THE '90s REALLY WERE PAINTED THE BLACK AND RED OF THE CHICAGO BULLS
By Clare Martin
Six titles in eight years. The 1990s really were painted the black and red of the Chicago Bulls. Sure, the Pistons won the second of their two titles in 1990, and yes, the Houston Rockets did sneak in there for two championships of their own, and let's not forget the 1999 champion San Antonio Spurs, but hey, the fact is that were it not for Michael Jordan
retiring (twice), the Bulls easily could have easily won the last nine NBA titles.
How did they do it? Contrary to popular belief, this is not a one word answer. Even the most talented basketball player of all time cannot win championships all by himself. What many people now overlook is that Jordan played in the NBA for seven seasons before winning his first title. Some even doubted he ever would. It wasn't until the right collection of players (along with the appropriate coach to guide them) was assembled in the Windy City that the dynasty began to take shape. Six trips to the NBA Finals, six championships...
• 1991: Michael vs. Magic
The Bulls really were not supposed to win in 1991. Chicago had finally vanquished its longtime nemesis, the Detroit Pistons, with an emphatic four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the rule of thumb was that a team needed to experience the Finals at least one time before being capable of winning the title. And with an experienced opponent like Magic's Lakers, well, many thought the Bulls were still building for the future. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. Despite losing Game 1 at home in the final seconds, Chicago bounced back to win Game 2 by 21 points. Jordan and his "supporting cast," featuring Scottie Pippen
, Horace Grant
, John Paxson and Bill Cartwright, carried that momentum with them to Los Angeles to win three straight on the Lakers' home court. Pippen's 32 points led the Bulls in the decisive Game 5, along with five key baskets by Paxson in the closing minutes.
• 1992: A Trail through Portland
The Trail Blazers thought that 1992 would be their year to win the title. Portland had been defeated by the Pistons in the 1990 Finals, and the same core of players - Drexler, Kersey, Porter, Robinson, Duckworth, Williams - had returned to the Finals both ready and determined. But not as ready and determined as the Bulls, apparently. The Blazers were confident after splitting the first two games in Chicago, but the Bulls performed well on the road for the second straight year, winning two of three in Portland to head back to Chicago up 3-2. In the championship-clinching Game 6, the Bulls rallied from down 15 in the fourth quarter in a comeback sparked by the second string and finished off by Jordan, who scored 12 of his 33 points in the last six minutes.
• 1993: Sir Charles is Denied his Crown
Winning two titles in a row almost had become the norm - the last three teams to win NBA championships had done just that (Lakers 1987-88, Pistons 1989-90, and Bulls 1991-92). Winning three in a row, now that was truly a challenge. And no one rose to a challenge like Air Jordan. For the first time the Bulls did not have the home court advantage, and the team entered the Finals worn down by a physical series against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the Bulls again made history, winning the first two games to make the Suns the first team in NBA history to lose the first two games of the Finals at home. In a thrilling triple-overtime win back in Chicago, though, the Suns came back to make it a series with a Game 3 victory. The series ended up back in Phoenix for Game 6 with the Bulls up 3-2. With the Suns leading 98-96 in the final minute, it looked like it would come down to a seventh game. But unlikely hero John Paxson hit a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining to capture Chicago's first three-peat.
• 1996: Greatest Team Ever?
Bulls fans celebrate the 70th win of the record-breaking 95-96 season.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBA Photos)
With Jordan back at full strength after his foray into baseball, the Bulls compiled an amazing regular season record of 72-10, breaking the Lakers' record of 69-13 set in the early '70s. Chicago continued its dominance in the NBA Playoffs, losing only three games en route to its fourth title in six years. Some of the names had changed since the last time the Bulls had been to the Finals, with 1996 Sixth Man award winner Toni Kukoc
and rebounder extraordinaire Dennis Rodman
now integral members of the team. In fact, despite Jordan's overall brilliance in the six-game championship series against the Seattle SuperSonics, it was Rodman who was the outstanding player of the final game with 19 rebounds, 9 points and 5 assists in the 85-75 win.
• 1997: All That Jazz
If you had to pick one defining moment for Michael Jordan, chances are you would choose Game 5 of the 1997 Finals against the Jazz in Utah. The Jazz were the sentimental favorites in the series, with the likable veteran tandem of John Stockton and Karl Malone making their first Finals appearance. It was two games all on the night of June 11, and Jordan was sick with the stomach flu. Advantage, Utah? Hardly. Exhausted and dehydrated, Jordan played what many consider to be the most amazing game of his amazing career. He scored 38 points in 44 minutes, including a crucial free throw and three-pointer in the final minute to win the game for the Bulls when he was so weak he seemed ready to collapse . But just like in 1993, the hero of Game 6 was an unlikely one, as it was Steve Kerr who hit the key shot in the closing seconds to win the game and series for Chicago's fifth crown.
Jordan nailed his final NBA shot to win his sixth NBA title.
(Fernando Medina/NBA Photos)
• 1998: The Final Chapter
Throughout Jordan's career, although he was always the brightest of the stars on the court, there always seemed to be room for his teammates to step up and make a difference at key moments in important games. Pippen did it often. Paxson, Rodman, Kerr...with so much glory, there was enough to go around. Yet what could have been more appropriate than the final seconds of the final game of the 1998 NBA Finals? In a rematch of the previous year, the Jazz and the Bulls had come down once again to Game 6, with the Bulls leading the series 3-2. But it was the Jazz who held a narrow 86-85 lead with 20 second left in the game. A Jordan steal was followed seconds later by what would be his final shot in the NBA, a vintage Jordan game winner to give Chicago the 87-86 win. "I never doubted myself," said Jordan after the game. "I never doubted the whole game." It was a most fitting exit for a player, who, along with his team, will never be forgotten.