Sweetest reward for Jordan is in shared victory Superstar, Bulls find fit--and fire

June 14, 1991|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Correspondent

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Slightly more than a year ago, Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, all 5 feet 5, 250 pounds of him, went on a rampage in his team's dressing room at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., slamming doors, overturning furniture, and snarling at his beaten players.

The Bulls had just lost the seventh game of the 1990 Eastern Conference finals to the Detroit Pistons. Forward Scottie Pippen was hiding in a corner, his head tucked between his knees. A sudden migraine attack before the deciding game had limited him to one field goal in 46 minutes.

But no one got sympathy from Krause, who believed the pieces were already in place for a championship run.

"I didn't want players who were willing to accept defeat," Krause said. "I was mad we'd lost to the Pistons again, and I wanted them to be just as mad as me. All I wanted was a championship ring."

The mood was quite different in the Bulls' dressing room at The Forum Wednesday night. Krause and Michael Jordan, a frequent critic who once said, "I can do a better job as GM," danced joyously around a floor awash in champagne, celebrating the franchise's first NBA championship.

It might have been sweeter clinching the title in front of their fanatical supporters, but the Bulls had underscored their dominance of the Los Angeles Lakers by winning three straight on the road to capture the finals, four games to one.

The Lakers, who fought gallantly with a patchwork lineup of that placed rookies Elden Campbell and Tony Smith in pivotal roles, could have used the absence of starters James Worthy and Byron Scott as an alibi. But coach Mike Dunleavy and his star player, Magic Johnson, readily acknowledged that this was the year of the Bulls.

"They deserved to win," said Dunleavy. "They outplayed us. They made the big shots. They made the tough shots. They made the long shots. That's the name of the game."

There could be no question about the Bulls' superiority. They proved too quick, too athletic and too deep for the older Lakers, who appeared to have had had their strength sapped by Portland in the Western finals. All the while the the Bulls were breezing through the East, losing only one game in three series.

But even a well-rested, healthy Lakers team would have been hard-pressed to overcome the Bulls, a team of hungry role players finally comfortably in complementing the incomparable Jordan.

"This series was a tribute to Michael Jordan," said head coach Phil Jackson. "Whenever he felt defensive pressure, he consistently found the open man. He hit [guard] John Paxson again and again down the stretch to win this last one.

"From our opening game, Michael showed he was willing to share the limelight, and that was the key to this whole season."

There was both victory and vindication for Jordan and Pippen, the Bulls' most gifted performers.

Jordan has finally shed the stigma of being a superstar more interested in personal glory than team goals.

He has now played on championship teams in college with the 1981 North Carolina Tar Heels, won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, and taken his rightful place alongside Larry Bird and Johnson in leading his team to an NBA title.

"When I came over to congratulate Michael after the final game, I could see tears in his eyes," said Johnson, who fought desperately to keep the Lakers alive in the series. "You hear so much about him being an individual player, but he proved everyone wrong in this championship."

Said Jordan, "Ten years ago, I was just a kid scared to death, leaving high school and wondering if I could play at the next level. Now 10 years later, I'm at the highest level. And 10 years from now, no one will remember Michael Jordan, the challenger."

But Jordan did not travel this road alone. He got tremendous help from Pippen, Paxson, Grant and Bill Cartwright, plus solid off-the-bench contributions from Cliff Levingston, Craig Hodges and Scott Williams.

Pippen proved he is a rising superstar, scoring 32 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out seven assists in the title-clincher. He averaged 20.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists in the finals.

"Everybody said I'm not a big-time player," said Pippen. "They can't say that anymore. I thought about being in this position all summer. I raised my play to a higher level. It's a great feeling. No more headaches."

No, just pure euphoria for the Bulls, who will be honored with a parade in downtown Chicago today.

Said Johnson, who had 16 points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds in the final game "It's gonna be real sweet for the Bulls all year long. There's no better feeling in the world. It's unreal, the ultimate in sports."

As Jordan surmised, "We shocked a lot of people, but we earned it. We deserved it. We took it. No one gave it to us. That's what I'm proudest about. And we took it as a team. Me and my teammates."

NBA champions-scoring champions

A list of NBA regular season scoring leaders that played on the NBA championship team of that year with his average for the season:

Season ... ... Player ... ... ... ... Team ... ... ... Avg.

1946-47 ... .. Joe Fulks ... ... ... Phil. Warriors ... 23.2

1948-49 ... .. George Mikan .. .. .. Minn. Lakers .. .. 28.3

1949-50 ... .. George Mikan .. .. .. Minn. Lakers .. .. 27.4

1970-71 ... .. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar .. Milw. Bucks .. .. 31.7

1990-91 ... .. Michael Jordan ... ... Chicago Bulls ... 31.5

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