CHICAGO -- "Last year was a honeymoon. This year was an odyssey."
That was the summation of coach Phil Jackson last night after watching his Chicago Bulls stage a heart-stopping rally in the fourth quarter to overtake the Portland Trail Blazers, 97-93, to win the NBA Finals, four games to two, and retain their championship.
A championship season marred by bickering among the Bulls and a tarnishing of Michael Jordan's image had a perfect ending.
In the frantic fourth quarter, the Bulls spotted the Blazers a 79-64 lead before the often-criticized reserves ignited an improbable rally and then turned the ball and last six minutes over to Jordan.
Jordan made clutch shot after clutch shot, scoring 10 of his team's last 12 points.
The Blazers were still alive when Jerome Kersey converted a pair of free throws to close to 95-93 with 27 seconds left. But, 16 seconds later, Blazers guard Terry Porter fouled Jordan, who made both shots to put Portland to rest.
It capped a 33-point performance by Jordan, who was a unanimous choice for his second straight playoff MVP trophy. But this championship season was even more satisfying than last year's, as Jordan overcame personal adversity and criticism from his own teammates.
"In winning last year, I had a sense of relieving all the frustration, anxiety and determination I had built up over the previous six seasons," he said. "This year, I can hold back the tears. Last year, I was trying to win it for the team, the city and the organization. This year, I admit I was more selfish. I was in it more for me. Basketball has served as the perfect medicine for all my adversity."
But Jordan, who often has criticized his teammates for a lack of support, had only praise for them last night. They ignited the winning charge while he was resting at the start of the fourth quarter.
"Before the last quarter started," said Jordan, "I said to myself, 'I don't want this to go to a seventh game. If we lose this one, there will be too much pressure the next two days from the city of Chicago.' "
Pippen, accused of choking in big games, carried the offensive burden until Jordan's climactic closing act.
"Scottie has to get the credit for starting that run with the second unit," said Jordan. "I wasn't mad or frustrated sitting on the bench. The reserves on the floor had a great rhythm going for them. When I came back in, I didn't try to force anything.I just tried to catch that same rhythm."
While the Bulls were jitterbugging, the Blazers were totally out of step. Predictions that they were capable of self-destructing were coming true at the worst possible time, as they committed seven turnovers that led to 17 Chicago points.
"When things started going bad for us," Blazers coach Rick Adelman said, "it kind of snowballed."
It was more like an avalanche. The Bulls seemed to make a 15-point deficit disappear in a blink of an eye while the frenzied crowd of 18,676 howled in approval.
The fans had sat mostly in stunned silence the first three quarters while Kersey (24 points), Clyde Drexler (24) and Porter (22) controlled the offensive tempo.
"We played a hell of a game for three quarters," said Adelman, who has lost in two championship rounds in the past three years.
"In the fourth quarter, Chicago's defensive intensity picked up, and we didn't handle it well," Adelman added. "Our guys just ran out of gas. They kept coming and took control. We came back at them and tied it twice in the final minutes [at 87 and 89], but they kept making big shots. That's why they're champions."
This was supposed to be a classic confrontation between Jordan and Drexler. But, in the end, it was a mismatch. Drexler scored consistently, but still was overshadowed by Jordan, who won a similar duel with Magic Johnson last year.
"Michael Jordan is the best player on this planet," said Danny Ainge, who distinguished himself in a reserve role for the Blazers. "With the game on the line, he's just like Superman."
And what about thoughts of "three-peating"?
Said Jordan, with a wry smile, "We're going to savor this one first. We won't focus on a third one until October."
* Outside Chicago Stadium, fans again responded with the violence that marred last year's victory party.
Scattered looting was reported around the city, including a gas station and a beauty salon where crowds broke through windows.
Two taxicabs were destroyed by people who jumped on top of them, smashed the windshields, caved in the roofs and trunks, then began tearing the cars apart. Police quickly closed the street to vehicles.
"People are jumping on cars like they were trampolines," said bellman Richard Clifton, watching the party from the Claridge Hotel.