Desperation shot fails to fall for Lakers

June 13, 1991|By Mitch Albom | Mitch Albom,Knight-Ridder

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Chicago Bulls win. I think. At least I' pretty sure that was Michael Jordan dancing off the court with his first NBA title, and Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant and John Paxson hugging in a tight circle on the Forum floor. It sure looked like them, anyhow. As for the final game of this championship series, I would like to tell you what happened, but I must confess an embarrassing mistake: I obviously drove to the wrong arena. That couldn't have been Bulls-Lakers. It looked more like Kings-Clippers.

Exit laughing. Is that any way to win a crown? Game 5 was a pickup at the corner gym, all stupid passes and no-hope shots, steals and bobbles and drops and players leaping for balls off the backboard. It was 7-footer Vlade Divac trying to dribble the ball upcourt. (That was fun.) It was Magic Johnson throwing a length-of-the-floor pass that at least two players could have intercepted. It was Pippen called for "carrying the ball." It was Paxson making a layup. A layup? I didn't know the man had legs!

It was desperation disguised as basketball. The injured Lakers, playing without James Worthy and Byron Scott, dusted off the guys at the end of the bench, introduced them to the rest of the team and gave the Bulls a headache. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty bad. It was back-to-back traveling calls and back-to-back offensive fouls, it was one dunk after another dunk after another dunk, it was wild, a skirmish, a free-for-all. Maybe the Lakers figured this was the only way they could win: utter confusion.

It worked for a while, the way throwing sand in the eye of Goliath might work. For a while. Actually, the Lakers had a lead halfway through the fourth quarter. But then, guys like Elden Campbell and Tony Smith, they must have looked at each other and said, "Omigod! What are we doing out of our warmups?" And fate took over. The Bulls went on a typical rampage, Jordan drive through five men to make a layup, Pippen knocked off two defenders and lTC made a banker. Paxson went back to his usual set shot, and swished it.

When the smoke cleared, the Chicago Bulls had finished off L.A. in just one game more than the minimum, and this morning they can safely say they beat the Lakers, all the Lakers, even some they never heard of.

"We won it together!" screamed Paxson after the 108-101 victory that clinched Chicago's first-ever NBA title.

All right. We should congratulate the Bulls, as soon as we stop laughing. There must be more graceful ways to win a title. Not that people in Chicago will care. After all, they didn't know what a championship looked like until last night.

OK. Credit where credit is due. The Bulls got to where they are honestly and mightily. Like a squadron of well-tuned fighter pilots, they all fell into line as the postseason wore on, they became a neat blade that cut down every team it faced with astonishing ease. Let's be honest. The Bulls swept the Knicks (no surprise). They swept the Pistons (big surprise). And if not for Sam Perkins' last-second jumper in Game 1, they would have swept the Lakers. Wow. Only two games lost in all the playoffs? Only one game lost on the road? If we weren't all so busy watching Jordan fly to the hoop or figuring out how Will Perdue -- Gomer Pyle's long lost brother -- managed to get all those rebounds while looking like a complete dork, we would surely agree that this was, in the most simple terms, the Chicago Bulls' butt-kicking the NBA.


"I have to credit my teammates," Jordan said before the game, obviously already knowing what was bound to happen, "and by the way, I never called them my supporting cast, you guys [the media] did." Well. Maybe he never called them his supporting cast. But he did call them lousy. Bad enough that he complained at the start of the season that the Bulls' GM needed to get him some real teammates. Eat your words, Michael. Chicago's success in these playoffs is that those other guys proved to be decent players, some of them terrific players.

John Paxson, doing his robotic shooting routine, stop, swish, stop, swish. And Scottie Pippen, all heart and talent now, twisting to the hoop with another finger-roll. Horace Grant, perhaps the most underrated player when these playoffs began, grabbing yet another offensive rebound and tossing it in off the glass. Even Bill Cartwright, who I always thought was one big elbow, making baseline jumpers and rebounding.

Cliff Levingston. B.J. Armstrong. Craig Hodges. The Bulls won ,, because nearly everyone, no matter how far down the bench -- excluding Stacey King -- was on his game nearly all the time. With the exception of last night's comedy show, the Bulls were consistent all playoffs long: They shot well, they played choking defense, they spread the ball around, they won.


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