The 1996 NBA Finals was the championship series of the 1995–96 National Basketball Association (NBA) season. 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. The series was played under a best-of-seven format.
Chicago won the series 4 games to 2. Michael Jordan was named NBA Finals MVP.
NBC Sports used Ahmad Rashād (Bulls sideline) and Hannah Storm (SuperSonics sideline).
Hal Douglas narrated the season-ending documentary Unstopabulls for NBA Entertainment.
This was the 50th NBA Finals played.
The Bulls were coming off a season in which Michael Jordan returned from an 18-month retirement, only to lose in the second round of the playoffs to the Orlando Magic. Heading into the upcoming season, Chicago was no longer the same team as they were in their most recent championship season of 1993, having lost key members of their first three-peat core in John Paxson, Bill Cartwright, Horace Grant, B. J. Armstrong, Stacey King, Will Perdue, and Scott Williams. The former two retired while the latter five left via free agency.
In their place was a new core of players such as Luc Longley, Toni Kukoč, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, Jud Buechler, Bill Wennington and Randy Brown. But perhaps their biggest addition to the team was Dennis Rodman, a nine-year veteran who had been a rebounding champion for four straight years, and whose controversial lifestyle has been well-documented.
The end result of this ensemble was perhaps the greatest regular season of any team in NBA history at the time, as the Bulls won a then-record 72 games. They continued to gain momentum in the playoffs, beginning with a sweep of the Miami Heat in the first round, followed by a five-game defeat of the New York Knicks in the second round. The conference finals was a rematch of the previous season's series with the Orlando Magic, but it was a no-contest, as the Bulls swept the Magic to gain entry into the Finals.
The SuperSonics were led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, with George Karl as head coach. The team was considered a title contender during the mid-1990s, but the closest they came to reaching the finals was in 1993, when they lost to the Phoenix Suns in seven games.
Two straight first-round exits followed, with the stunning 1994 loss to the eight-seeded Denver Nuggets the most painful of all. Motivated by a successive string of early playoff losses, the Sonics ran all over the Western Conference ladder, finishing with a franchise record 64 victories.
Seattle began its playoff run with a four-game win over the Sacramento Kings, followed by a sweep of the defending champion Houston Rockets They did ran into trouble against the Utah Jazz in the conference finals, but the determined Sonics won the series in seven games to make it to the finals for the first time since 1979.
Both teams split the two meetings, each won by the home team (Which was one of the ten Bulls losses of the season):
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame‡All times are in Eastern Daylight Time (UTC−4).
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.
Game two was started well for Seattle with a 27–23 first quarter lead. However Seattle would once again lose the lead before halftime. Despite Shawn Kemp's 29 points and 13 rebounds, Chicago triumphed with a final score of 92 to 88. In the victory, Dennis Rodman tied an NBA Finals record with 11 offensive rebounds.
The Sonics suffered a 22-point blow-out on their return to Seattle, giving the Chicago Bulls a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead.
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.
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.
Chicago won 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.Chicago Bulls
The 1996 NBA Finals would be the last Finals appearance of the Seattle SuperSonics. The Sonics would win the Pacific Division again in 1997 and 1998, but fell to the second round of the playoffs each time. The series was George Karl's only Finals appearance in his coaching career to date. In 2008, the Sonics franchise moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. They would make the finals four years later after the move.
This was also the last time a Seattle-based team played for a major professional sports championship until Super Bowl XL in 2006, when the Seattle Seahawks lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Seahawks would go on to handily defeat Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 and lose to the New England Patriots the following year in Super Bowl XLIX. In terms of overall sports leagues, the city would later enjoy three championships when the WNBA's Seattle Storm, a one-time SuperSonics sister team, won both the 2004 and 2010 WNBA Finals.
The Bulls came close to winning 70 games for the second straight year, instead settling for a 69-win campaign in 1997. They won their second straight title over the Utah Jazz in six games of the 1997 NBA Finals. In the off-season that preceded Scottie Pippen became the first person to win NBA championship and Olympic gold medal in the same year twice, playing for Team USA at the Atlanta Olympics. The Bulls would also defeat the Utah Jazz in six games in the 1998 NBA Finals.