Top 20 moments of the 1990-91 season
Sam Smith shares his top 20 moments of the Chicago Bulls' historic 1990-91 season that culminated in the franchises first NBA Championship.
By Sam Smith | 03.12.2011
20. Hodgy gets hot
Sharpshooting reserve Craig Hodges hit a record 19 consecutive three pointers in the long distance shooting contest during All-Star weekend to win the contest for the second consecutive year. Hodges beat the game's best shooters, Glen Rice, Hersey Hawkins, Danny Ainge, Dennis Scott and Terry Porter.
19. The run and gun Bulls
After a season to adjust to the triangle offense, the Bulls began to score and unleash their so-called "Doberman" defense that led to so many transition baskets. The Bulls averaged 110 per game, the most since 1971-72 and never as much in any of their championship seasons. On Dec. 4 at home, they set a franchise regulation record scoring 155 in a win over Phoenix, their second game of at least 150 points in the last five. In that stretch, they averaged 133 and won all five and Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons remarked he was satisfied because it took the Bulls into the second half to blow his team out, unlike most of the previous opponents. That five-game stretch was the highest scoring five games in franchise history. Ten days later, the Bulls would hold the Cavs to a Bulls opponent record five points in the first quarter. Box score
18. Don't mess with LeRoy
The Bulls had played Seattle and brash rookie Gary Payton in the preseason and Payton, later to be called "the Glove" for his skin tight defense, had bragged in the media he could defend anyone. Jordan had kept a copy of the story and comments for when the Bulls went into Seattle in the November "circus" trip. The first two times Payton had the ball, Jordan stole it and scored. The third time, Jordan forced another turnover for a Bulls score. Coach K.C. Jones took the rookie out of the game. The Bulls went on to win by 21.
17. The Babe Ruth mark
The Bulls won their 60th game at Charlotte in the next to last game of the season. It was the first time in franchise history a Bulls team got to 60 wins, the mark of greatness. They would go on to win at least 60 in four of the next seven seasons. It was a dominant season in many ways, one which began 0-3. The Bulls led the league in blowout wins and margin of victory and were the best shooting Bulls team ever. Jordan was getting ready for the playoffs as he scored 41 against Charlotte, his fourth game of at least 40 in the last seven.
16. The switch-Scottie on Magic
Phil Jackson likes to hold back something for a playoff series, and decided to give Scottie Pippen with his long arms a try defending Magic Johnson. Johnson had become virtually impossible to defend as a point guard because he was taller than every point guard and quicker than forwards. But Pippen and his long arms and quickness matched Johnson. Jackson would often put Jordan or Pippen on an opposing point in the playoffs who ran the team, like Mark Price, Kevin Johnson and Mark Jackson. But no one thought anyone could handle Johnson. Jackson, though, saw the aging Johnson, who would unbeknownst to everyone soon leave basketball with the HIV virus, tiring in the conference finals against Portland. Jackson was unable to spring the strategy in Game 1 when Pippen got into foul trouble. But he started it in Game 2 and throughout the series Pippen worked Johnson extra hard, forcing him to turn his back to bring the ball up court and slow the Lakers offensive possessions. It would become a subtle, but crucial element of the five-game victory.
15. Pippen turns the other cheek
In the Pistons' fitting final insult, Dennis Rodman threw Pippen into the stands in the second quarter of Game 4 with the Bulls pulling away. Pippen suffered a severe gash that needed six stitches to close. But there would be no retaliation but free throws made. After leaving clinching games against the Pistons with a migraine headache and a blow from Bill Laimbeer, Pippen stood tall and composed. Pippen had 23 points and 10 rebounds as the Bulls closed out the Pistons run with a 21-point blowout victory and the Pistons demonstrating the unsportsmanlike ways Jordan described.
That was between Games 3 and 4 of the conference finals with the Bulls ahead 3-0 and the stake deep in the heart of the Pistons. It had been a humiliating and frustrating three years for the Bulls with three straight playoff eliminations marked by rough and what the Bulls felt was dirty play by the "Bad Boys" Pistons. In remarks to media before the inevitable sweep in Game 4, Jordan labeled the Pistons dirty, unsportsmanlike and bad for basketball. He said the Celtics, in contrast, were worthy champions. It was headlines in the Detroit media the next day before Game 4 and was what led to the Pistons walkout before Game 4 was over.
13. The block
It was likely the play of the Eastern Conference finals, the defensive version of Jordan's switch hands layup, but more significant. The Pistons were battling desperately to stay alive in Game 3 after losing the first two in Chicago. After leading by 16 in the third quarter, the Bulls led by five with two and a half minutes left when Mark Aguirre stole the ball from Pippen and passed ahead to a breaking Vinnie Johnson. Jordan took off in pursuit and was gaining fast on Johnson, who saw Jordan and dropped the ball off to Joe Dumars. Jordan recovered and forced Dumars into a bad, contested miss. Pippen then followed with a jumper to reclaim a seven-point lead with two minutes left and the game was saved. Jackson called it one of the best defensive plays ever.
12. The big three
Much had been made of the Bulls being Michael and the Jordanaires. But Pippen and Grant were growing into their roles and refusing to fold in the face of the physical play teams used to disrupt the Bulls. After taking a 2-0 lead in the Eastern semifinals, the Bulls lost Game 3 in Philadelphia. But Jordan scored 25, Grant 22 and Pippen 20 as the Bulls dominated Game 4 and took control of the series. Pippen continued to show his growth with 24 first half points in Game 5, and Jordan would then close the series with Game 5 back home with the Bulls last 12 points in continuing to establish himself as the game's best closer.
11. Bye, bye Patrick
The Bulls had an easy time of it in the opening playoff round with the dysfunctional Knicks, who were soon to be taken over by Pat Riley, which would begin the great rivalry of the '90s. The Bulls won the first two easily at home and when Jordan and Pippen dunked consecutively over Ewing after halftime in Game 3 and the Bulls eventually pulled away.
10. The ancient king is dead
The Bulls lost this one, probably the season's best theater as Jordan and a momentarily rejuvenated Larry Bird dueled in a double overtime 135-132 Boston win March 31 in Boston. Jordan had 37 and Bird 34. Jordan seemed to have won it at the end of the first overtime with a jumper that was fraction late. But the Bulls had beaten the Celtics by 30 at the end of February at home. The Celtics would finish with the second best record in the East, but were no match for the Bulls youth and quickness, being dominated in Chicago and having to get a miracle from Bird to win in two overtimes at home.
9. Bulls shut Reggie up
The Bulls had lost in Indiana earlier in March when Reggie Miller scored 40 and declared afterward the Bulls were nothing without Jordan and the Pacers were just as good. Jordan scored 39 and the Bulls won by 14 for their record 26th straight home win. The Pacers unraveled as Detlef Schrempf and Chuck Person were ejected, the latter for drop kicking the basketball 30 rows up into the stands.
8. Scottie breaks out
The Bulls were the league's hottest team after the All-Star break and that win in Detroit with a run of 20 of 21 between Feb. 4 and March 20. The Bulls went 29-7 after the break. Against Charlotte at home Feb. 23 in the midst of an 11-game winning streak, Pippen shot 16 of 17, the best shooting performance in the NBA that season for as many attempts and scored a career-high 43 points. He also became the first player to score 40 points playing with Jordan. Box score
7. A sign of things to come
The Bulls hosted the aging Lakers just before Christmas and the Lakers were no match for the quickness and speed of Jordan, Pippen and Horace Grant. They outraced James Worthy and Sam Perkins as Jordan (33/15/9) and Pippen (28/11/9) each came within one assist of triple-doubles in a 114-103 win. Even with that and home court advantage, the Bulls were considered big underdogs to the Lakers in the Finals and the vast majority of media "experts" predicted an easy Lakers' victory. Box score
6. Don't mess with Bad Bad LeRoy Brown-or Jordan-Part II
The Bulls were stumbling through an uneven start at 14-8. The Trail Blazers, who easily beat the Bulls both times that season, started 19-1 and everyone pretty much conceded them the title already. They'd be upset by the Lakers in the conference finals. A weak Miami team was hanging on down one in Chicago late in the game. Jordan wasn't feeling well with the flu. Rookie Willie Burton blocked a Jordan shot and began taunting Jordan. Sophomore Glen Rice chimed in. Jordan had two steals and a block in the next three Miami possessions, all leading to Bulls fast break scores and the Bulls pulled away for a nine-point win with Jordan scoring 39. Coach Ron Rothstein told Burton and Rice never again to speak to Jordan in games. Box score
5. The biggest "what if" of the Finals
The Bulls had tied the series 1-1, but were going back to L.A. for three games. The Lakers led Game 3 with 10.9 seconds left 92-90. The Bulls had the ball. If the Lakers took a 2-1 lead the series might not even return to Chicago with three games in L.A. Jackson called timeout, but chose not to advance the ball, instead allowing Jordan to dribble up and survey the defense. Jordan went at Byron Scott. Vlade Divac was late with a double team and Jordan hit a 14-footer for the tie and the Bulls won by eight in overtime.
4. Who's open!
The Bulls had it in their grasp with a 3-1 lead in the Finals, but it was slipping away. Jordan had greeted the team on the bus in the morning with, "Good morning, World Champions." But he was overcompensating and doing most of the shooting. The Bulls were losing traction and the Lakers took a 91-90 lead with just under seven minutes left in Game 5. In a time out, Jackson demanded of Jordan, "Who's open!" Jordan finally acknowledged, "Paxson," as the Lakers were blitzing Jordan every time. "Find him," Jackson instructed. The Lakers went up by three, but Paxson scored 10 points in the last four minutes and the Bulls pulled away to a 108-101 victory and their first championship. Box score
3. 'My supporting cast'
It was the much anticipated Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Bulls finally had home court advantage on the Pistons, but they had to win their home games. The Bulls went up a dozen, but just before the end of the third quarter the Pistons took a one-point lead. Here we go again? Jackson regularly rested Jordan and Pippen to open the fourth quarter against Detroit, and he did so again. A group including Will Perdue, Armstrong, Craig Hodges and Cliff Levingston turned a three-point Bulls lead into an 81-72 margin when Jordan and Pippen returned. Jordan never could get it going with six of 15 shooting and six turnovers. But the Bulls won by 11 and Jordan credited "my supporting cast," after the game as the phrase became part of the lexicon, but more a realization by Jordan that he didn't have to do it alone.
2. Finally shedding the monkey on their backs
That was Feb. 7, 1991 when the Bulls finally won in Detroit, the first win in Detroit in three years. The Bulls were 3-23 in Detroit in the regular season the previous decade and lost their last six playoff games there. They would be 2-13 since the Pistons moved to Auburn Hills going into the conference finals. The Bulls were developing a mental block, especially after a blowout loss in Detroit Dec. 19 of that season when the Bulls fell to a mediocre 15-9 and Scottie Pippen shot two of 16. But Jordan scored the last 10 Bulls' points in the final 2:13 and B.J. Armstrong was three of three down the stretch as the Bulls got the multiple contributions they'd been missing in Auburn Hills.
1. Jordan's switch hands layup (Game 2 of NBA Finals versus Lakers)
It was an iconic moment, even if it didn't carry in game significance. The Bulls had the so-called must win Game 2 well in control with a 19-point lead after three. Early in the fourth quarter, Michael Jordan took off down the right side after an A.C. Green miss and was driving in for a right handed slam dunk. Sam Perkins appeared and went up, causing Jordan to hesitate-in the air-and actually switch the ball into his left hand as Perkins went by to lay the ball in. Bulls coach Phil Jackson said he'd never seen anyone do anything like it before. The Bulls easily won the game, but, significantly, Chicago sent a message to the Lakers in evening the series at 1-1 that you'll see things you've never seen before from this Bulls team. Jordan would go on to be regular season and Finals MVP, all-defensive first team and win his fifth straight scoring title in his run to seven until leaving the game for the first time in 1993.