Bulls need to bone up on NBA history before claiming spot there PRO BASKETBALL

Phil Jackman

June 22, 1993|By Phil Jackman

Ah, perspective!

Sports fans, be they rabid or simply in search of some short-term entertainment, couldn't help but grasp the irony surrounding the wrap-up of a couple of the crown jewels of sport, the NBA Finals and the U.S. Open golf tournament, over the weekend.

While some, charged with the responsibility of keeping the public informed, gave indication that not much of note has occurred on the links during the past 30 years, their hardwood counterparts made like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were the Adam and Eve of pro hoops.

For years now we've been made to think that "threepeat" is not only a valid word, but to accomplish back-to-back-to-back titles is to be equated with entrance into heaven at the very least.

Yes, the written and spoken word has incessantly informed us since Chicago beat Phoenix for the NBA crown Sunday night, the Bulls made history with their three-time success.

Later, somewhere down in the fine print, we learn of a stipulation. Well, you see, this is the first time tri-titles have been registered since the mid-1960s.

That's like saying the 39-game hitting streak Paul Molitor enjoyed in Milwaukee a few seasons back was "historical," because in the minds of some the statute of limitations had somehow run out on Joe DiMaggio's 56-gamer in 1941.

Or the last Grand Slam in men's tennis, accomplished by Rod Laver in 1968: Forget it, that was 25 years ago, right around the time the brontosaurus was still parading up and down the Jones Falls Expressway.

The last team to capture three NBA titles consecutively was the Boston Celtics. And the number didn't stop at three but stretched out to eight. I don't recall anyone asking Red Auerbach at the time if he thought his team could effect an "octopeat" after completing a "septopeat."

The Celtics won eight in a row, 10 of 11 and 11 of 13. And, believe it or not, this was not back in the days of the center jump and no time limit in the lane.

Seriously, are we to downplay the accomplishments of the likes of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, JoJo White, Tommy Heinsohn, K. C. Jones and Red Cowens because the league didn't have a fat TV contract and Mssrs. Bird and Johnson didn't come along until 1979-80?

L Imagine if we applied the same restrictions to other sports.

Look at all the pennants and World Series appearances the Orioles would lose out on. Not to mention the Yankees dominating baseball for three decades.

The awesome Steelers teams of the '70s and the Packers of the '60s surely had to be figments of someone's imagination.

And who, pray tell, were those individuals you hear ancient fans whisper about from time to time -- Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Jack Dempsey, Mark Spitz and Gertrude Ederle?

Another mildly disturbing aspect of Sunday night's never-ending celebration of the fact that Michael Jordan simply exists was Michael himself saying "I wanted this one [the championship] real bad."

In Jordan's mind, this separates him from his chief rivals, Magic and Bird, because they weren't able to achieve what he had.

This is not to suggest that His Airness has any major flaws when it comes to being a team player. But, when you're talking about his Olympic "Dream Team" teammates, Bird and Johnson, you're talking about the ultimate team players.

The Bulls, if the truth be told, might make it onto the top 10 list of NBA squads since the league started in 1946. They have had the ability to win consistently lately because they're good enough to hang with any opposition until the fourth quarter when Jordan brings his most spectacular skills to the forefront.

There are times, however, when so much reliance is put on Michael in the stretch that he comes across looking like the ultimate gunner, comfortable with the fact he can prevail going 1-on-5. He doesn't do much to relieve this erroneous impression by often referring to his teammates as his "supporting cast."

That's the way the Chicago Bulls are set up, though, and you have to concede the fact that they're making this slight mutation of the team concept pay off. Unfortunately, their success gets us through the "threepeat" awfulness, but already the Bulls being known as the "Quad Squad" is wearing thin.

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