it will never be like this again.”