Magic Johnson

Jordan and the Bulls went head-to-head with Magic and the Lakers as Chicago whipped L.A. 4-1 to win its first championship.

Michael Jordan had won four straight NBA scoring titles by the time the 1990-91 season began, and his vast array of endorsements had made him a household name. But he was dogged by the Wilt Chamberlain syndrome. Every sports fan with even a passing familiarity with the NBA would quote how no NBA team with the league scoring champion had won the NBA title since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA title way back in 1971.

Jordan had been the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1985, had been named to the All-NBA First Team four straight years, and had even been named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team three straight times. But Jordan's Bulls couldn't seem to get by Detroit, having lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals each of the past two years. But the Bulls had made drastic changes since Jordan's rookie year. John Paxson was signed as a free agent in 1985. Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen were added as a result of the 1987 NBA Draft. Bill Cartwright was acquired for Charles Oakley in 1988. B.J. Armstrong was selected in the 1989 NBA Draft. By 1990, the Bulls were ready to supplant the Pistons.

Chicago won a franchise-record and NBA-best 61 games and blew through New York, Philadelphia and their nemesis, Detroit, on the way to the NBA Finals. The Lakers, now a defensive unit under new Coach Mike Dunleavy, moved past Houston, Golden State and Portland to advance to the Finals. The Lakers won Game 1 in overtime in Chicago on Sam Perkins' three-point basket, but that was to be their only victory. The Bulls, behind the incomparable Jordan, took four straight to secure Chicago's first NBA title.

The 1991 NBA Finals was billed as a matchup between two larger-than-life superstars, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. But as the series played out, it became obvious that it took a team, not one superlative individual, to win an NBA Championship. Jordan was superb, as his series averages of 31.2 points, 11.4 assists and 6.6 rebounds demonstrated, but the Bulls were no one-man team. Their defense held the Lakers to a record-low 458 points for a five-game series. Jordan, who had won his fifth straight scoring title in April, had finally silenced those who said he couldn't lead the Bulls all the way.

"I never thought I'd be this emotional," said Jordan, who cried and repeatedly hugged the NBA's Championship trophy. "I've never been this emotional publicly."