Michael Jordan had achieved individual success in the NBA, winning four scoring titles, scoring a record 63 points in a playoff game, winning consecutive slam-dunk titles and being honored as Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and All-Star Game MVP.
But he had yet to achieve team success as a pro-he had never won an NBA championship. However, the Chicago Bulls, who had won only 27 games before Jordan joined them in 1984-85, were steadily building to championship level and finally reached the pinnacle in 1990-91.
Jordan was dominant as ever, winning his second MVP award after leading the league in scoring for the fifth year in a row at 31.5 ppg. But the rest of the team could no longer be belittled as "the supporting cast" or "the Jordannaires." Versatile Scottie Pippen averaged 17.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg and a team-high 6.2 apg , shot .520 from the field and began to gain recognition as a defensive standout. Horace Grant ascended to a place among the league's elite power forwards, averaging 12.8 ppg and a team-high 8.5 rpg and playing his usual solid defense. Bill Cartwright competently manned the middle, heading a four-man center committee that also included Stacey King, Will Perdue and Scott Williams, thus giving Coach Phil Jackson plenty of fouls to work with when needed. Improving B.J. Armstrong and reliable John Paxson shared the other guard spot, along with three-point shooter Craig Hodges.
The Bulls were a terrific running team, with Jordan and Pippen possibly the finest all-around talents in the NBA. But now they could win even if their running game was stopped, because the triple-post offense instituted by Jackson and assistant coach Tex Winter gave the players a structure within which to work, without inhibiting their skills and their creativity. And the Bulls also could win with defense-Jordan, Pippen and Grant were among the best man-to-man defenders in the game. The Bulls went on to average 110.0 ppg while allowing their opponents just 101.0 ppg.
Chicago won 20 of 21 games in one stretch during the second half of the season and finished with a 61-21 record to win the Central Division title by 11 games over two-time defending champion Detroit. The Bulls charged through the playoffs, sweeping New York, beating Philadelphia in five games and then dethroning Detroit with a four-game sweep to move into the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers with an 11-1 mark.
It was billed as a matchup between superstars Jordan and Magic Johnson, but even though the Lakers won the series opener on Sam Perkins' last-season three-pointer, Los Angeles was no match for the raging Bulls. Chicago won the next four games in a row to win the first championship in its 25-year history, and Jordan was voted NBA Finals MVP. Chicago's 15-2 playoff slate matched the 1989 Pistons for the second-best in NBA history by percentage (.880), behind only 1983 Philadelphia's 12-1 (.920). It would be the first of three consecutive titles for Jordan and the Bulls.