They have heard and read all the jokes: "Jordan and the 11 Dwarfs," "Michaelangelo and his house painters," and "Air Jordan and his stewards."
But those demeaning perceptions changed dramatically Sunday night, as Jordan led his teammates on a victory lap around cavernous Chicago Stadium, jumping and jitterbugging on press tables and joyously spraying their fans with bubbly as they joined in celebrating the Bulls' second straight NBA title.
Jordan also claimed his second straight MVP championship trophy after the Bulls had staged a pulsating fourth-quarter rally to eliminate the Portland Trail Blazers in six games. But this time the Bulls' supernova made a heartfelt tribute to his teammates, who played a pivotal role in the title-clinching game.
"On this day, before the home crowd, before the nation, we really needed them, and they delivered," Jordan said. "We won it as one team, one unit.
"We took turns taking pressure off each other the way great teams do it. We went through a lot of adversity, but we bonded together when we had to. Winning two straight tells the world last year wasn't a fluke. We didn't just walk into this situation. We did it with a lot of style, a lot of class and a lot of hard work. And today, we all stand tall."
When the Bulls mounted their comeback from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit Sunday, Jordan was sitting on the bench, playing the uncustomary role of cheerleader.
The "Bench Brothers," featuring Jordan's shadow, Scottie Pippen, and reserves Scott Williams, Stacey King, Bobby Hansen and B.J. Armstrong, tore into the Blazers like a pack of hungry Dobermans, reducing the deficit to three in less than four minutes.
Leaving Jordan on the bench that long was a calculated risk by coach Phil Jackson, who felt the game slipping away when the fourth quarter began.
"Our starters were sagging, and Michael seemed to be dragging," Jackson said. "We needed young guys with fresh legs. Either it's a daring or stupid move, depending on which way it comes out."
As things developed, Jackson looked like a genius. The Bulls' undervalued second unit had the Blazers reeling, and a refreshed Jordan finished them off by scoring 10 of his team's last 12 points.
There would be comments by some of the Blazers, who preferred tobelieve they had self-destructed, as predicted.
"I think the Bulls have one great player," said Blazers guard Terry Porter. "But I don't think they have a great team. They really have a bunch of role players."
To be sure, Jordan, who averaged 35 points for the series, remains the game's ultimate weapon, a once-in-a-lifetime talent who has turned trumpeted showdowns the past two years with the Lakers' Magic Johnson and the Blazers' Clyde Drexler into mismatches. But in a year of personal turmoil, he has learned humility and respect for his supporting cast.
It was a year in which Jordan experienced the dark side of superstardom, carrying over from a championship season in which his teammates accused management of exercising a double standard in their treatment of Jordan.
This complaint and other charges of petty family feuds were underlined in sports reporter Sam Smith's critical book, "The Jordan Rules."
As soon as that storm subsided, Jordan's troubles quickly multiplied. Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas charged Jordan with conspiring to keep him off the Olympic team. And then he was zTC besieged by personal problems. He was found to have accumulated large gambling debts, losing golf bets and poker games with reputed drug dealers and card sharks.
"I think all of my emotions were shown this year," Jordan said, cradling his MVP trophy. "I think people have gotten a more diverse picture of Michael Jordan, not just from the positive side, but some negative stuff and the humanistic stuff as well. Hopefully, we'll all learn something from this year. I know I've matured."
And so did the rest of the Bulls in accepting Jordan as their unquestioned leader, the man who set the team standard for hard work and a commitment to winning.
Jackson had the task of keeping the defending champions focused and in harmony through a tumultuous season. And he always seemed to push the right buttons.
"For me, the fact that your game plan and strategies worked out, that's incidental," said Jackson, a former hippie who played on two championship teams with the New York Knicks. "For me, the real satisfaction is that 12 guys have listened and absorbed, and found a way to band together to win."
Meanwhile, in the arena, the fans refused to leave, chanting "three-peat," again and again while the Bulls blew kisses in appreciation.
Outside, however, the revelry turned riotous. More than 1,000 people were arrested for looting and arson. Fourteen fires were set and two police officers were shot, though not seriously, and 90 other officers were hurt.
"The anticipation is that we'll get it done again next year," said Jackson. "We've got the same guys back and the same winning chemistry."
And, most of all, the indomitable Michael Jordan, who finally may have made peace with his teammates and himself.
What it's like to be like Mike
* Michael Jordan is the second player to be voted MVP for both the regular season and the NBA Finals and the first to win both awards in consecutive years. Larry Bird was MVP for the Boston Celtics in 1984 and 1986.
* His 35.8 scoring average was the highest for a winning player in the finals, surpassing his mark of 31.2 set last year. The record is 40.8 by Rick Barry of San Francisco, which lost to Philadelphia in 1967.
* His 28 three-point attempts were the most by a player in the finals. The previous mark was 27 by Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Lakers in four games in 1989.
Playoff highs, lows
Most points, game: 153, Port. at Phoe. 5/11 (2OT); 129, Sea. vs. G.S. 4/28
Fewest points, game: 75, Det. at N.Y. 4/24
Most points, half: 75, Port. vs. LAL 4/23
Fewest points, half: 30, N.Y. at Chi. 5/17
Most points, quarter: 42, Port. vs. Phoe. 5/11 (2OT).
Fewest points, quarter: 12, Det. at N.Y. 5/3; LAC at Utah 5/4
Highest field-goal percentage, game: .615, Sea. vs. G.S. 4/28
L Lowest field-goal percentage, game: .359, Port. vs. Chi. 6/7
Most field goals made, game: 54, Port. at Phoe. 5/11 (2OT); 52, Bos. vs. Clev. 5/15
Fewest field goals made, game: 27, N.Y. at Det. 5/1
Most 3-point field goals made, game: 8, Ind. at Bos. 4/23; Port. vs. Utah 5/19
Most free throws made, game: 48, Utah vs. Port. 5/24
Fewest free throws made, game: 4, Bos. at Clev. 5/2
Most rebounds, game: 60, Sea. vs. G.S. 4/30
Fewest rebounds, game: 22, G.S. at Sea. 4/28
Most assists, game: 42, Clev. vs. Bos. 5/17
Most steals, game: 15, N.Y. vs. Det. 4/24; Chi. vs. Mia. 4/26; Port. vs. Phoe. 5/5