As the NBA entered the 1990s, the landscape of the league was changing. The NBA institued a FIBA rule where clocks registered tenths of seconds in the final minute of a period. The 1989-90 season also saw the league expand from 25 teams to 27 by adding the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic to the mix. But a big departure preceded the new arrivals. Gone was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the big fella in L.A., who retired following the 1988-89 season after a stellar 20-year career.
The Lakers relied on Magic Johnson's all-around talents more than ever before, and he responded by scoring more than 22 points for the second straight year and also averaging 11.5 assists. Without Kareem, the Lakers used 35-year-old Mychal Thompson and rookie Vlade Divac at center. The new formula, with most of the old ingredients still intact, worked well enough for the Lakers to post a league-best 63-19 record, including a stellar 37-4 home record.
The Pistons looked a bit different as well. The loss of Rick Mahorn in the expansion draft to stock the new teams in Minnesota and Orlando meant more minutes for veteran James Edwards. He was nowhere near the physical presence Mahorn was but gave the Pistons a needed low-post scorer in addition to Mark Aguirre. The Pistons won 59 games and their third straight Central Division title, but they also had to contend with Chicago, which had slowly built a team around Jordan that won 55 games under new coach Phil Jackson, the former Knicks forward from the 1970s.
Out in Utah, guard John Stockton of the Jazz averaged 14.5 assists per game, setting the single-season mark. Dennis Johnson, one of the premiere defensive guards of the 1980s, played in his final season with the Celtics. On the flip side of that, David Robinson -- one of the best defensive centers of all time -- made his debut for the Spurs. The eventual Rookie of the Year winner, Robinson was instrumental in San Antonio improving from 21-61 in 1988-89 to 56-26 in 1989-90 as it won the Midwest Division.
In the playoffs, Detroit blitzed Indiana and New York, but needed seven games to dismiss the increasingly troublesome Bulls. The Lakers defeated Houston, but were stunned in the Western Conference semis by Phoenix in five games. The Suns were in turn upset by the Portland Trail Blazers, a team which had lost in the first round for four straight years. The series win put the Blazers back in The Finals for the first time since 1977.
Led by high-scoring guard Clyde Drexler, Portland had won 59 games, but didn't get much respect until outlasting Robinson and San Antonio in seven games to reach the West finals.
When Portland won Game 2 of The Finals in Detroit by one point in overtime to tie the series at 1-1, the young Blazers seemed poised to score a major upset. But the veteran Pistons, behind Isiah Thomas' 27.6, took three straight games in Portland to capture a second straight title. After going 17 years without back-to-back champions, the NBA now had back-to-back repeaters.
The Pistons felt they hadn't received their due for winning the NBA title in 1989, what with the Lakers hobbled by injuries to stars Byron Scott and Johnson. While the 1989 title may have been for the loyal Detroit fans, the 1990 crown was one the Pistons won just for themselves.
"You rank this one as more of a satisfaction for a job well done," said Bill Laimbeer after it was over. "We wanted to repeat as champions, but not so much to prove it to anybody else. We wanted to do it for ourselves."
"You can say what you want about me," Thomas said, "but you can't say that I'm not a winner."
Eastern Conference first round
New York defeated Boston (3-2)
Detroit defeated Indiana (3-0)
Philadelphia defeated Cleveland (3-2)
Chicago defeated Milwaukee (3-1)
Western Conference first round
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Houston (3-1)
Phoenix defeated Utah (3-2)
San Antonio defeated Denver (3-0)
Portland defeated Dallas (3-0)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Chicago defeated Philadelphia (4-1)
Detroit defeated New York (4-1)
Western Conference semifinals
Portland defeated San Antonio (4-3)
Phoenix defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-1)
Eastern Conference finals
Detroit defeated Chicago (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Portland defeated Phoenix (4-2)
Detroit defeated Portland (4-1)
Points -- Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (33.6)
Assists -- John Stockton, Utah Jazz (14.5)
Rebounds -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets (14.0)
Steals -- Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (2.8)
Blocks -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets (4.6)
FG % -- Mark West, Phoenix Suns (62.5)
FT % -- Larry Bird, Boston Celtics (93.0)
3PT % -- Steve Kerr, Cleveland Cavaliers (50.7)
Most Valuable Player -- Magic Johnson, L.A. Lakers
Rookie of the Year -- David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs
Defensive Player of the Year -- Dennis Rodman, Detroit Pistons
Most Improved Player -- Rony Seikaly, Miami Heat
Sixth Man of the Year -- Ricky Pierce, Milwaukee Bucks
Coach of the Year -- Pat Riley, L.A. Lakers
All-Star Game MVP -- Magic Johnson, L.A. Lakers
Finals MVP -- Isiah Thomas, Detroit Pistons