In case you didn’t know, I lived in Las Vegas from 1994 to 2011 and watched many memorable games, teams and players during my time in Sin City. Aside from Super Bowls (and Las Vegas Super Bowl casino parties), the three NBA championships that Michael Jordan and his Bulls won from 1996 to 1998 represented the most exciting time for watching games in casinos and experiencing an event having the most “buzz” around it.
The Chicago Bulls had won three previous championships under “His Airness” so at this point we certainly knew what he and his teammates (Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen, plus head coach Phil Jackson) were capable of. In the ’95-96 season, Chicago went 72-10 and was regarded as the greatest team in NBA history. The Bulls won their first 36 games at home, a streak that went from November to April Sportsbook.
1990s Bulls Were Must-See TV
I can recall going to bars with buddies on the weekends just to watch Bulls games and of course, being in Las Vegas, me and my gang were betting on those games like crazy. It was almost like the thing to do “when in Rome.” The Bulls team of that era was must-see TV — Jordan was the greatest player of all time, Pippen was amazing, and you never knew what Rodman was going to do.
Just to show how awesome that Bulls team was, at the end of the 1996 playoffs, Scottie Pippen led all players in steals, with 10 more than the Sonics’ Gary “The Glove” Payton. Dennis Rodman had an outstanding 32 more offensive rebounds than anyone else in the playoffs (Seattle’s Shawn Kemp was second). The Bulls went on to win the Finals 4-2 over the Sonics with Michael Jordan averaging 31 points a game. This really was before you could bet on players’ statistics, which of course today is beyond insane. It would have been fun betting OVERs on Jordan’s combined points, rebounds and assists, or Rodman’s rebounds, or Kerr’s three-point shot attempts, not to mention defensive props that could have been available.
In the ’96-97 championship series, the Bulls won 4-2 again, this time over Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz. At that point in my life, I was working for six months at a Las Vegas sportsbook. I can remember Game 5, “The Flu Game,” like it was yesterday. I say that not just because Jordan was on death’s door, but because I had two real good buddies from home visiting me. Throw in that they love to gamble on sports and that we partied that night with my casino employee buddies and it was quite the night to remember.
Bet the Moneyline!
One pal’s favorite team and player was the Bulls and Jordan, so he was betting the Bulls no matter what. In past articles, I have mentioned how I hate laying points, so I was able to talk my buddy into just taking the moneyline on the Bulls. We all met at The Samba Grill in The Sportsbook to watch the game because my cousin who worked there (connections, baby!!!) had a private room for us to watch the game and eat/drink.
My pal had $2,000 riding on the Bulls, me and the other buddy had $500 on them and my other friends jumped in and had the Bulls too. Jordan was unbelievable in that game, scoring 38 points with the flu, and (for once) we all won. We even went out (of course) and played table games after the big win by the Bulls. My pal who’d had the 2k on the Bulls made another $1,500 on craps. I went to roulette (again, of course) and turned $200 into a dime after hitting #20 twice in a row with a $25 chip splitting the #20 and #17.
Sometimes you just “have it” when gambling (like that night), and doing it in Las Vegas makes it just a bit sweeter. Jordan would go on to score 39 in the next game and my buddy cashed in again. Even though he had to head home, he left me $800 to put on the Bulls and won again as Chicago took the series against Utah.
’97-98 Finals Were Not So Profitable
The ’97-98 Finals didn’t work out for me so much betting the series. After the first two games went UNDER, I was waiting for the Bulls and Jazz to explode. I remember thinking to myself that NBC needed a high-scoring game for ratings and having the silly feeling that Malone, Stockton, Jordan and Pippen would deliver.
I won’t say what I had on the game in terms of cash, but I will say it is the biggest totals loss in terms of point differential that I have ever had betting in my life. I knew I had lost not even five minutes into the game. I think I had OVER 185 points and the Jazz sang the blues as badly as any team ever had, playoffs or no playoffs. The final score was Chicago 96-54. Yes, the Jazz scored an all-time Finals low in points. In fact, it was the lowest scoring total for a team since the inception of the 24-second shot clock.
Jordan and the Bulls went on to win that series 4-2 and my wallet unfortunately was a lot lighter than it had been the year before. That series was a weird one, remaining extremely low-scoring throughout the six games. Only twice in the entire series did a team score more than 88 points.
Well, those are just a few of my Las Vegas memories about betting on those classic championship games of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Those are times I will always remember, most notably working at the sportsbook and hanging with friends after work and seeing the “book” packed with people watching and gambling on those epic Bulls teams. (Boy, the sportsbooks packed with people … those were the days. Let’s get sports back soon.)