CHICAGO -- Buck, dunk the ball!
Now they are the Repeata-Bulls, just as they had been the Unbeata-Bulls since way back at Christmas, so there is only mild notice -- outside Chicago, that is -- that the Bulls are champions of the NBA. It long has been foregone, if not preordained.
Buck, hold on to the ball!
"We were still tall at the end," Michael Jordan said. "It may not have looked pretty, but tonight we still are tall."
So, long after it was over, Jordan led his teammates back into the madhouse that was Chicago Stadium, the old war house still full with its 20,000 Bulls maniacs, and Jordan held the title trophy over his head and danced around the court. And when the old Stadium still wasn't settled, Jordan led his teammates to the side and jumped up on -- what else? -- the scorer's table.
"That's why I hate to leave this Stadium," Jordan said. "I'm so glad I was drafted by Chicago eight years ago because, if I wasn't drafted by Chicago, I don't think I could have done the things I've done. These fans mean so much."
So Jordan tried to give it all back, jumping on the scorer's table, waving the trophy to the fans, dancing from side to side, his right arm a windshield wiper, waving back and forth, trying to wave to his fans. By his side was Scottie Pippen and John Paxson squirting champagne and James Jordan, Michael's father, dancing and holding out his right fist, pointing to one championship ring and saying, nay, shouting, "I've got room for one more."
"It was just so great going back out on the court and celebrating with the fans," said Pippen.
And there would be no tears this year for Jordan, because "last year I had waited seven years and the tears just came out," said Jordan. "This year I only had one year to wait, so I held back the tears."
Still, even with the champagne and Jordan so lost in his own joy, trying to wave to every single Bulls fan, I was tugged back to the Blazers. A Danny Ainge jumper just before the end of the third quarter had given Portland a 79-62 lead, but then came the collapse of collapses. Not because of Michael Jordan -- the Bulls outscored Portland, 23-4, with Michael on the bench -- but because of . . . who knows?
"John Paxson turned to me in the locker room and said, 'What a long, strange trip it has been,' " Chicago coach Phil Jackson said, "and he wasn't just quoting the Grateful Dead."
Especially this last game. The Blazers started the quarter up, 79-64, Jordan on the bench "doing more cheerleading than I've ever done," and a not-so-gentle assist from the officiating crew of Mike Mathis, Hugh Evans and Ed T. Rush helped propel the Bulls back into the game as every call in the first four minutes of the fi
nal quarter went against the Blazers, the team with the lead. But the Blazers simply collapsed with no external help needed.
So the tug was to Portland, now fast becoming the Denver Broncos of pro basketball. Maybe the Blazers' last possession typified all -- Clyde Drexler giving up the ball to Jerome Kersey, of all non-long-distance shooters, for a wild three-point attempt.
"I don't think we took very good possession of the ball," said Drexler, a wonderful man but no Michael Jordan (and all such talk should cease immediately). "There were some instances where we really should have done [something] when we had possession of the ball."
There were so many such instances -- the Blazers had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter -- and perhaps 17 more bad decisions. The worst may have come with 2:51 left, the game tied at 89, and power forward Buck Williams soaring through the lane. No dunk for the sure two; instead, a layup that bounced off the rim.
"We got a little tentative and they were very aggressive," said Williams. "That was one area where we got a little lax in -- our aggressiveness in taking the ball to the hole in the fourth quarter."
Such as your layup, Buck?
"I never considered dunking it," said Williams. "I just decided to lay it in and I missed it."
By now, after that miss, Jordan was back in the game ("I was just looking for a chance to redeem myself") and first blended in with his mates who had caught up to the Blazers and then -- Michael being Michael and not Clyde -- took over the game.
After a soaring Drexler block of a Jordan layup to tease us, Jordan had enough of the foolishness. He hit a 16-foot jumper, which came after a layup when he stole the ball from an unsuspecting Williams after Williams had pulled down a rebound with 36 seconds left.
"This has been a series of questionable officiating calls, and I don't want to blame the officials," said Williams. "I thought Michael fouled me, but that's not important right now. What's important is Chicago played aggressively and Michael got the job done."
Especially when the game was 93-91, Chicago, with 36 seconds left, when Jordan left Drexler on the right baseline, found himself up with Williams in midair and somehow slithered and spun the ball off the glass for a vintage Jordan move, for another NBA title.
Michael Jordan will be remembered, yes, for this season of scoops, soars and scandal. "Basketball," he said, "was my medicine for all the adversity I had to deal with."
But up there with Michael will be the Blazers. It's not often you see an entire professional basketball team suffer a panic attack before 20,000 fans and on national television.
Buck, dunk the ball!