When destiny finally arrived for the Chicago Bulls, the moment was all the more moving for Michael Jordan.
Overcome by memories of his murdered father, Jordan celebrated with tears the title his father wasn’t there to see, the title he pursued so relentlessly after coming out of retirement.
“I never doubted that I could get back this moment, and the fact that it happened on Father’s Day makes it even more special,” Jordan said Sunday night after the Bulls returned to their home court to win their fourth NBA title in six years.
After letting the Seattle SuperSonics back into a series that looked like it would end in a sweep, the Bulls finished them off with a dominant 87-75 victory in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Swamped by emotion after the final buzzer, Jordan lay facedown on the court, cradling the game ball as his teammates celebrated around him. Jordan then took the ball into the Bulls’ locker room, where he again collapsed, his body wracked by sobs.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Jordan when he returned to the court, his face stained with tears.
Jordan’s tears were for his father, killed less than two months after the Bulls won their last title in 1993.
“I knew he was watching. This was for dad. I’m very happy for him, Jordan said. “This has been a very special year, there’s no way you can really describe it.”
But it can be recounted, as fans who witnessed it will undoubtedly do for years to come. There were 72 victories in the regular season, an NBA record, and accolades and awards seemingly without end.
The Bulls’ place in history isn’t as secure as it could have been, knocked down by two straight losses to a dogged opponent, but the Bulls are still NBA champions because they finished their season with the kind of all-around excellent game they needed to put a final stamp on a season of superlatives.
Playing with a focus and aggressiveness seldom seen earlier in the series, the Bulls beat the Sonics mainly with rebounding and defense - much of it by Dennis Rodman, who had 19 boards in one of the best games of his career - to overcome a merely mediocre night by Jordan, who nonetheless got his record fourth Finals MVP award and the championship he pursued so hard following his retirement.
After the buzzer, Scottie Pippen, Rodman and Harper exchanged hugs with coach Phil Jackson as they donned their championship caps.
In the locker room, they smoked cigars, drank champagne and put on T-shirts reading “Greatest Team Ever.”
“The one thing about this championship is that we were expected to win,” Jackson said. “Whenever you’re expected to do something, the pressure is great, and it’s a relief to win rather than an exultation.
“We knew we were good enough to win. We just had to put that nail in the coffin. We just were waiting for that game to show up where we played real well.”
And that they did.
Jordan had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and although he did not have the kind of dominant game he has become known for, every other member of the Bulls picked up the slack in a game Chicago controlled throughout the second half.
Pippen, who struggled with his shooting touch through the first five games, came back with 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four steals and three 3-pointers.
Rodman, who tied his own NBA Finals record with 11 offensive rebounds, added nine points, five assists and three more of Chicago’s 14 steals. He played his hardest in a third-quarter stretch when it looked like Seattle might be fighting its way back.
The fourth quarter was never really close, and Chicago won its championship came on a home court where the Bulls won 49 games and lost only twice.
“I think we could have beaten them,” Seattle’s Hersey Hawkins said. “If we beat them, are people going to call us a great team? No one would have called us great or close to great, and I’m not going to call them great. We’ll be back next year.”
Whether these Chicago Bulls are the best ever can, and will, be debated. Their accomplishments, though, are a matter of record.
Their championship round was marked by a few moments of greatness sandwiched around many more minutes of struggle.
Jordan didn’t always play like the best player on the court, and his team was upstaged at times by the younger and more spectacular play of Seattle’s energetic All-Stars, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
In the end, though, after two straight losses at Key Arena injected some suspense, the Bulls went out in style and Jordan become the first player to win the finals MVP award four times. He is only the second player in NBA history to win regular season, All-Star and finals MVP awards in the same season.
“I’m sorry I was out for 18 months,” said Jordan, referring to his retirement and short stint as a minor-league baseball player, “but I’m happy I’m back, to bring a championship back to the city of Chicago.”
Sunday, he made only 5 of 19 shots, but went 11 for 12 from the foul line to lead his team in scoring as he did every game during the series.
The Bulls outrebounded the Sonics 51-35, including 24-12 on the offensive end, and forced 20 turnovers from a Sonics team that made too many mistakes in its four losses to beat a much more experienced team.
History will regard this Chicago team with the reverence reserved for other great NBA teams - the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics with Bill Russell, the Celtics with Larry Bird - and with good reason.
No team in the 49-year history of the league had ever dominated so completely, although it came against an array of teams whose collective level of talent was diluted by the NBA’s expansion to 29 teams.
Bulls 87, Sonics 75
FG FT Reb SEATTLE Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts Kemp 40 8-17 2-2 6-14 3 6 18 Schrempf 40 9-17 3-4 1-5 2 3 23 Brickowski 14 0-3 0-0 0-0 1 1 0 Hawkins 41 2-6 0-0 1-4 0 4 4 Payton 47 7-10 2-2 0-4 7 3 19 Perkins 32 3-14 1-2 3-6 5 0 7 McMillan 10 0-3 0-0 0-1 0 0 0 Wingate 9 2-2 0-0 1-1 0 3 4 Askew 5 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Scheffler 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Snow 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 Totals 240 31-73 8-10 12-35 19 20 75
Percentages: FG .425, FT .800.
3-Point Goals: 5-24, .208 (Payton 3-5, Schrempf 2-5, McMillan 0-1, Brickowski 0-2, Hawkins 0-4, Perkins 0-7).
Team Rebounds: 8.
Blocked shots: 3 (Kemp 2, Brickowski).
Turnovers: 20 (Schrempf 5, Payton 5, Kemp 4, Hawkins 3, Perkins, McMillan, Wingate).
Steals: 10 (Kemp 3, Hawkins 2, Payton 2, Schrempf, Perkins, McMillan).
Technical fouls: Payton, 4:39 second.
Illegal defense: 1.
FG FT Reb CHICAGO Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts Pippen 42 7-17 0-0 2-8 5 4 17 Rodman 38 4-9 1-3 11-19 5 4 9 Longley 32 5-6 2-3 4-8 0 0 12 Harper 38 3-11 2-2 0-3 2 1 10 Jordan 43 5-19 11-12 3-9 7 3 22 Kukoc 22 4-11 0-0 3-3 1 0 10 Kerr 17 3-4 0-0 1-1 0 1 7 Buechler 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Wennington 2 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Brown 5 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 2 0 Totals 240 31-78 16-20 24-51 20 15 87
Percentages: FG .397, FT .800.
3-Point Goals: 9-25, .360 (Pippen 3-7, Harper 2-5, Kukoc 2-7, Kerr 1-2, Jordan 1-3, Brown 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 1.
Blocked shots: 4 (Rodman, Longley, Harper, Kukoc).
Turnovers: 19 (Longley 6, Jordan 5, Pippen 3, Harper 2, Kukoc 2, Kerr).
Steals: 14 (Pippen 4, Rodman 3, Harper 2, Jordan 2, Longley, Kukoc, Brown).
Technical fouls: Harper, 4:39 second.
Illegal defense: 1.
Seattle 18 20 20 17 - 75 Chicago 24 21 22 20 - 87
A-24,544 (21,771). T-2:18.
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