By Adam Fluck | 03.13.2011
Now living in Northern California, it’s been awhile since former Bulls forward Horace Grant came to Chicago to watch his old team in action.
But over the weekend, he was at the United Center for back-to-back games, both victories, and of course, Saturday’s celebration to honor the 20th anniversary of the organization’s first NBA championship.
“It’s like I never left,” said Grant. “For the Bulls to honor the first championship is first class and to have all these fans around who have supported this team over the years is fantastic.”
As most, if not all, of the players from the 1990-91 team will agree, finally beating the Detroit Pistons was the turning point for the Bulls en route to their first title. The Pistons had knocked the Bulls out of the postseason three consecutive years, including a seven-game series in 1990. But Chicago got its revenge in the 1991 playoffs.
“I’ll always remember us sweeping the Pistons and them walking off the court without shaking our hands,” said Grant, recalling Chicago’s Game 4 victory on the road in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. “It really let us know what type of team they were in the first place.
“I still haven’t forgotten about Bill Laimbeer, a guy that I loved to hate,” added Grant. “Just getting over that hump, which felt more like a mountain, helped get us to the Finals and beyond. It said a lot about our team.”
Drafted tenth overall by the Bulls in the 1987 NBA Draft, Grant became very close with another rookie who came to Chicago that summer, Scottie Pippen.
“Scottie and I were like brothers,” said Grant. “We came in the same year and grew up together, so to speak. We took our bumps and bruises as rookies and second year players. But when you had leaders like Phil [Jackson] and Michael [Jordan], who demand the utmost out of you, you don’t realize what you have inside of you until that happens and then it all comes out.”
It was after the aforementioned victory in Detroit over the Pistons when Jordan was asked about his team’s victory and NBA Finals birth as he left the court. He immediately thanked his “supporting cast,” as he called it, of Pippen and Grant. While it didn’t happen overnight, Jordan had reached a point where he finally trusted in his teammates and enabled them to help the team win.
“It proved to everyone that it took more than one guy to win championships,” said Grant of that process. “It takes a team effort. If one guy is down, his teammates are there to pick him up.”
That trust also led to the Bulls’ defensive success, Grant explained: “If Michael and Scottie wanted to be aggressive and go for a steal, they could rely on me to have their back if they didn’t get it. It was a family.”
Jordan, Pippen, Grant and the Bulls won the NBA Championship on June 12, 1991, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the NBA Finals. Grant finished the 1991 playoffs first in field goal percentage, second in rebounds and third in scoring. He averaged over 13 points and seven rebounds in the NBA Finals. And while he won three more titles—two with the Bulls and one as a member of the Lakers in 2001—the experience he shared with the team that reunited Saturday is tough to beat.
“There’s nothing like the first one,” said Grant. “If it wasn’t for the first, we wouldn’t have had the second or the third. It was a very special season.”
Though he now lives on the West Coast, Grant still calls Chicago home. He watches most Bulls games—yes, he’s also picking Derrick Rose as his NBA MVP—and hopes to make it back for a playoff game this spring.
And regardless of the color of his attire, he’s still wearing red, as he and Pippen regularly did in the early 1990s.
“Those pants were very classic,” laughed Grant. “Look around the United Center. You’ll see it. Real men do wear red.”