CHICAGO -- With a fat victory cigar in one hand and a huge bottle of champagne in the other, Michael Jordan was ready to celebrate Friday night. And yet, before he left the podium to rejoin his teammates in the locker room, Jordan turned somber when asked to address the Chicago Bulls' future.
"I think this team is entitled to the opportunity to continue to be successful," Jordan said. "We're entitled to defend what we have until we lose it."
That was Jordan's stand in the aftermath of perhaps Chicago's most difficult championship run, which was completed with Friday night's 90-86 win over the Utah Jazz to give the Bulls the NBA title in six games.
Jordan wants to make a title defense, but only if that includes keeping the nucleus of coach Phil Jackson, forward Scottie Pippen and, yes, even forward Dennis Rodman.
But that's where Jordan and Bulls management might differ. In what they believe is preparation for the future, team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and vice president Jerry Krause are considering dismantling the Bulls.
Jackson, at the conclusion of a one-year contract, may not be re-signed. The underpaid Pippen ($2.5 million) might be traded by a team fearful of getting nothing in return when his contract expires at the end of next season. And Rodman may have worn out his welcome after a stormy season that continued through the playoffs, when he lashed out at Mormons (for which he was fined $50,000) during the NBA Finals.
The Bulls would like to see Jordan return. But Jordan, 34, instead of facing rebuilding, could find himself turning his back on a contract worth nearly $35 million.
"There has to be some consideration, some sense of loyalty to myself, to Scottie, to Phil, even to the guys who have given of themselves over the last two years, or even Dennis, for all the different colors he may wear in his hair or dresses or whatever," Jordan said.
"If we lose it, then you look at it and say, 'OK, let's change.' Rebuilding? Nobody is guaranteeing rebuilding is going to be two, three, four, five years. The [Chicago] Cubs have been rebuilding for 42 years."
TC Public sentiment in Chicago, which will be host to yet another championship parade tomorrow, is behind Jordan. Despite their success in winning five of the past seven championships, the Bulls may not be the greatest team ever. But they do have perhaps the greatest player ever in Jordan, who averaged 31.1 points during the playoffs -- the ninth time in his career he has been the top scorer during the postseason.
Even though Jordan scored 39 points in Friday's win, his biggest contribution came not on a shot, but on a pass to Steve Kerr with the game tied in the closing seconds. Jordan, who already had beaten the Jazz twice in the series, sensed a double-team and had warned Kerr to be ready.
Kerr, who had struggled throughout the postseason, took the pass from Jordan and swished in a foul-line jumper with five seconds left that proved to be the game-winning shot.
"I said, 'I'm going to come to you,' and he said, 'Give me the ball,' " Jordan said of the play. "That's typical of John Paxson [the former Bull who hit a game-winning three-pointer for the 1993 title], he used to say the same thing. And Steve Kerr earned his wings from my perspective, because I had faith in him."
Jordan's 39-point performance came two days after his courageous 38-point game -- and winning three-pointer -- in Game 5, when he was stricken with a stomach virus. Any debate over who is the league's real MVP was settled over the past two weeks, and Jordan won the Finals MVP award for the fifth time.
"Michael's legacy continues to grow," Pippen said. "As long as he plays the game, he's going to amaze us no matter what because he has the ability to take control of the game, to make the big shot and to make the big play. Karl Malone won the MVP, but Michael is still the MVP of this league and no matter how you look at it he's the greatest one to ever play the game."
That was high praise from Pippen, who even got higher praise from Jordan. When Jordan was awarded the Finals MVP trophy after the game, he invited Pippen to join him in hoisting the award in the air. Jordan said he will give Pippen the car that goes along with the award.
"He's like a little brother to me, and he's prospered and moved along," Jordan said. "He's very deserving of the same $30 million or whatever I get. We share successes, and that's what I'm doing for him. I want the trophy. I've got enough cars, he can have the Nissan."
Now, whether the team that has dominated the 1990s gets to share in any future successes remains to be seen.
"If you want to look at this from a business standpoint, you have to have respect for the people that have laid the groundwork so you can be a profitable organization," Jordan said. "I'm not trying to twist Jerry Reinsdorf's arm. But I'd like to see us defend what we have obtained over the last five out of seven years.
"I don't know what it's going to take, maybe he'll have to mortgage his home or leverage his team against whatever bank he has, but I think we're entitled to defend what we have and Phil should be the head coach," Jordan added. "I shouldn't have to make a decision to play for another team."
Pub Date: 6/15/97