Phil Jackson presided over all six of the Bulls championships, but Michael Jordan's deep appreciation for Doug Collins is well known. Collins coached the Bulls for three seasons from 1986 to 1989, Jordan's third, fourth and fifth years in the league.
Under Collins' tutelage, Jordan blossomed as a prolific scorer in a system that gave him free reign to roam, create and chuck. Jordan won three scoring titles in Collins' three seasons with the team, and broke 3,000 points for the only time in his career in 1986-87 on a league-leading 27.8 field goal attempts per game. In 1987-88, Jordan won his first MVP award, along with All-Star Game MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Slam Dunk champion honors. By 1989 (when Jackson entered), Jordan was the best player in the NBA.
Episode 3 of "The Last Dance" delved into the bond between Jordan and Collins. Jordan lauded Collins for his game plans and systems being geared to his strengths. And present-day Collins recalled one of his first and fondest memories of Jordan: The first game he ever coached.
"We went to Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had Patrick Ewing, Bill Cartwright, and they were loaded. Hubie Brown was a Hall of Fame coach," Collins said in the documentary. "Two minutes to go in the game, the game was tied. I'm soaking wet with sweat. I've chewed my gum to a powder. It's around my mouth."
"And I saw this hand come out with a cup of water. And it was Michael Jordan. And he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, take a drink of that water. Clean that stuff off your mouth. I'm not going to let you lose your first game.'"
Lo and behold, he didn't. Jordan dropped 50 points on 15-for-31 shooting (20-for-22 from the line), along with six rebounds, four steals, three rebounds and three blocks in 41 minutes. The Bulls prevailed 108-103. At the time, that 50-burger marked an opponent single-game scoring record at MSG.
"I remember being on the plane going back to Chicago, and I said, ‘Wow, I mean, this guy is something like I've never seen before,'" Collins said in the documentary.
For Collins, it was about as exhilarating a start to his head coaching career as you could ask for. For Jordan, it was just another day at the office.