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Celebrating 1990-91 - Phil Jackson

"We were a confident team in what we could do," Phil Jackson said of the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls. "But we were unknowns. The Lakers were the dominant team from back in the 1980s. We set a goal and we were able to get there."

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>> Bulls celebrate 20th anniversary of first NBA title

When Phil Jackson looks back on the Bulls' first championship season in 1991, he is like most members of that team. It was the Detroit Pistons, their white whale.

It was all about beating the Bad Boys and beating Detroit and how they would. Jackson was certain the Bulls would prevail, though to him, the turning point was the game in Detroit just before the All-Star break in 1991.

"We never had won in the Palace," Jackson said in a telephone interview in March of 2011. "We'd lost all the playoff games there (in 1990) and then the first one in the regular season. And there we are and B.J. (Armstrong) is getting whacked around and I remember our assistant Jim Cleamons saying, 'Play! Keep playing!'

"And he did play through and made some shots," recalled Jackson. "We came back from down double digits and won and kind of took off from there."

It was almost like a curse being lifted, though the playoffs still would tell the tale.

This is Jackson's final season coaching in the NBA as he is trying to play it out quietly with the Lakers, if not anonymously as his Lakers team remains the favorite among most to finish with a remarkable fourth three-peat for Jackson as coach. The Lakers are finishing up their last long road trip of the season, and Jackson says he can finally see the light at the end of the season. Just as the Bulls saw it against Detroit that spring.

"Their whole defense was a challenge to Michael (Jordan)," Jackson recalled. "So that was the one (series) we really used Michael more as a decoy."

It was the series of the inauguration of Jordan's so-called "supporting cast," and eventually Jackson's demand to Jordan in Game 5 against the Lakers of "Who is open?"

"That final game," Jackson recalled of Jordan finally being so close in his personal quest, "Michael wanted to be the guy, to do it. He'd been the guy in Game 3 with that shot to get us to overtime, but the Lakers were coming at us and him and he got it to Paxson and he hit, what, something like five jumpers."

Jackson terms all these accomplishments in regard to team. But he recalls a warm moment walking off the court as the Bulls were champions in L.A. An old friend from the New York days was there and stopped him and said it was like the old days in New York and the Bulls had brought back team basketball in that tradition.

"It felt right," Jackson said.

It had been also some memory of New York that Jackson said drove him as well.

Jackson said those guys who played on the Knicks teams in the early 1970s considered it a failure they weren't able to repeat as champions, first in 1971 and then in 1974.

So it was bold if also earnest when Jackson said he was asked to coach the Bulls after Doug Collins was fired in 1989 that he brought up those Knicks teams.

"It was something that got away from us and I felt a responsibility to this (Bulls) organization to help carry it to multiple championships as a goal," said Jackson.

"We were a confident team in what we could do," Jackson said of the 1990-91 Bulls. "But we were unknowns. The Lakers were the dominant team from back in the 1980s. We set a goal and we were able to get there. It was something to watch someone like Jerry Krause in that celebration after all those years. It was something to celebrate and savor."



Phil Jackson

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