We're remembering the 19 Chicago athletes whose splendid seasons have earned them the Most Valuable Player award for their respective leagues. Only one of these players has represented the Bulls, but the player in question won the award five times.
1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998
There isn't much to say that hasn’t already been said about the incomparable Michael Jordan. Other athletes have had exceptional physical talent, intelligence, or competitive fire—but few, if any, have so astonishingly combined all three. His impact on the Bulls and the NBA was incalculable. He was the 1990s' equivalent to Babe Ruth in the 1920s, instantly recognizable even to people who had never seen him play.
Jordan was elected Most Valuable Player for the first time in 1988, after the young Bulls won 50 games to mark themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the future. It was no surprise that Jordan took home the award, considering that he was both the league's leading scorer and Defensive Player of the Year.
When the Bulls won their first world championship in 1991, he won the MVP again. Interestingly, not a single teammate from Jordan’s rookie year of 1984-85 remained. The Bulls had been rebuilt from scratch around him. They reeled off three titles in a row, and the streak almost certainly would have continued for several more years had Jordan not retired in 1993, while still at the peak of his powers, after the shocking murder of his father, James.
Playing for the White Sox’ Birmingham farm club, Jordan proved he was human—when it came to baseball. He soon returned to basketball, much to the regret of rival teams. In 1996, 1997, and 1998, he won his eighth, ninth, and tenth NBA scoring titles, played his usual ferocious defense, and led the Bulls to a second “three-peat” as world champions.
“Coaching Michael,” said Bulls coach Phil Jackson, “is like coaching Michelangelo, genius at work.” Jordan is generally considered the greatest basketball player who ever lived, but he was also arguably the most valuable player in any team sport, ever. It would be hard to name another who could so thoroughly dominate a game both offensively and defensively.
After Jordan stole the ball from Utah's Karl Malone and hit a jumper from the top of the key to seal the Bulls' sixth world championship in 1998, the losing coach gave his assessment of the man who had replaced him as the greatest player in Bulls history. “I think everybody knows how Jordan should be remembered,” Jerry Sloan said. “As the greatest player that has ever played.”
Jordan appeared in the All-Star Game every year of his 13-year-career, was first-team All-NBA 10 times, first-team All-Defensive team nine times, and MVP of the NBA Finals six times. In addition to winning the regular-season MVP five times, he was runner-up three times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.