It’s not just about the rings. It’s about the rings other superstar NBA players didn’t win because of the Bulls’ reign over the league. Several stars from the first two Dream Teams do not have championships, and their legacies might have been different with that ring.
Whose legacy was impacted most? That’s an interesting question.
Sporting News looks at the six players whose legacies might be different had they been able to take down Jordan in either the Eastern Conference playoffs or NBA Finals to find the answer.
6. Shawn Kemp
“The Rainman” made six straight All-Star appearances from 1992-98 with Seattle, and he did it with ferocious dunks that were custom-made posters (ask Alton Lister). The Sonics — led by Kemp and Gary Payton shook off several playoff disappointments with a 64-18 record in 1995-96 — but they ran into the Bulls’ 72-win team in the NBA Finals.
Chicago won the series in six games. What if Seattle found a way that season? Perhaps Kemp doesn’t leave for Cleveland in 1997, where he made one All-Star appearance before fading into a role player with Orlando and Portland at the end of his career. Payton later won a ring with Miami.
5. John Stockton
Start an all-time greatest point guard ever discussion with your friends. How long does it take to get to Stockton? He is the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and ranks in the top 50 all time in scoring. He was also a member of the original Dream Team, where he had an uncanny way of staying out of the spotlight.
Stockton gets lost, in part, because Utah couldn’t get past the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. Stockton’s reputation as a scrappy (dirty?) player endures to this day, but he would be more appreciated in those point-guard conversations with a championship ring.
4. Reggie Miller
Miller ranks second all-time in three-pointers made and is one of the greatest shooters of all time. He got Jordan’s attention in a fight in 1993, but his reputation was mostly based on the rivalry with the Knicks up until the 1997-98 season. Miller led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals – and he hit a buzzer beater in Game 4 that tied the series.
Indiana pushed the Bulls to seven games before losing, however. The Pacers would reach the NBA Finals two years later before losing to the Lakers — another team coached by Phi Jackson. Miller spent his entire 18-year career with the Pacers — but that loyalty never translated into a ring.
3. Karl Malone
“The Mailman” was a two-time MVP and ranks second in NBA history in points scored. He was a dominant power forward, original “Dream Team” and a durable player who played in 80 or more games in 17 of his 19 NBA seasons. Utah lost in the Western Conference finals in 1992, 1994 and 1996, and it wasn’t until 1997 that Malone broke through and reached the NBA Finals. Malone missed two clutch free throws in Game 1 against the Bulls, a game in which Scottie Pippen told him, “The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sunday.” Utah lost the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, and Malone chased a ring with the Lakers in his final season at age 40. It did not work out.
Former Knicks center Patrick Ewing
2. Patrick Ewing
You could make a strong argument Ewing should be No. 1 on this list. After all, Jordan tormented Ewing dating back to the college days at North Carolina and Georgetown. Ewing was a No. 1 pick, a 11-time All-Star and one of the most-skilled centers to ever play the game — and he did all that with the pressure of playing in Madison Square Garden. He won a college national championship and two gold medals with Team USA basketball. Jordan kept Ewing from getting that NBA ring.
The Bulls eliminated the Knicks from the NBA playoffs five times from 1988-96, including the Eastern Conference finals in 1993. New York had a 2-0 lead in that series. When Jordan retired in 1993-94, the Knicks finally beat the Bulls but lost to the Rockets in seven games in the NBA Finals. Ewing never got that close to a championship again.
1. Charles Barkley
Sir Charles was a 11-time All-Star who came to Philadelphia after their 1983 NBA Finals championship. The 76ers reached the Eastern Conference once in eight seasons there. Barkley went to Phoenix, won the NBA MVP award in 1993 and carried the Suns to the NBA Finals. Barkley played well, but the Bulls were too much and took the series in six games. Barkley spent four years in Phoenix and four more in Houston but was never able to get the championship ring.
Why is this different than Ewing? Barkley, a fixture on “Inside the NBA,” is constantly reminded by Shaquille O’Neal and Draymond Green, among others, that he never won a championship ring. It does not make Barkley any less of a player, but it is yet another reminder of the decade that Jordan dominated in the 90s.