CHICAGO -- They stood on the podium wearing T-shirts proclaiming them as the "best team ever." It's a title that may be debatable, but at least the Chicago Bulls are the team of the 1990s -- and last night they finally had reason to celebrate this season.
Two straight losses in Seattle left many doubters, but the Bulls brought home the NBA title for the fourth time in the 1990s with an 87-75 win that gave Chicago a 4-2 series triumph.
As the horn sounded, Michael Jordan, the series MVP, grabbed the ball from Toni Kukoc and fell to the floor in celebration. After a few seconds, Jordan, donning a Bulls championship cap, dashed toward the locker room, where he took time to reflect on a day -- Father's Day -- in which he had to deal with the memory of his late father, James.
"I was blessed to bring the championship back to the city of Chicago. It happened on Father's Day, which makes this even more special," Jordan said. "This was probably the hardest time for me to play basketball. I had a lot of things on my mind."
That may be the reason that Jordan missed 14 of his 19 shots in the game, coming after a Game 5 loss in which he scored just two points in the fourth quarter. But Jordan was aggressive, getting to the free-throw line 12 times (he made 11). He ended the game with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists -- and the Most Valuable Player award for the championship series. He's the first player to win the MVP award four times (1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996).
"I had a lot to think about, and maybe my mind wasn't geared to where it should have been," Jordan said of his shooting. "I had the good fortune of a team that played extremely well."
That's something that could not be said in the Game 5 loss in Seattle, where nobody stepped up when Jordan was in need of assistance. Last night, Scottie Pippen came through with a well-rounded game (17 points, eight rebounds and five assists), Kukoc scored 10 points off the bench, and Dennis Rodman scored nine points and grabbed 19 rebounds. Rodman grabbed 11 offensive rebounds for the second time in the series, tying the NBA record he holds with Elvin Hayes.
"As you evaluate this series, Dennis Rodman won two basketball games for them," said Sonics coach George Karl. "I think Dennis Rodman is the reason they are successful."
But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago's success last night was the return of Ron Harper, who hurt his left knee in Game 2 and had played a total of 15 minutes in the three games going into last night.
Harper started the clincher and played 38 minutes, scoring 10 points and giving the Bulls a defensive boost with his play against the Seattle backcourt of Gary Payton and Hersey Hawkins.
"I said after Game 5: 'Ron, if you want to end this series, you better come on out here and play,' " Pippen said. "Ron has helped put this basketball team back where we are."
When the game was over, it set off a wild on-the-court celebration for a team that established a regular-season record with 72 wins.
"One thing about this championship, we were expected to win," Bulls coach Phil Jackson, wearing a title cap, said after the game. "Whenever you're expected to do something, the pressure is great. It's a relief to win, rather than an exultation."
Said Jordan: "This team is very amazing. We have come together in such a short amount of time, and accomplished a major feat."
A major feat that was a relief for a city that had been waiting to exhale for five days.
And the Bulls were eager to join the party.
"It's going to be a long night, believe me," said Jordan, smiling and clutching a long cigar. "I never doubted that I couldn't get back to this moment. Part of my motivation was that I could be a leader on this team, for guys who had never won a title.
"No matter what happens from this point forward, you can't take a championship away from Randy Brown, from Jud Buechler -- and even Jack Haley. It's a great feeling."
Chicago vs. Seattle
(Chicago wins series, 4-2)
Game .. .. .. .. .. .Result
Game 1 .. ..Chicago, 107-90
Game 2 .. ..Chicago, 92-88
Game 3 .. ..Chicago, 108-86
Game 4 .. ..Seattle, 107-86
Game 5 .. ..Seattle, 89-78
Last night .Chicago, 87-75
Pub Date: 6/17/96