"This team is truly amazing," Jordan said Sunday, after the Bulls ousted the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. "We have come together in such a short amount of time and accomplished a major feat."
But even as the city rolls out the red carpet for the Bulls today in a massive victory celebration at Grant Park, there are questions as to whether some of the key components of a team that put together the best regular-season record in NBA history will return next year.
Jordan is a free agent, but he most likely will be back. Scottie Pippen will return. But coach Phil Jackson, who has done a masterful job of having players check their egos and blend into a team, is at the end of his contract. Dennis Rodman also becomes a free agent, and the question is whether management can afford him -- or even wants him back.
One thing is certain -- the words of Jordan carry a lot of weight. And the four-time finals MVP made it clear that he would like to see the team return intact.
"I believe we'll be back. We. I did say we," Jordan said. "That includes Phil, and, hopefully, Dennis."
Jackson won his first Coach of the Year award this season, and wants his pay to reflect that honor and the respect he has earned. That means the starting price is $3 million a year, what John Calipari got to become the New Jersey Nets' coach. Jackson, though frustrated with talks that have yet to yield a new deal and fatigued by the pressure of leading the team to the championship, said he would like to return.
"This is a little insane -- the playoffs, the energy level, the duress on the personal life," Jackson said. "But I'm committed to some of the players on this team, and that's why I feel confident I'll be back."
One of those players Jackson is committed to is Rodman, who many felt should have won the MVP award of the series (he got three of the 11 votes).
Say what you will about the hair, the pushing, the shoving, the antics. In the end, Rodman, with rebounding skills that rank him among the best ever, is able to dominate a game. Twice he had 11 offensive boards in the title series, tying a record.
"Dennis to me is a good basketball player, a great player," said forward Shawn Kemp, the Sonics' top player. "His work ethic on the court is great, and he does what he needs to do to win. That's what you have to respect. It's not about what he does or how he does it."
Even if Jackson and Rodman return, the Bulls probably will need some off-season revamping if they want to capture the $l championship again. At times in the Seattle series, the Bulls looked like an old team, not surprising considering their three main players are 35 (Rodman), 33 (Jordan) and 30 (Pippen).
But age was not a problem during the regular season, and give Jordan credit for that. He has a tremendous work ethic and every coach in the league would love to have his superstar go all out -- on the court, in practice -- all the time. Jordan led, and the rest of the team followed.
The big debate is whether the Bulls are the best team ever. Former NBA coach Jack Ramsay said, after the Bulls had won the first three games of the series, that he would rank them among the top.
"I think it's so hard to compare eras," Ramsay said. "There's no team as metally tough as the Bulls, and they take it all from Michael."
While Chicago stores reported booming sales of "Best Team Ever" T-shirts yesterday, the Bulls may not even be the best team of the last decade. The 1986 Boston Celtics, who won 67 regular-season games, and the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 65, had dominant front lines that would have overmatched the current Bulls team.
"They're definitely one of the best teams of all time," Magic Johnson, the point guard for that Lakers team, said in a television interview last week.
"The only way you could beat these Bulls is with a dominating front line. That's what we had, that's what the Celtics had. With us, Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] would have been the X-factor because there's nobody that could stop him and he could set up shots for everyone else on the team."
The Bulls won their 72 games in the regular season in a league that has been watered down by expansion, but there's no debating that 87 percent of the time this year, the Bulls came out winners. That in itself is amazing.
"Who would have ever written this season?" Jordan said. "I think even if we're not together next year, which I hope we are together, this has been a very, very special year."
Best of the best?
The Chicago Bulls followed a record-setting regular season with a 15-3 playoff run to the NBA title. Here's how the best teams in the regular season fared in the playoffs:
.. .............. .... Season .. Playoff Total
Team ......... Year .. W-L ..... W-L .... W-L .. Pct. .. Result
Chicago ... 1995-96 .. 72-10 .. 15-3 .. 87-13 .. .870 .. Champion
L.A. Lakers 1971-72 .. 69-13 .. 12-3 .. 81-16 .. .835 .. Champion
Philadelphia 1966-67.. 68-13 .. 11-3 .. 79-16 .. .832 .. Champion
Boston .... 1972-73 .. 68-14 ... 7-6 .. 75-20 .. .789 .. Lost in East.
......... ........ ....... ........ ....... ...... .... Conf. finals
Boston .... 1985-86 .. 67-15 .. 15-3 .. 82-18 .. .820 .. Champion
Chicago ... 1991-92 .. 67-15 .. 15-7 .. 82-22 .. .788 .. Champion