In 1988, Michael Jordan was on fire. Averaging a league-high 35.0 points per game, plus scooping up the league MVP award, Jordan was the standout sensation in the city of Chicago. By contrast, the Los Angeles Clippers were in a horrific slump. With a regular-season record of 17-65, the Clippers had the worst regular season of any team that year. Clippers owner Don Sterling was struggling to fix the problems there, and his struggles leaked off-court as well. With crosstown rivals LA Lakers having the figurehead of Magic Johnson, Sterling wanted to match that with his own superstar. In the end, he settled on Michael Jordan.
Coincidentally, Jordan was having some problems in the Windy City at that point in time. Bulls coach Doug Collins was not happy with Jordan’s ball-hog tendencies and said as much to Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Jerry Krause. Sterling was willing to trade the Bulls their first two draft picks(the first pick and the sixth pick in the 1st round), plus three players of the Bull’s choice in exchange for Jordan. Considering that the Bulls were big fans of both Mitch Richmond and Rik Smits, they were actually willing to consider the idea of trading MJ to the Clippers. However, the trade did not go through, and the Bulls kept Jordan around, with Phil Jackson helping convert Jordan from a ball-hog to a team player. But what would have happened if that trade did go through?
Jordan would have no championship rings
While Michael Jordan was a phenomenal basketball player, he required a good supporting cast of players, which the Bulls built up over a few years. However, the Clippers just did not have a strong enough team. Considering that the Clipper’s top scorer in 87-88 was Benoit Benjamin, who averaged just 16 points per game in the NBA, there is almost no way that Jordan alone could drag these substandard Clippers to a championship. Unless Jordan left the Clippers after a few years, Jordan would be a HOFer, but most likely wouldn’t have a championship ring. Considering Jordan himself has already said that he wouldn’t ever play in a team where the established superstars are already there(He said this when LeBron James joined the Miami Heat, where Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade already played), it is unlikely Jordan would have any rings.
The Bulls would not have managed two three-peats in the nineties
In the nineties, the Chicago Bulls had their golden era. Out of the ten available championships, six of them went to the Windy City. However, considering that in this parallel universe, Jordan is not around, it is unlikely that Chicago would be nearly as successful. However, it is still probable that the Bulls could win a few NBA championships. Since they brought in both Mitch Richmond and Rik Smits in this parallel universe, that would help them create a very balanced and strong team. With the likes of Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, and Charles Oakley already at the Bulls, Phil Jackson would have a very capable squad and one that could play his triangle offense tactics with less effort than it took Jackson to convince Jordan to play with a triangle offense. With the strength of this squad that the Bulls would have in the nineties, then it would not be too surprising if the Bulls managed to pick up a few championship rings.
Jordan’s legacy would not be as massive as it is now
Although it may seem odd now, since Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan franchise is everywhere, MJ may not have been as renowned as he is now if he had joined the LA Clippers back in 1988. Since part of the reason why Jordan is so world-famous is due to the exhibition games that he played worldwide with the Chicago Bulls, it is possible that his popularity would not be so all-encompassing. The main allure of the Bulls is that they were the best of the best. If Jordan played for the average at best Clippers teams of the nineties, it is doubtful that Jordan mania would have spread all over the world.
While Jordan individually might still be incredible, people look at championships when trying to determine who the best players are. If Jordan joined the Clippers, he would most likely be in the shadow of titans like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and others, simply because he would most likely not have as many rings as they do, even if his talent is there. That is why I think that Jordan joining the Clippers would shrink his legacy.