CHICAGO -- The Utah Jazz had been terrorized by Michael Jordan enough during the NBA Finals, and it was determined not let it happen again. So in the final seconds of a tied Game 6, the Jazz did what any sensible team would do -- it double-teamed the Chicago Bulls' superstar.
Jordan, with game-winning shots in games 1 and 5, decided to rewrite this script. He did not take the shot, but passed off to a wide-open Steve Kerr. And the reserve guard who had struggled the entire series nailed a game-winning jumper with five seconds left that lifted the Bulls to a 90-86 win over the Jazz and their second straight NBA championship.
As Jordan jumped onto the scorer's table after the final buzzer had sounded, the chant of "MVP! MVP!" rang loudly from the stands of the United Center. And moments later Jordan again accepted the prize that has been presented to him in each of the five championships won by the Bulls -- the trophy for Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals.
"It just gets bigger and bigger as we keep winning and winning," said Jordan, clutching a cigar in one hand and a large bottle of champagne in the other. "It's a great, great feeling. I'm tired. I'm weak, weak. But I have a whole summer to recuperate."
A tired Jordan scored 39 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Bulls last night in helping Chicago capture its fifth title in the past seven years. The Bulls are just the third team in NBA history (the Minneapolis Lakers and the Boston Celtics are the others) to accomplish that feat.
Last night's victory also continued a remarkable run for Jordan, who has won championships in the past five full seasons he has played. The only two times the Bulls did not win in the 1990s (1994 and 1995) was when Jordan was in retirement, playing baseball.
The win also concluded an incredible series for the superstar, who, by averaging 31.1 points in the postseason, has been the top scorer in the playoffs nine times in his career.
In Game 1, Jordan hit the winning shot at the buzzer. In Game 5, he overcame a stomach ailment that kept him bedridden all day to score 38 points, including a game-winning three-pointer, in a crucial situation for Chicago.
And then last night, Jordan again raised his game to another level on a night when it appeared the Bulls would be forced to play a Game 7 for the first time in their amazing finals run.
"He's the greatest player I've ever seen," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan, a former Bulls star. "I don't know what you can say. He's such a great player, such a great competitor. He has an unbelievable will to win this game. And I think it's just terrific for basketball."
As amazing as it is that Jordan is so good at winning games with his shooting, it's even more remarkable that he has the ability and confidence to defer to others in key situations.
The game was tied at 86 in the final minutes and, during its final timeout, Chicago coach Phil Jackson drew up a play for Jordan. But just before the team broke from its huddle, Jordan had a few words for Kerr, whose missed open three-point attempt in Game 4 cost the Bulls a chance at victory.
"His wife told me he was very frustrated and he kept his head in the pillow for hours [after Game 4] because he felt like he let the team down," Jordan said. "When Phil drew up the play at the end, which everybody in the gym, everybody on TV knew it was coming to me, I looked at Steve and said, 'This is your chance, because I know [John] Stockton is going to come over and help and I'm going to come to you.' "
And Kerr's reply: "I told him, 'I'll be ready, I'll knock it down.' "
So Jordan got the ball. And Stockton ran over to double-team, helping Bryon Russell. As Jordan slipped the double-team -- and it appeared that he traveled -- he tossed a pass to the wide-open Kerr. And, with five seconds left, Kerr hit the biggest shot of his life.
"I'm just thankful to be a teammate of Michael, because this opportunity would have never presented itself without his presence," Kerr said. "He's so unbelievable, and he's so good that he draws attention. And his excellence gave me the chance to hit the game-winning shot in the NBA Finals. And I owe him everything."
Even after Kerr's shot, the Jazz had one chance to tie or win the game. The play was designed to get the inbounds pass to Stockton, but he was covered. Russell instead tried a cross-court pass to Shandon Anderson, a pass that was intercepted by Pippen. Pippen dived to the floor and pushed the ball to Kukoc, whose dunk just before the buzzer ended the scoring.
Surprisingly, in a series in which Jordan had shouldered the scoring load, he was on the bench when the Bulls made their big push at the start of the fourth quarter.
Chicago had trailed by six going into the final period and, while Jordan sat, the Bulls opened the fourth with a 10-3 run. Back-to-back three-pointers by Pippen and Kerr gave the Bulls a 74-73 lead with 8: 55 left.
And that's all the help Jordan needed. He checked back into the game with 8: 36 left and scored 10 points down the stretch that helped thwart a Jazz team that provided the toughest challenge in all of Chicago's five title runs.
"They gave us a great series," said Pippen, who scored 23 points and had another solid defensive effort. "We never felt like we had control of the game. They're great players, great professionals. They really gave us a run, and I look forward to seeing them here again."
In the end, when Jordan was handed the game's MVP trophy, he called Pippen over and they both held it in the air. Jordan said how important Pippen has been to his success.
"I'll take the trophy, and he can have the car," Jordan said, referring to the vehicle awarded to the MVP winner. "He's like a little brother to me. We share our successes."
Chicago vs. Utah
(Best of seven)
Chicago wins series 4-2
Game 1 Chicago, 84-82
Game 2 Chicago, 97-85
Game 3 Utah, 104-93
Game 4 Utah, 78-73
Game 5 Chicago, 90-88
Last night Chicago, 90-86
Pub Date: 6/14/97