On this muggy Sunday night, Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the rest of the Chicago Bulls cared little about history. After defeating the Seattle SuperSonics 87-75 to win a fourth National Basketball Association championship in six years, the talk was not about whether the victory had cemented the Bulls' place as the greatest team in basketball history. Lighting a victory cigar or hugging a teammate was what mattered.
Of course, the Bulls had created the debate by becoming the first team in NBA history to break the 70-victory plateau. They finished the season 72-10 and won by an average of 12 points per game. In the franchise's 30-year history, no other season could compare. Players such as Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker, Bob Love and Norm Van Lier provided plenty of thrills during the 1960s and 1970s--but no championships. Hard times followed, until the arrival of Jordan in 1984. As his legend grew, so did the Bulls' success.When they won three straight championships, starting with the 1990-91 season, they ruled not just basketball but Chicago sports. For the fourth title, the Bulls returned to the United Center on the West Side with a tenuous 3-2 game lead in the Finals after losing two straight in Seattle. On that Sunday night, Jordan scored 22 points, Rodman sparked a decisive third-quarter run--finishing with 19 rebounds--and the Bulls returned to the pinnacle.
The city has had Death Valley-size dry spells in baseball, football and hockey, relieved by a Super Bowl here, a Stanley Cup there, a World Series--where? To say the city was overjoyed to have not just a championship team but one of such history-making accomplishments is to say too little. Chicago wrapped the Bulls in a feverish embrace, with fans flooding into the streets the night of the win and later filling Grant Park for a victory celebration. "That is the great and curious gift of sports," wrote the Tribune's Bernie Lincicome, "to provide a common memory for all, to unite neighbors and generations. Championships make the `them' into `us.' "
To be sure, this championship belonged to many, even oft-ridiculed general manager Jerry Krause, the grand architect behind it all. But Jordan stood out. He had done so since his rookie season, when he burst onto the scene with a dazzling array of dunks.
His talents earned him scoring titles, most valuable player awards--and a reputation as a brilliant individual player who could not win the big one. That changed with the three championships. Then, on Oct. 6, 1993, Jordan stunningly "retired." After an 18-month hiatus to try his hand at professional baseball, he returned to the Bulls near the end of the 1994-95 season. That his comeback ended in failure-- Orlando knocked the Bulls out of the playoffs; in Chicago, no less--burned Jordan.
He rededicated himself to basketball, won his fourth regular-season MVP award, his eighth scoring title and displayed his legendary competitiveness.
"He's a work of art, but he's also all about the art of work," wrote the Tribune's Bob Verdi on the night of the championship.