When the Chicago Bulls first came to Paris for a pair of exhibition games in the 1997 McDonald’s Championship, they were on top of the basketball world.Fans lined up outside the team hotel to catch a glimpse of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the other Bulls, who were coming off a second consecutive NBA championship and about to embark on a season that would come to be known as The Last Dance.
Wherever the Bulls traveled that season, whether it was Paris, Los Angeles or Indianapolis, they were not just basketball royalty, but among the planet’s biggest stars.
During the October preseason trip to Paris, fans showed up in droves when the team arrived and left the practice court, and when they visited the Louvre and other Parisian must-see sights, simply yearning for a glimpse of Jordan.
Nearly 1,000 media members were credentialed for the games. Current Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas played for Olympiacos in the championship game — which Chicago won 104-78 — and remembers his teammates in the locker room before the game debating who would be the one to guard Jordan. At the top of their minds: the opportunity to be in a photo matched up with an icon.
“It was everywhere, everyone wanted to see Michael, Scottie and Dennis,” Bill Wennington, a center on the 1997-98 Bulls and current team radio announcer, told ESPN. “The fans were screaming, yelling, everywhere the team went as a whole. There were large crowds following just wanting to see.”
Jordan scored 27 points in the game against Olympiacos, but Pippen and Rodman were both out, as were a slew of other Bulls. Still, the fan response in Paris proved the Bulls had conquered not just Chicago, but the adoration of fans from around the globe.
“It was fantastic. It was so much fun,” said Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who played for the Bulls in 1997-98 and scored 10 points in the game against Olympiacos. “I think we were hit pretty hard with injuries. It was Michael and a bunch of scrubs.
“To go to Paris at the height of the Bulls heyday was pretty fun.”
Now, 25 seasons later, the Bulls return to Paris for a regular-season game, facing the rival Detroit Pistons Thursday at 3 p.m. ET (NBA TV). But this version of the Bulls is far from Jordan & Co. against the Bad Boys, and Chicago is not the same dynastic force that swept through Paris in the fall of 1997. At 20-24, the Bulls are clinging to the final spot of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, and the All-Star trio of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic has yielded mixed results.