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Bulls greats celebrate the glory years of the franchise with a Ring of Honor gala: ‘I would have hated to have missed this’

CHICAGO — The focus was firmly on history Thursday evening at the United Center as the Chicago Bulls recognized a seminal group of former players, coaches and executives in the inaugural class of the franchise’s Ring of Honor.

Members of the 1995-96 team — which made history with a 72-win season, followed by the Bulls’ fourth NBA championship in six seasons — reunited throughout the special night that included a red-carpet ceremony and gala.

The hardwood where the Bulls normally play was transformed into a banquet hall filled with Hall of Famers and former stars who defined success in Chicago. Mayor Brandon Johnson, broadcasters Adam Amin and Chuck Swirsky and Michael Reinsdorf were included among the presenters throughout the gala.

“I am so happy to be here,” said Bob Love, one of the 13 members of the inaugural class. “This is the most wonderful day of my life.”

The other inductees include Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Artis Gilmore, Johnny “Red” Kerr, Dick Klein, Jerry Krause, Toni Kukoč, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker and Tex Winter.

Neither Jordan nor Pippen, both Hall of Famers who led the Bulls to six titles in eight years, attended the gala Thursday. Also missing was fellow Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, a longtime nemesis with the Detroit Pistons who joined the Bulls for the historic 1995-96 season and stayed through the second three-peat.

That 1995-96 team was a central focus of the night, receiving attention throughout via highlight reels, documentary segments and individual interviews. The absence of that team’s central stars was a downer but allowed for a celebration of the supporting cast that won 87 of 100 games on the way to the fourth NBA title in franchise history.

For Kukoč, the night was an opportunity to reunite and reconnect with teammates and coaches from his tenure in Chicago for the first time in years.

“I never thought when I started playing basketball that something like this was possible,” Kukoč said. “We’re talking about one of the best — if not the best — teams ever.”

Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf noted there was only one way the night could have been better — if Krause had been in attendance. The longtime GM and Reinsdorf confidant who helped build the six-title dynasty of the 1990s died in March 2017.

The event also included prominent players from Chicago’s past and present, including Bulls great Horace Grant and current Sky star Kahleah Copper, who praised the legacy of the 1995-96 team.

“I used to call myself the female Michael Jordan,” Copper said. “Ending up in Chicago and wanting to keep that legacy strong and bringing the championship here in 2021 is super special. That team, they were a group of winners and competitors. I’m excited to be here and to be a part of something so special and to be with some winners.”

The celebration isn’t over. The inaugural class will be honored at a ceremony during halftime at the Bulls-Golden State Warriors game Friday at the UC. The Bulls planned the event around the Warriors game to allow coach Steve Kerr the opportunity to be honored alongside the rest of the 1995-96 team.

“It’s really amazing,” said Kerr, a member of the second Bulls three-peat. “I would have hated to have missed this, so the fact that the Bulls did it around our game is very flattering and I’m thrilled that it happened this way.”