Down Memory Lane: The 1991 NBA Finals

We all love heated sports debates. We especially love those heated sports debates that involve our close friends, since they can oftentimes lead to stimulating conversation, manifestation of the ego, and sometimes even resurface underlying issues that you never knew still existed.

Case in Point: I recently participated in a discussion with one of my buddies that started off as a Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams debate, but 4 hours and 10 beers later, degenerated into a contentious argument about how I never did the dishes back in 2003 when we were both roommates.

I’m telling you, it just happens.

But have you ever been embroiled in one of those long, drawn-out, passionate, sports debates in which you know, you ABSOLUTELY know, that you are in the right, but are simply missing that last ingredient to chalk up a win? You know which ones I’m talking about – those sports debates where you look you buddy in the eye, the one who you have known for the past 15 years, and start questioning whether or not you are willing to cross the line, leap over the poker table, and start swinging for the fences?

I’ve often thought that the only thing arguably better than watching your team win a championship, is winning one of those long, arduous, drawn-out sports debates with your buddies. Fortunately in 1991, I got to experience both.

This past season, the Chicago Bulls honored the players and coaches from their 1991 Championship team that delivered the city it’s first title, and served as the catalyst for what would become the most popular dynasty in NBA History. As a Bulls fan growing up in Southern California, this one meant more to me than any of the others, and not just because it was the first, nor because it officially ended the runs of two championship teams, but because it put an end to the ongoing Magic vs. Jordan debate that had begun with my buddies around 1988.

Throughout the 1980s, the Los Angeles Lakers were basketball royalty, winning 5 NBA Championships, making 8 NBA Finals appearances, and unleashing a “Showtime” offense that has yet to be rivaled. By 1987, the Laker’s floor general, Magic Johnson, had officially taken over as Alpha Dog from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and was widely regarded as the best player in the game. For the next 4 years, Magic would demonstrate his brilliance by winning 3 MVPs, 2 NBA Championships, and leading his team’s to 4 NBA Finals appearances.

For those of you who never got a chance to see Magic play on a daily basis, he was a sight to see, simply magnificent. As a 6’9 point guard, he wielded the speed of a guard, size of a power forward, and the playmaking skills of an alien – the guy was a physical freak. He was a surgeon, who could pick a defense apart in a multitude of ways, and undoubtedly the most phenomenal passer the game has ever seen. Most importantly, he was the absolute best at making his teammates better – and if you have any doubts, look no further than A.C. Green’s All-Star berth in 1990.

I’ve always thought that we may see another Michael Jordan in our lifetime – Kobe, Lebron, and Wade may not be as talented, nor as skilled, nor possess the same will to win, but each emulate parts of Jordan’s game that foreshadow the fact that at some point in the future, we may see MJ 2.0. But not Magic Johnson. I doubt that we will ever see another like him, and there has never been anything close to indicate otherwise. An athletic 6’9 big man? Yes. An athletic 6’9 big man with passing skills? Sure. But an athletic 6’9 big man, with the same level of clutchness, court vision, passing skills, and feel for the game like Magic Johnson? No way.

Magic was simply phenomenal, and as a lone Bulls fan in Los Angeles, I would hear it from my buddies daily:

“Magic is better than Jordan”

“Magic has more MVPs than Jordan”

“Magic makes his teammates better”

And of course …

“Magic has more Championships than Jordan”

Now, before I continue, please allow me to address the fallacies of “ring counting”, since it seems to be the ongoing phenomenon when comparing players, and is just about the most ignorant, inaccurate, and illogical way of measuring a player’s legacy. I understand the desire to equate greatness to winning, and the great ones find ways to win by either influencing, carrying a team, or making their teammates better. I get this, and refer to it as the “winability” factor. I also understand that championships represent the ultimate in winning, the highest level of accomplishment in team sports. And I get this as well. However, what has always baffled me, is the way that fans, experts, and players alike associate winability with winning championships, when the fact of the matter is:

a.)    A superstar alone, cannot win a championship

b.)    A superstar definitely cannot win a championship unless he is surrounded by a sufficiently talented supporting cast.

c.)    Having a sufficiently talented supporting cast is entirely dependent upon the ability and competency of a player’s management.

Am I missing something?

Jerry West spent the bulk of his prime losing to the Boston Celtics before the Lakers were able to add help and acquired Wilt Chamberlain in 1969 to go over the hump in 1972. Are we really saying that West suddenly became a better player and demonstrated more “winability” in 1972, and at the age of 33, then he did when he was 25, in his prime, but had no Wilt?

Kevin Garnett toiled away in Minnesota for 12 seasons before being traded to the Boston Celtics in 2008. Is it any coincidence that he won a championship, once he was paired with future hall of famers such as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen? Are you really trying to tell me that Kevin Garnett’s winability suddenly increased in 2008, and he became a better player than in 2007? Of course not –  now, he got to play with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo instead of Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, and Trenton Hassell.

It’s absurd.

Championship rings do not measure how great, talented, or skilled a superstar player is, but how lucky they are to be surrounded by a championship caliber supporting cast. Winning rings comes down to opportunities, and if management does not provide a superstar player with opportunities, they will not win rings – plan and simple.

A player’s greatness can only be judged according to the talent they are given. This is why I have always been an advocate of measuring a superstar player’s greatness by what they have accomplished given the talent afforded to them, not merely by championship rings. In other words, a player who wins 3 championships with 4 “championship caliber” teams, or has 4 opportunities to succeed, has demonstrated more greatness to me than the one who wins 5 championships with 10 championship caliber teams. Similarly, a player who drags an underdog garbage supporting cast through 3 rounds of the playoffs and wills his team to win games that they have no business winning otherwise, has demonstrated more greatness to me than the one who wins multiple championships with 2 other Hall of Fame teammates. If you can convince me as to why I should think otherwise, I’m all ears.

This is why I knew, I just knew, that Michael Jordan was best player in the game. Not to take away anything from Magic Johnson, but had Jordan not been saddled with such a horrendous supporting cast during the first part of his career, he would have had more opportunities to win, and likely had more than 6 championship rings.

To further illustrate, from 1985 to 1988 Michael Jordan’s starting lineup consisted of the who’s who of D-League basketball:

1985: Dave Corzine, Steve Johnson, Quintin Daily, Orlando Woolridge,

1986: Earl Cureton, Granville Waiters, Steve Colter, Charles Oakley

1987: Dave Corzine, Gene Banks, John Paxson, Charles Oakley

1988: San Vincent, Brad Sellers, Dave Corzine, Charles Oakley

Astonishing that he never won a ring, isn’t it?

By 1989, Jordan finally began to receive some help, albeit inexperienced, in the form of second  year players Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, and the Bulls began to make some noise. After winning 47 games during the regular season, they shocked the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round in what is still considered to be one of the greatest upsets in NBA History (the most symbolic moment of course being Jordan’s game winning buzzer beating shot in the deciding Game 5), and then beat another overwhelming favorite, the New York Knicks, during in second round, advancing to play the eventual NBA Champion Detroit Pistons. The Bulls would go up 2-1 to the Pistons before their lack of skill and experience caught up to them, losing 4-2.

In 1990 the Bulls demonstrated even more progress, winning 55 games during the regular season and capturing the #3 seed in the East. Though Horace Grant was still slow to develop, Scottie Pippen became an All-Star in only his 3rd year, and began to provide the Bulls with that second weapon that Jordan sorely needed. However, Pippen was still raw, and much of the Bulls supporting cast still was developing. As a result, the Bulls were bounced by the Detroit Pistons in 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals, and that meant that I would have to endure yet another long summer of  loud decries regarding the Jordan ring-less legacy.

The fact however, was that Jordan had taken those teams has far as they could  possibly go, and no player in the history of the NBA, other than perhaps Moses Malone, had done more with less. From 1985 to 1990, Jordan averaged 32.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, and shot 51.6% FG, while leading the Bulls to the playoffs every year, in a competitive Eastern Conference. His teams routinely overachieved as he single handedly carried them to 3 thrilling upsets (88 Cavs, 89 Cavs, 89 Knicks), and advanced deeper and deeper into the playoffs with each subsequent year once Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were acquired. Despite this, most Jordan advocates always knew that Jordan’s status as the NBA’s best player would never be acknowledged until he won a championship. This is why 1991 became so important.

In 91, the Bulls finally had the talent, chemistry, and maturity to compete for a ring as both Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant entered the season with an improved game, renewed attitude, and mental fortitude that was absent in years past. Pippen developed more range on his jumper, while Grant focused on building stamina, low-post defense, and agility to help better solidify the paint. In addition, John Paxson became a deadly 3-point shooter, helping to spread the floor on offense, while Cartwright became more comfortable in his role as a defensive post presence. The stage was set, and Jordan finally had reason to trust his teammates.

By the middle of the 1991 season, the Bulls overtook the Pistons for first place and finished the season with a 61-21 record and top seed in the Eastern Conference. Prior to the playoffs starting, I remember thinking, “ this has to be our year” – the growth, maturity, toughness, and buy-in into the triangle offense were all essential toward taking that proverbial next step, and the Bulls were playing as well as anyone in the league. Once the playoffs began, they hit the ground running by steamrolling through the first 3 rounds, including a sweep of the defending champion Pistons. More impressively though, they didn’t just beat teams, they destroyed them, and did so with an astounding 13.3 point differential heading into the Finals.

The Western Conference Finals however, still remained in doubt. Magic Johnson was leading a Laker team that was slightly different from the ones in years past. The Lakers still had their core of Magic, Worthy, and Scott, and A.C. Green, all in their primes, and added the long-armed Sam Perkins who provided them with their best power forward since the beginning of the Showtime era. However, Mike Dunleavy had replaced Pat Riley, and in an effort to keep pace with league’s shift towards defense, instilled a system that compromised the Lakers’ offensive fast break game plan with more defensive traps, and a slower pace.  Although the Lakers finished the season with fewer fast breaks, they still had their best defensive team during the Showtime era, finishing second behind the Detroit Pistons in points allowed. While, they initially struggled with the identity change, they soon hit their stride, and by season’s end blew through the first 2 rounds of the playoffs against Houston and Golden State before meeting with the #1 seed Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals.

Let me take a pause and tell you this – never in my life have I rooted harder for the Los Angeles Lakers than I did during the 1991 Western Conference Finals. Not only did I want the Bulls to face the Lakers, but desperately wanted Jordan to face Magic, and on the highest stage possible. My mission was not simply to prove that Jordan was the best player in the game, but to also to debunk the myth around Ring Counting since I knew it was Jordan, not Magic, who now had the better supporting cast; And when a player has a great supporting cast, they can win championships.

As it turns out, I got my wish. The Lakers would beat the 63-win Portland Trail Blazers in 6 games, setting the stage for the heavyweight bout that everyone had yearned for – Jordan vs. Magic.

In retrospect, I have never had more riding on the outcome of a sporting event than the 1991 NBA Finals. Everything was on the line – my pride, my ego, my emotions, everything. And anyone who has lost a sports argument to their buddies knows exactly how excruciating it can be. Your pride challenged, your credibility shot, you are reminded of the painful scars of defeat. I had spent the last 4 years defending what had been up to that point, MJ’s ring-less legacy, and now had what I wanted. And a Bulls loss would have been an absolute catastrophe in my testosterone filled sports bubble.

Heading into the series, the 1991 NBA Finals were easily the most highly anticipated NBA Finals in the history of the game, even more so than the Lakers and Celtics in 1984 because of the increased popularity, population growth, big city representation, and marquee individual matchup. The Lakers came in as favorites despite not having home court advantage, largely because of their championship experience and winning pedigree. Most felt as if they would walk all over the Bulls, and the ongoing stigma that Jordan had faced as being a selfish player only proved to reinforce this notion. It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, most chose to bet against Jordan, and Vegas odds favored Magic’s Lakers. I still remember talking to all of my Laker buddies prior to the series, and all of them exuded a swagger that was no different than from any of their other previous championship runs. Any why not? They were the Lakers, they had been to Finals 9 times in 12 years, and despite Kareem’s retirement, had still won 63 games in 1990, and 58 in 1991. In fact, several of my same Laker buddies were adamant that the series would be a sweep. And if Game 1 was any indication, they would have proven to be right.

The Bulls started series both nervous and rusty, short-arming jumpers, and turning the ball over on several routine occasions. Jordan tried to compensate with a big first quarter, but was matched up defensively against Magic Johnson, and struggled to contain the bigger, stronger point guard. Magic refused to sit idly on the perimeter and instead went to the attack, backing Jordan into the post at every instance, and placed additional pressure to expend energy. Magic was like a surgeon – directing traffic, finding every cutter, making every precision passes, and in turn, picking apart the Bulls defense. By the 4th quarter, Jordan was exhausted and Magic had taken firm control of the game. Then, with less than 14 seconds and the Lakers down by 2, Magic Johnson would find Sam Perkins for what had to be the most improbable 3-point shot that might as well have been a sucker punch to my gut – I had absolutely no idea it was coming. That shot would put the Lakers up 92-91 with 14 seconds left in regulation and serve to shock the Bulls.

Sam Fucking Perkins.

The funny thing though, is that I really wasn’t panicked at this point. 14 seconds left, down by one? We’ve got Michael Jordan. Game in the bag, right?

After an errant pass from  Pippen that went out of bounds and allowed the Bulls to retain possession with 9 seconds left, Jordan took the inbounds pass from Scottie Pippen in the left hand corner, crossed over Perkins, and raised up for a 17 footer that I could have sworn went in. Actually, it did go in. Yep, went in ….. and then rimmed out.

In, and then out.

In, and then out.

Easily the lowest point of my life. MJ missed a game winner, and I proceeded to look for a way to crawl back into my mother’s womb – I just needed to find a safe place to hide from  the inevitable onslaught of “I told you so” comments arriving from all comers. The 2 days following Game 1 were unbearable. The premature celebrations of a Lakers sweep, and continual reminders of a franchise’s tradition – my Laker buddies were as confident as ever. Now, all of the pundits we speculating about how the Bulls had blown their load,  lost home court advantage, and were too demoralized to compete. Even though the media sensationalism at the time was only 10% of you would find today on ESPN, it was still agonizing. I could hardly wait for Game 2 to start.

However, the problem with Game 2 is that it pretty much began the same way as Game 1. Although the Bulls made some adjustments and Jordan started the game by focusing more on setting up his teammates, the Lakers continued to keep the game close by breaking down the Bulls’ traps, and once again working through Magic in post just as they did in Game 1. Despite leading for most of the first quarter, the Lakers only trailed by 5 and you could sense the tempo still favoring them. Now, I began to worry. Despite coming out with an abundance of energy, and playing in front of their home crowd, the Bulls still couldn’t seem to shake the Lakers. Every action had a reaction, every move on the chess board was countered, and the Lakers remained unfazed. Maybe my buddies were right? Maybe the Lakers were simply too much to handle? Maybe Magic was better than Jordan? Maybe I was a complete slob and should have done the dishes in 1997? And maybe the Bulls would never win a championship?

Then, 2 things would occur that would change the entire course of not only the 1991 NBA Finals, but of NBA History:

The first came with over 3 minutes remaining in the first quarter as Jordan picked up his second foul while guarding Magic Johnson. Rather than substituting for Jordan and risking a potential shift in momentum, Phil Jackson opted to leave the league MVP in the game, and instead assign Scottie Pippen defensive responsibilities on Magic Johnson. The logic was that a taller, longer, and more physical Scottie Pippen could take Magic out of his comfort zone and help protect Jordan from picking up his 3rd foul. The plan worked wonders. As Pippen began to harass Magic Johnson, he single handedly disrupted the flow of the Lakers offense. Magic was accustomed to seeing over the opposition and surveying the defense since he was typically matched up against smaller guards. However, Pippen was 6’8 and extremely athletic. He matched Magic physically, and continually forced him to his left hand. Magic was slow to adjust.

With Pippen guarding Magic, Jordan could focus on offense and proceeded to go bonkers. Jordan would go 15/18 with 33 points, 13 assists and 7 rebounds, at one point scoring 13 consecutive baskets, and capping his efforts with a gravity defying shot that would become his signature on the 1991 Finals. The Bulls now had a defensive scheme to contain the Lakers best player, and an injection of confidence that they could win.

And If Game 2 taught the Bulls that they could win the Lakers, Game 3 would teach them that they would win.  In what would become a close, hard fought battle, Turning Point # 2 occurred with less 11 seconds left and the Lakers down by one point when Magic Johnson connected with Vlade Divac for a 3-point “and one” conversion that could only be described as perhaps the most metrosexual post-play celebration in NBA history.

With  8 seconds left and the Bulls down by two, fate offered Michael Jordan a second chance at redemption through which he would exercise the ghosts of Game 1. Jordan would take the ball full-court, drive down the right hand side, and rise up for a game tying 14 foot jumper with 3 seconds left that would completely demoralize the Lakers. The Bulls would dominate the overtime, and Jordan’s shot would become the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. They knew that  destiny was within their reach and had taken the Lakers’ best shot and survived. Now, they were in the drivers seat, and I began to salivate.

Despite playing with a foot sprain in Game 4,  Jordan and the Bulls would still dominate as a dispirited Laker team would come out flat in front of their home fans, only to be exacerbated by injuries to Byron Scott and James Worthy. Scott and Worthy would then miss Game 5, and the Bulls would put the finishing touches on the series with a complete team effort in which John Paxson, not Michael Jordan would take over in the 4th quarter, and bring home a championship.

The City of Chicago began to celebrate, and I was ecstatic! More importantly, I was vindicated. This WAS my Shaw Shank Redemption moment – minus the anal rape, money laundering, parole hearing rejections, suicides, illegal prison trafficking, months long isolations, and mystifying Cable TV Shelf Life – and till this day, I still have yet to let my Laker buddies off the hook. Of course, as expected, the excuses came pouring in: suddenly the Lakers were too old, missing Kareem, and Dunleavy, who started as a coach of the year candidate was no longer effective – funny how all that talk of “sweep” suddenly disappeared. But that’s what makes sports debates fun. You win some, and you lose some and when things don’t work out your way, you always have the opportunity to backtrack – Hey, I am just as guilty as anyone else.

The Bulls of course would go on to celebrate 5 more championships and partake in one of the most dominant runs in post-merger NBA History, winning an average of 65 games for each of their title seasons, producing a 9.3 point differential (the highest in for any NBA dynasty in the history of the NBA), and producing what most consider the be the greatest single season team in NBA history (1996).

After obtaining his long coveted ring, Michael Jordan would go on to win the 1991 NBA Finals MVP honors with one of the most dominant NBA Finals performances ever, shooting 56%FG, and averaging 31.2 points, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks. Ironically, he would  average more assists through the first 4 games of the series than Magic Johnson, and his performance would establish him as the undisputed “Best Player in the Game” until his retirement in 1998.

20 years later, the Lakers continue to be the class of the NBA ,while the young, upstart Bulls are steadily improving with a promising core led by Derrick Rose. As a result, there is a good chance that the Bulls and Lakers could meet once again in the NBA Finals.

Round 2 anyone?


70 Responses to “Down Memory Lane: The 1991 NBA Finals”

  1. Who are these Los Angeles Lakers of which you speak? The only Lakers I know of are the Lakers of Minneapolis… you know, the first team to Three Peat in the league…

    How many lakes are even in Los Angeles!?

    /sigh… is it possible to be bitter over something that happened 30+ years before you were born (the Laker move to L.A.)

    Great read Realist!

    Posted by drubacca117 | March 20, 2011, 11:19 pm
  2. round 2? yes. but please, not anytime soon.

    Posted by jims | March 21, 2011, 1:04 am
  3. Drubacca117, everyone knows that the Lakers are named after Cachuma Lake or Lake Arrowhead. And they say L.A. has no lakes. Ha! :-)

    Realist, I’m glad that you brought up Jordan’s shot in Game 3, because that was easily the most important moment of the entire series, yet is underrated (yes, there’s actually an underrated Jordan clutch moment) because all everyone remembers is his “switch of hands in mid-air” layup in Game 2. But here’s a stat to consider: including ’91, since the Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in ’85, they have been tied 1-1 eleven times. The winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the title all 11 times. So it is quite possible, perhaps likely, that the Lakers would have won it that year if not for Jordan’s shot in Game 3. It deserves to be considered as one of the momentous moments in NBA Finals history and a play which squarely set the stage for the Bulls’ stampede through the rest of the decade.

    Posted by E-Dog | March 21, 2011, 5:28 am
  4. What you fail to mention is that the Bulls beat up on a Laker team that was different than the Dynasty teams of the 80s. Kareem was retired (Divac, his replacement,was a 2nd year player). Mike Dunleavy was head coach, not Pat Riley. Their 3 major bench players were Terry Teagle, a rapidly declining AC Green, and Mychal Thompson (who averaged 4 ppg that year).

    The fact remains, Jordan never beat a legendary NBA Finals team. The closest he got to was an incomplete 1991 Lakers team. But kudos to MJ for beating up on the likes of the Jazz, Suns, and Blazer.

    Posted by drinkinghaterade | March 21, 2011, 10:56 pm
    • Drinkinghaterade: That 91 Laker team may not have been as good as those Laker teams prior to 1987, but you will be hard pressed to convince me that weren’t every bit as good as their 1988 championship team, 1989 team, 1990 team. Magic, Worthy, and Scott were still in their primes and A.C. Green was coming off an All-Star year.

      In fact, that 91 team that acquired Sam Perkins was their best defensive team ever – and we all know that defense wins championships. Moreover, a 22 year old Divac had the NBA Finals performance of a lifetime averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2.4 blks, 1.8 stls, shooting 57% FG and 100% FT. He may not have been as good as 1980 Kareem, but he was certainly every bit as good as 1988 and 1989 Kareem who the great Bill Simmons accurately characterized as a “Carcass”. Kareem in the those NBA Finals averaged only 12.5pts and 4 rebounds, and offered next to no value in the final 2 years of his career. Therefore, to say that a carcass of a legend would have made up for 5-game drumming is a bit far fetch.

      Dunleavy was coaching the Lakers and did an admirable job, Moreover, I believe that he was able to offer more than Riley had the last few years when Riley’s all-offense game plan failed to adjust to the new defensive schemes in the NBA, and he began to burn out both himself and his players as his team got bounced with the Phoenix Suns in 1990. It wasn’t until Riley reinvented himself into an defensive coach that he became the “General Riley” that we know and love today.

      The last thing to realize is that the 91 Laker team was anything BUT done and on their last legs. Their core players were in the prime of the careers, and they won 58, 63, and 57 games prior. They were still a legitimate heavy weight contender and could have made several more runs for years to come had Magic not retired. Therefore, to try and undermine the 91 Lakers in a effort to minimize the Bulls accomplishments is inaccurate in my opinion.

      To put it another way, no one was saying that the Lakers were washed up going into that series. Instead most spectators were saying that the Lakers were favorites and would sweep the Bulls because the Lakers were every bit as good as in years prior. It was only after the series that the press reevaluated the Lakers’ stature. It tends to happen when one team thoroughly dominates another.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | March 23, 2011, 2:35 am

    but if the bulls went up against the Lakers now in 7 games i doubt the Bulls can take the ring… im not a Lakers fan although as you mentioned 20 years later with 5 championships in 00’s mirrored 80’s

    Posted by STEPBACK3 | March 22, 2011, 8:28 pm
    • Stepback3, thanks for the kind words.

      I actually agree with your assessment in that should the Bulls and Lakers meet this year in the NBA Finals, the Lakers would administor a beat down. However, I think that the Bulls are a year away, and a SG away from competing for years to come.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | March 23, 2011, 1:56 am
  6. The Bulls are a SG away from competing for years, the Lakers a PG, the Heat – team chemistry, the Celtics and Spurs a time machine. Every team is a component away, its why there is only one champ.
    People seem to forget the playoffs today are a lot different than they were 20+ years ago due to the style of the game. As you said, defense slowed down and some could say ended showtime and since then most teams who have won have won with defense. Its part of the reason we have been seeing teams win multiple championships, or at least compete for them. Defense can be sustained and repeated, offensive success is hard to repeat with the rules in the nba today.
    After Jordon, not many scoring leaders have led the league in scoring and won a championship…Shaq, thats it.
    Point being, championship teams are good at everything and exceptional in a few areas, they dont have holes. If they did, some one would figure them out throughout the 82 game season and 20+ playoff games. (exception is detroit winning in 2004, kobe stabbed gift wrapped that one for them)

    Posted by Anti Bill Simmons | March 23, 2011, 10:10 pm
  7. What a terrific article.

    I watched Jordan for most of his championship playoff games and the same for Bryant.

    It is uncanny how much like Jordan Bryant is. Skilled in most of the same ways. Fab defender away from the ball. Absolutely polished – with an impeccable work ethic. Team leader – kicks ass privately and publically as required.

    Stats/36 minutes show that Jordan got more steals (2.2 vs 1.5), more FGA (21.5 vs. 19.1) more rebounds (5.9 vs 5.2), more pts (28.3 vs. 25.0), and slightly more AST (4.9 vs 4.6). So objectively, Jordan was the better player.

    Still, I say Kobe is uncanny in the way he takes over to win in the late minutes – just like MJ. Bryant takes the shots, makes the free throws – wins.

    Just win, baby.

    PS – And don’t forget – Kobe was a relative baby – agewise. He was 18 when he played in his first NBA game. Michael was 21.

    Deeper analysis may show that Bryant was closer to MJ stat-wise. Comparing performances when both had superior team – thus had to carry less load.

    Posted by Jahn Ghalt | April 6, 2011, 5:33 pm
    • Thank you for the compliment Jahn. There are certainly a number of similarities between Kobe and Jordan, although there are distinct differences as well. Another Bulls-Lakers NBA Finals would recapture some of the Magic from 1991.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 7, 2011, 11:13 am
    • Kobe has similarities to Jordan because his game was obviously modeled after his airness.

      The difference is Jordan had greater athletic ability. vertical jump almost a foot higher (48″ vs 38″) faster lateral quickness and overall speed, and much larger hands.

      In 88-89 Jordan almost averaged a triple double with 8 assists 8 rebounds and 32.5 pts along with 2.89 steals and shooting an astounding 54%.

      Kobe has never come close to shooting 50% ever. Jordan was simply a much more efficient player, and it’s all the more impressive being that he played in a tougher era in terms of rules and defense.

      The other thing is, Jordan always dominated in the playoffs, even when he was sick like he was against the Jazz. Kobe has has put up poor performances plenty of times in the playoffs (game 7 last year’s finals, game 2 vs New Orleans last night) only to have his team bail him out.

      I’m no Kobe hater but I’m getting tired of people comparing the 2 when it really isn’t close.

      Posted by PK | April 21, 2011, 4:28 pm
  8. Your analogy is Flawed. Don’t down play Rings. Only someone who failed at getting a ring would blame his team mates sound like Lebron wrote this article. Whats your excuse if Miami doesn’t when this year.

    A super Star brings it all together. And if he is a true star he want mind helping/getting other stars shine alone with him” Jordan & Scottie. In clutch games. No 1 heard of Ben Wallace until he won a Championship Prince Hamilton. Billups. If they did not win they would be called untalented. Let your article stand Stephon Maurbary was great. Not….Rings is safest way. No disrespect to Dan Marino or Barry Sanders.

    Posted by bapesJr1 | April 6, 2011, 10:14 pm
    • I think that you proved my point. Had Barry Sanders or Dan Marino had a strong supporting cast, they would have won rings as well. Rings are about talent and luck. Not about greatness.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 7, 2011, 12:21 pm
  9. The 1991 Finals that were 20 years ago this year also had a significant impact on defining who the best player in the game was. It represented a changing of the guard, from Magic, to Jordan. Aside from the Bull’s first championship, that was the true significance of those Finals.

    So with his pending MVP and a ton of room to improve for Derrick Rose, what do you make of this year’s Finals, assuming we see a Lakers-Bulls match up? Do you think this too will represent a changing of the guard from Kobe to Rose as the greatest player in the game (assuming the Bulls can win)?

    Granted, this is all hypothetical, but its a story-teller’s dream. I just want to know if others think it can be a reality.

    Posted by Scalabrine 1 LeBron 0 | April 8, 2011, 7:28 pm
    • Scalabrine — 4 words for you: lay off the crack.

      Posted by The Ghost of Perk | April 8, 2011, 7:42 pm
    • Thanks for the read Scal. A Lakers vs. Bulls Finals would be more than a storyteller’s dream – it would likely be David Stern’s major market dream as well.

      With regards to a changing of the guard from Kobe to Rose, there are 2 challenges:
      1.) In 1991, Jordan was the best player in game, but simply didn’t have the championship rings to garner that recognition. However, he had everything else – stats, MVPs, DPOY, athleticism, skills, etc. Today, Derrick Rose is not the best player in the game. In fact, despite his MVP worthy year, he still does not crack the top 3 for me. Believe me, as Bulls fan, I love him, but in my mind, Kobe, Lebron, and Wade are better, and the Bulls winning a wing will do nothing to change my perception.

      2.) The Bulls are still one year, and one shooting guard, away from winning the championship. I think that they have an opportunity to get to the Finals, but won’t take home the ring, largely due to experience and talent vs. Lakers. In 1991, I knew the Bulls were better, and the difference in experience could be made up with their talent. However, in 2011, I am very skeptical.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 9, 2011, 10:27 am
  10. As an NBA traditionalist/historian, I love good reads about the past, especially from the NBA’s golden era of growth and even more so when it’s about my Bulls.

    Great read here. While I don’t agree on all points of your argument on the credibility of rings in an argument over a player’s greatness, I found your write-up of the 1991 Finals, used as an example to prove your points about ‘sports arguments’, to be both interesting and witty. Good read.

    Sports fandom is an amazingly interesting dynamic in my humble opinion, and the nature of the Lakers fan/fan base is one of the more perplexing and interesting.

    Once again, good read. Plus, it’s great to read an article and not have to continually cringe over basic punctuation and grammatical errors reflective of the decreasing capacity of our society to correctly use the English language. In fact, the only time I remember thinking something was wrong was “Its hard to believe now..” (should be ‘it’s’…forgive my nit-pickness).

    Thanks for a good read! And to answer your question: Yes, I’m ready for Round 2 of Lakers-Bulls!


    Posted by Aussie Bulls Fan | April 8, 2011, 7:48 pm
  11. For such a big Bulls fan it would be fitting to pay Mr. Rose with respects and properly spell his name.


    Posted by Grammar Police | April 9, 2011, 1:37 am
  12. Realist — I’ll chime in here on how much rings matter with respect to greatness. In general, I agree with you that there is only a certain degree to which a player can control their destiny.

    That being said, if you look at the truly great players, most of them, at one point or another, DEMANDED greatness. That is, they were willing to do what it took to get themselves into a position to win a championship (and were not willing to settle for a career on a mediocre team). We saw it with Magic in the early 80s. We saw it with Kobe in the mid 00s. We even saw it with your own MJ in 1989 as he lobbied to get Doug Collins fired.

    In an unusual case (that probably will be debated for some years to come), Lebron did somewhat of the same thing, but unfortunately for him, he actually left a team that had the BEST record in the NBA the year prior.

    So, yes, while players can only do so much vs. what management provides for them, I think the evidence shows that the greats play a large role in facilitating this.

    Posted by Brown Mamba | April 9, 2011, 8:34 am
    • Mamba – You couldn’t have picked 3 of the bigger myth’s in the NBA to support your claim in applying revisionist history on your own team, so let me help you with the historical facts on the Lakers and Bulls:

      Magic Johnson – I’m not sure which example you are referring to, but I assume that you are referencing the firing of Paul Westhead as an example in which Magic “DEMANDED” greatness? The same Paul Westhead that coached the 1980 Lakers to Magic’s first NBA championship? Westhead’s firing obviously wasn’t about his lack of ability as a coach since he had proven he could win a title. It was about personality conflicts. It was not only Magic who wanted Westhead fired, but the entire Laker TEAM, 1-12, except Magic was the only one who was vocal about it. I encourage you to read the book “Winnin Times” in which Jerry Buss actually acknowledges that it was he, not Magic Johnson, who had planned to fire Westhead days earlier because of numerous complaints from multiple players. Magic’s comments merely confirmed what he was already thinking and accelerated the process.

      So I’m really not sure how Magic demanded greatness in this instance since the Lakers fired a coach who had already proven that he could win a Championship? Are you trying to sell that Magic Johnson had foresaw the greatness and longevity of Pat Riley greatness and that is why he wanted Westhead fired? No, it was about the here and now.

      Kobe Bryant – Perhaps the biggest of all myths. Laker fans love to imply that Kobe Bryant forced the Lakers to make the Pau Gasol trade. Couldn’t be further from the truth. The Lakers had the LARGEST expiring contract in NBA, and Grizzlies were looking to dump Pau Gasol’s salary because of financial losses. In fact, it was the Grizzlies who approached the Lakers, not the other way around. However, because of Andrew Bynum’s development and the sizable improvement from the year prior, the Lakers were actually content on standing pat and growing through free agency and player development. However, the Gasol trade fell on their lap and it became a no brainer. The Grizzlies were looking to save money and the Lakers happened to be in the right place at the right time. In fact, had Kobe had his way, the Lakers would have traded Bynum for an aging Jason Kidd which would have been disasterous considering Kidd’s need to control the ball, and the holes it would have creating for the Lakers in the middle.

      The Lakers bided their team and Jerry Buss made the right move for his organization, just like has has for the past 30 years – Kobe had nothing to do with it.

      Michael Jordan – Collin’s firing was about his ongoing personal battle with Jerry Reinsdorf, and not about his battles with Horace Grant and Michael Jordan. In fact, Reinsdorf had NEVER acquiesced to any of Jordan’s demands – otherwise Horace Grant would have been traded for Walter Davis, Charles Oakley would have never been traded for Bill Cartwright, and Jerry Krause would have been out the door a long time ago.

      Collins proved that he was a very capable in leading the Bulls to the Conference finals for the 1st time in 14 years against the Pistons and coached two huge upsets against the Cavs and Knicks. They Bulls were already a team on the rise when Collins got fired and there were a number of coaches who could have led the Bulls to championships, given the talent that they had.

      Firing Doug Collins had nothing to do with Michael Jordan demanding greatness. It had everything to do with personality conflicts. In fact, based on what Collins did with that Bulls team as well as what he has done this year with the 76ers, it is entirely possible that the Bulls could have won a championship with Collins in the 90s instead of Phil. Phil simply got the opportunity to prove it.

      So if what you are trying to say is that the Great Ones control their destiny by enforcing their will on management, I couldn’t disagree more. Management would have done what they needed to do regardless. They wanted to win just as much as the players.

      Jordan didn’t win because he compelled management to make the right decisions. Management did what they wanted and he lucked into it. Kobe didn’t win because he compelled management to make the right decisions. Management did what they wanted and he lucked into it.

      The only exception was Lebron James who has had more influence on the front office decisions of the cavs than perhaps any other player in history.

      Otherwise, it is luck, luck, and more luck.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 9, 2011, 11:17 am
      • NBA REALIST – so your saying MJ and Pippen never influenced management on trades or picking up players?

        Wrong – they got Rodman after management talked to MJ and Pippen to see if they had any issues with it and if so they wouldn’t of picked him up for Will Purdue.

        Don’t believe? Just look it up.

        Posted by Sean | April 11, 2011, 10:01 am
        • Sean – I’m not sure where I stated that MJ and Pippen never influenced management. I simply stated in those specific instances mentioned above, as well as most instances, the players did not influence managements decisions. At least not back then.

          Moreover, with the Rodman trade, I still stand by my statement. Jordan and Pippen did not compell Krause to go get Rodman. Krause simply sought their support for a trade that he may have done regardless, particularly given Krause’s track record to pull the trigger on deals irrespective of what his star player think. Conferring with his star players was merely a method to generate public goodwill. Had he cared so much, he would have conferred with Jordan about the Oakley-Cartright trade in 1989 – the one that Jordan was vehemently opposed to.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | April 11, 2011, 10:19 am
  13. Being born and raised in Chicago, and attending game 2 of the 91 finals, what a great read. Congrats Realist.
    Also to the gent that said MJ’s tying shot of game 3 being MJ’s most underrated shot of ALL TIME, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks to all.

    Posted by Rich | April 12, 2011, 7:02 am
    • Rich – Thanks for the kind words. Growing up in Los Angeles, I can only imagine what Game 2 must have been like at the old Stadium. Nothing is sweeter tham the first one.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 13, 2011, 2:50 pm
  14. You don’t want a round 2 buddy. Even though Jordan was primed in 91′ You know as well as anybody, Magic had run his course, he was mentally fatigued after winning so much in his career. If Jordan’s 91′ Bulls had have played Magic’s championship winning Lakers team’s it would have been rather close, actually could go either way. In saying that, no doubt Jordan is the greatest, but Kobe is followed by closely.

    I hope the Lakers do play the Bulls this year, but the Lakers will come away with it.

    Posted by Bobby | April 15, 2011, 12:20 am
    • Hey Bobby – thanks for the feedback.

      I know, I know. Beating the Lakers will be daunting task this year as they are loaded from top to bottom. Moreover, the Bulls are going to have their hands full just trying to get out of the East. If the Bulls meet the Lakers, the Lakers win in no more than 6 games.

      However, I disagree with you regarding Magic being fatigued in the 91 series. Magic was as good in 91 as he was at any other point in his career. However, the sophisticated defenses had caught up to the Lakers and the fast-break era was officially over. Moreover, they simply got beat by a better team that focused more on defense. I would have absolutely loved for the Bulls to have played any of those Laker teams during the mid 80s since I am a big believer that defense wins championships.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 15, 2011, 2:15 am
  15. Only thing about no other Magic is the fact that if LeBron decided to strictly play PG, he could possibly be as good or even better than Magic. He could get just as many assists if he set out to strictly be a PG and take away from his scoring. Obviously that is not his game, he sets out to score much more than Magic but LeBron is capable of putting up the same numbers. Magics best overall season’s were probably 86-87 (23.9 ppg, 12.2 apg) or 88-89 (22.5 ppg, 12.8 apg) taking 16 shots per game and 15 shots per game in those two seasons. LeBrons best two seasons most likely his final two seasons in Cleveland (28.4 ppg, 7.2 apg and 29.7 ppg 8.6 apg) to go along with 20 shots per game in each of those seasons. I can see LeBron as he gets older into his 30’s becoming a guy that will be able to average 20 and 12 consistently. I doubt that LeBron will ever become the PG for a team as his sole position but he is more than capable of doing what Magic did statisticly. What Magic accomplished during “winning time” is another story.

    Posted by Chirs | April 16, 2011, 12:20 pm
    • Hi Chris, thanks for the read. While Lebron’s court vision is phenomenal, it is not to the level of Magic. As such, I do not think that Lebron could ever become the PG or the passer that Magic was.

      However, I do agree with you that Lebron statistically will be able outperform anything Magic has ever done. Lebrone is arguably the most talented player the game has ever seen, but this competitive fire is another question.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 16, 2011, 1:08 pm
      • Its honestly almost saddening for me, to see the level of God given talent Lebron possesses going to, not exactly waste, but I guess a failure to maximize or fully realize that talent. Lebron was given every gift, every gift except one, the champions mindset we’ll call it. Michael went into every offseason with something to improve on, something he decided he would add. Each year we saw him come back with something new in his arsenal. This refusal to buy into his own abilities and strive for improvement is the first component of this champion mindset I saw in MJ and am left wanting for Lebron. The second component is less tangible, and not as easily documented. I guess its a melting pot of few things; clutch ability, distaste and hatred of failure, absolute love for domination that downright borderlines on personality disorder. A more recent example of a player with this type of champion’s mentality is Kobe, not surprising as he has molded his career after Jordan, right down to facial expressions. Look I’m not saying Lebron doesn’t put in his work in the offseason, or that he doesn’t want to win badly. But I can’t ignore the fact that the skill set I see from him today isn’t much different from the skill set I saw 4 years ago. Nor can I ignore that lack of spark Lebron fails to provide. As a Bulls fan I’m in some ways happy Lebron doesn’t possess the psyche of a champion. Because I truly believe that if he did, he would be better than MJ. But I’m also sad or at least disappointed, I feel as though we missed out(are missing out) on something special. Not to say Lebron isn’t a special player, its just knowing how special he could be. It’s nice to see Derrick Rose, a player that does possess that intangible psyche. Rose doesn’t have the same gifts that Lebron does, but his will to improve and assassin mentality could become something we just might end up remembering with more endearment than that of Lebron James when its all said and done. I agree with you that Rose isn’t a top three player, but how can we doubt at this point, that he wont continue his climb as truly great player?

        Posted by Jared Ging | April 18, 2011, 11:49 am
        • Jared, pretty good reading of LeBron compared to MJ. I do, however, think that James’ talent is overated. Is he a good shooter? Good, but not great. A great ‘traffic’ finisher? No – check the difference between him and Wade. Handle as well as Wade or Kobe? No. He is a better passer than the other two. But – I think that to look at him physically – size-wise in relation to his peers, people just don’t expect a guy that big to do what he does. It’s just that WHAT he does is not phenomenal. Magic WAS a phenomenal BASKETBALL player. I always tell people that you can’t get the feel of Magic by watching highlights. You have to watch an entire game.
          That said… Championships do count for something when assessing ones legacy. It’s commensurate with what you’ve contributed. If you have absolutely dominated the Finals, it’s more than just getting a Ring. Has Kobe ever done what Wade did in 2006? Or what MJ did 6 times? Has Kobe ever dominated a Finals at all? He’s been the best player of his generation, but… you can’t put him up there with Magic and Mike.

          Posted by mock&awe | April 18, 2011, 12:45 pm
        • Jared -Thanks for the read and great feedback.

          It’s really interesting – Lebron actually improved his game sigificantly from 2005-2009 when he established more of a 3-point shot, and began reading defenses better than ever. However, since 2009, I agree that he has demonstrated very little improvement and I think that the one thing that is missing from his game, and that Kobe and MJ incorporated during the middle of their careers, is an improvement in foot-work. More sophisticated footwork would allow him to mix his physical bruising driving approach with more finesse skills and keep the defense guessing.

          Also, as a fellow Bulls fan, I know this much – Derrick Rose would have never lifted his game to the level that he did, had Lebron joned the team this summer.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | April 18, 2011, 3:03 pm
  16. I really enjoyed reading the article, “Down Memory Lane” because it reminded me of how great the matchup between Michael and Magic really was!!! I grew up in the 80’s and I fortunate and blessed to watch the greatness of Magic Johnson! He was simply the best player in the NBA during his era because of his ability to dominate and raise the level of his teammates to play at his level. He was the man in all of the 5 championships that he won and he was the greatest passer I have ever seen in addition to being able to score and rebound!
    By the time the Lakers met Jordan and the Bulls in the Finals it was overwhelming because I could not believe how great a player that Jordan was!!! I could not put Jordan over Magic because he had not one a championship yet. On the other hand, after defeating Magic in the 91 Finals and then going on to win 5 more championships in addition to his scoring titles and MVP’s it is really a toss up to me as far as the greatest of all time! If you say who’s best at running a team and the most versatile, I would say Magic is the Greatest! If you say who has the best skill set and who could dominate both offensively and defensively as well as win championships then I would say Jordan is the Greatest! This is a great debate and the stuff that Legend’s are made of!!!

    Posted by Mallory K. Millender, Jr. | April 18, 2011, 2:40 pm
    • Thanks for the kind words Mallory.

      One thing that I did not want to do when writing this article is understate the greatness of Magic Johnson. He was fantastic and it is unfortunate that his career was cut short, because we may have seen a rematch in 92.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 18, 2011, 3:11 pm
  17. 1, Magic never won a championship without Kareem.
    2. I was at game one in 1991. While I was stunned after Perkins hit that winner, the Bulls were not. Later they said that they played terribly and it still took a suprise 3 to beat them. They said they knew they had the Championship then.
    4. Agreed, the key was switching Pippen onto Magic. After that point it was 4 straight.

    Posted by KSP48 | April 19, 2011, 12:13 pm
    • Thanks fo the read KSP48. I agree with 2/3 points. Still remember the Bulls being stunned even though they acknowledge they came out nervous. Phil was concerned about their psyche as well, and there was a level of frustration during the 1H of Game 2 that they couldn’t seem to shake the Lakers. I think that the switch of Pippen on Jordan was huge, because it allowed Jordan to rest more on defense.

      I know that the Bulls in hindsight state that they felt confident going into game 2, but based on all the old footage and game tape that I watched, I think that they still had their doubts until the defensive switch on Magic.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 20, 2011, 11:50 am
    • Jordan never won a championship without Pippen, either.

      Jordan was great in ’91, but he was at his absolute peak in ’93. We’ve never seen before or since a performance like that in the finals. Made the retirement so much more shocking and unbelievable because he was at his absolute peak – he still had the raw athleticism combined with the unstoppable fade away jumper and the Suns had to throw 3 defenders on him because they’d rather anybody else take an open shot than have him shoot it over 2 players. It was at that point when he had the complete package that I knew we’d never see anyone like that again.

      Good article, I wish I could watch more of these games over again, I think I recorded a few games from ’92 and ’93 but no idea where they are…

      Posted by bobzdar | April 20, 2011, 11:52 am
      • Thanks for the read bobzdar – Actually, thanks to the boot-leg video magic of Youtube, you can find almost every old Bulls playoff game from the Jordan era. Enjoy.

        Posted by The NBA Realist | April 20, 2011, 12:11 pm
  18. Magic and the Lakers were washed up in the 91 series. The Bulls simply wanted it “more”. So I wouldn’t be hanging my hat up so much. After so many championships for Magic, he wasn’t the same mentally. You saw how easy Pippen dealt with him. No doubt with a younger Magic and Kareem there, they would have taken the Bulls 7 games. And possibly won it. You also forget they didn’t have Pat Riley as the coach. Coaches make a big difference, and with Riley more experienced than Phil back then, it would have been a long series for the Bulls.

    I’m not disagreeing or agreeing, just saying how the mental side can affect teams after they lose a top notch coach and one of the best players in Kareem.

    I really hope the Bulls make it to the finals, they have a great player in Rose which I enjoy watching play. Bulls and Celtics in the east, and Lakers and Thunder in the west. Hopefully my Lakers taking it all out though!

    Posted by Bobby | April 25, 2011, 8:02 pm
    • Bobby – Thanks for the read, but I disagree with some of your points.

      Magic hadn’t checked out mentally. He was still in his prime at age 31, his stats were as good as ever, and he willed that Laker team past the Portland Trailblazers. In fact, it was arguably one of his best post seasons ever (not THE best, but one of his best). I am not sure why you would say otherwise. Pippen was able to deal with Magic because Magic had never before seen a defender as talented, long, or skilled as Scottie Pippen. Pippen was the greatest defensive small forward to ever play the game. Think about- 6’3 Dennis Johnson? Or 6’9 Scottie Pippen?

      Moreover, that Laker team wasn’t washed up. It has now become a convenient excuse posited by Laker fans after the fact, but prior to the series, the Lakers were heavy favorites and many experts were calling for a sweep. You don’t go from becoming a dominant team to a washed up team within a span of a single 7 game series. The rest of the NBA simply caught up to them, fast break basketball no longer worked, and Bulls were simply better. You saw the first cracks in their armor in 88 when the Pistons took them to 7 games. Once teams figured out how to play the break, the emphasis in the NBA became defense, and the Lakers as you say, simply failed ot evolve.

      I agree with you that coaches make a difference. However, Pat Riley would not have been able to negate a 4-1 defecit. Maybe onr game, but I am hard pressed to believe that Riley would have overcome more than that.

      Here is what I will agree with however -That 1991 team was not as good as any Laker teams 1987 or prior. Kareem was more effective, Magic, while not as good as he was from 87-91, was still nonetheless great, and those benches had more overall depth. However, I will still stand my ground in saying that they were every bit as good as the 1988 team (with a corpse Kareem who could barely play 23 min per game and avg 10 pts and 5 reb) or any Laker team from 88-91. In fact, what most people fail to realize is that Kareem, while very good, was nowhere close to what he was when he played with the Milwakee Bucks.

      Lastly, with regards to the Finals, I think that I talk about Round 2 more in jest than anything else. Should the Bulls and Lakers meet in the NBA Finals I doubt that the series goes more than 5 games with the Lakers winning their 3rd championship.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 26, 2011, 12:18 pm
  19. A younger, more motivated Magic would have sent Pippen into fits, especially with having another “go-to-man” in Kareem to pass the ball too inside. We can only wonder how great a series it would have been if the Lakers were all in their prime. Also, with Pat Riley, it would have been a tall task for the Bulls. But while the Lakers and Magic were at the end of their prime, the Bulls had waited long enough and were “primed” as you said.

    In saying all that, I knew the Bulls would win before the series started, because the Lakers were still playing 80’s basketball. As the times move on, you have to evolve, and the Lakers didn’t.

    Posted by Bobby | April 25, 2011, 8:12 pm
  20. I love this. I instantly reverted back to a 14-year-old Lakers fan, very confident that the Lakers would take care of the Bulls very easily after the triumphant series win over the Trailblazers.

    Watching Game 1 did nothing to disprove my expectations and Sam Perkins nailing the 3 at the end was only more reason for me to gloat around the neighborhood court, yelling “Big Smooooooooth” as I imitated the game clincher.

    Game 2, I thought was an aberration. The Pippen on Magic thing was bothersome and Jordan going off was somewhat expected, but that shot… That arrogant, condescending, and all too graceful “I’m going to dunk on you Worthy, well no, I think I’ll switch it to my left” shot. Every year prior to that year’s Finals I didn’t really give a flip what Michael Jordan did. He could win all of the scoring titles he wanted, it didn’t matter as long as Magic and the Lakers came away with the hardware. At the point MJ became a true threat to the Lakers reaching the promised land, I began to hate him. How dare he will his team to beat the Lakers so convincingly, in the Finals no less! Nonetheless, I was confident that the games in LA would be the last of the Finals. I just didn’t know how right I would be.

    I thought Game 3, especially after the Divac play, was in the books. Jordan and Pippen would again steal my joy.

    The final two games in LA were nightmarish, almost like I wasn’t actually witnessing them. Scott going down, Worthy going down, Pippen giving Magic fits, Paxson somehow becoming a scoring machine, it was hardly bearable. I would sit and watch every single minute of the end of that season and little did I know the end of an era.

    I initially believed that this would be a new rivalry with the Bulls, that the Lakers would come back the very next year and get revenge on the new champs. Well Magic would retire before the start of the next season and well, that was that. Sedale Threatt was new Lakers point guard and the basketball universe had undergone a major transformation.

    The Bulls kept winning to my dismay, and even more disturbing during the Bulls 6 championship runs was the fact that the Lakers weren’t even in the picture. No revenge for the Lakers, no rivalry, no comeuppance for MJ. I would take pleasure in the the small moral victories of that time. The Orlando Magic taking out the Bulls after MJ decided to come back, Reggie Miller pushing off on MJ and nailing a game winner over him.

    The moral victories were few and far between as MJ and his Bulls seemed determined to eclipse everything Magic and the Lakers accomplished. Magic won 5 rings, Jordan 6. The Lakers won a record 69 games in ’72, the Bulls would win 72 games in ’96 and then 69 the very next year to show it wasn’t a fluke. Jordan was his Bulls were relentless. Not only did he beat Magic and his franchise handily, he rubbed it in over the next decade by rewriting the record books.

    It wouldn’t be until the Bulls blew up their world that Lakers would enter into the championship picture again, hiring Phil Jackson as coach, but that’s another story…

    Epilogue: It would be until 2002, over a full decade later that Jordan would taste a little humility in LA. He was 40 years old, well past his basketball prime and the Lakers were back-to-back champions. Everything was cool right? Wrong. Jordan’s final comeback was almost as arrogant as that layup in the ’91 Finals and I wanted the Lakers to send him off in style. Little did I know what I was about to witness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l5_p7mnm5Y

    Posted by J.T. | April 28, 2011, 9:54 am
    • J.T. – I Thanks for the read. Moreover, I enjoyed your recollection from a Laker fan’s perspective.

      One of the great “what-ifs” and great disappointments in NBA history was Magic retiring prematurely considering that he had plenty of basketbal left in him. Perhaps the Lakers as constructed in 91 couldn’t beat the Bulls, but with free agency, and Magic as a primary recruiter, and Worthy/Perkins/Scott as the core, there is no doubt that they could have potentially retooled and come back better than ever. One of the bigger bummers man.

      The Bulls certainly dominated throughout the 90s, but as a Laker fan, you can always take solice in the fact that no franchise has had a more dominant overall run over the past 40 years than the Los Angeles Lakers. While the Celtics may have won one more championship, the Lakers have been consistently dominant, and done so in an era with more competition. Whether people like it or not, they remain the class of the NBA.

      Lastly, I know that MJ has had some amazing accomplishments in his career. But none may be more amazing than the fact that he has somehow made most of us forget that he had those 2 miserable years in Washington. Watching him limp around was like watching Ol Yeller. Thank goodness that one went away.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | April 28, 2011, 4:15 pm
  21. NBA REALIST, I see that you believe Magic was still at his best, but he didn’t back that statement up against Scottie? Without doubt Magic has played better, but he didn’t. You are missing my point perhaps you don’t understand how the mind works? Well, look at the Lakers now. So many championships really does make you complacent. Though I hope the Lakers come back and win it all, tall order though. But let me put it frank, Pippen and the Bulls wanted it more. The Lakers and Magic didn’t. To say Pippen negated Magic completely is naive and ignorant. I’ve seen Magic play a heap better than that in the finals. His stats prior to the finals don’t matter, it’s what you do at the big dance. And, no doubt a more hungry motivated Magic would have been tough for Pippen to handle. That’s the point you’r missing, or failing to comprehend it. Unfortunately, there was no Pat Riley or Kareem either, and that ultimately contributed to Magic playing poorly. Now, I never thought the Lakers would win that series. Book makers get it wrong all the time. I knew that Lakers team was nearing the end. Fast break play doesn’t help you when you’re 31 when you have been doing it your whole career. They needed to evolve, and they didn’t. All I’m saying is I expected the Bulls to win, but not against a team with a motivated Magic, Kareem and Riley. Close, but Lakers in 6.

    Fast forward today, the Bulls are my 2nd tip if the Lakers don’t get it together soon.

    Posted by Bobby | May 7, 2011, 12:05 pm
  22. And, I’m glad Jordan came back to play. He showed he could still score over 40points being around 40yrs of age. Remarkable.

    Posted by Bobby | May 7, 2011, 12:08 pm
  23. The HEAT look good enough to beat the Bulls considering Boozer is playing crap defense. Though I hope the Mavericks pull it off. They deserve it.

    I have to say, it was very disappointing to see the Lakers get swept, but they got what they deserved. They were dis-interested for most of the season, playing without any care or interest of the moment. They thought they could suck it up whenever they wanted. But they forgot that bad habits never die in a season. This bad habit though, came back with a thud.

    Posted by Bobby | May 10, 2011, 11:25 am
  24. I thought Kobe had to win this ring to be in the conversation with MJ. For now though, he’s still chasing 23.

    Posted by Bobby | May 10, 2011, 11:27 am
  25. I truly believed Kobe would win his 6th ring this season, but things aren’t always what they seem. If I knew Gasol was sensitive with personal issues, or that Bynum had trust issues with the team. I would have been concerned or fearing the worst.

    It was a sad day for Phil to leave the game, he deserved better. I hope he enjoys his retirement though. All Bulls fans and Lakers fans are very appreciative for what he has done.

    Thanks for the memories Phil

    Posted by Bobby | May 10, 2011, 11:34 am
  26. Great win for the Bulls. They really exposed the smaller line-up. I’m surprised Spo went with that, considering rebounding is so decisive in big games.

    I really hope the Bulls or Mavs win it. I couldn’t stand the HEAT winning it. Heart and hustle will go a long way winning it for either team.

    Posted by Bobby | May 16, 2011, 12:34 pm
  27. Realist:

    Nice article! You brought back some memories from that finals. Even though the Bulls won in 5 it was close with really pivotal moments. I loved Magic and was a big fan of his, but it was truly the ‘changing of the guard’. From 80-91 to win a title you had to go through Magic. You just knew it was time for the Jordan era to begin after game 3. I have to disagree with 1 thing you said though. You cannot say that Majic was in his “prime” anymore. He was still great but I wouldn’t say “prime”, 11 years in with a couple of knee surgeries.

    You also reaffirmed arguments I’ve had with buddies about the value of Pippen as a defender. Mike although a terrific defender didn’t have to (though he did at times) carry the load of guarding the best player on the other team. Pippen took alot of pressure off Mike in that series as Magic was making him work extremely hard on the defensive end.

    Posted by no fan be objective | May 19, 2011, 6:47 pm
  28. And I’m not saying the Lakers were washed up or that Magic wasn’t as into it anymore like another poster said. Magic’s desire to win is perhaps only rivaled by Micheal’s (just check the 1st game of his caree). Also the favored argument you made with the other poster is arguable. The Bulls did have the better record (2 games behind the NBA best Trailblazers) and home court advantage. Thats like calling the Heat the favored vs the Bulls this year. Maybe by Vegas odds but in reality… a toss up (& I would then give it to the home team). Mind you not trying to diminish the 90/91 Bulls win at all. Thanks I like reading you guys’ stuff though I dont post much.

    Posted by no fan be objective | May 19, 2011, 7:15 pm
  29. I made an earlier comment about how great it would be if history repeated itself this year and we saw a Kobe/Rose match-up in the same way we saw a Magic/Jordan matchup twenty years ago.

    Well, history is repeating itself this year, but probably in the worst way possible.

    One of the main points of this article reflects around the lack of acknowledgement as the greatest player in the league without a championship. According to you (and I say that because I was only seven in 1991 and living in Atlanta) Jordan was under so much scrutiny from everyone because he couldn’t win a championship, and that resulted in a major lack of acceptance towards him as the greatest player in the game.

    Well guess what, we’re seeing the exact same pattern right now with LeBron James.

    The next few weeks will be the most realistic shot James has had at a title his entire career, and if he gets it, I think the walls that have kept LeBron out of Jordanland will come crashing down. They’re already starting to give way (see Scottie Pippen’s comments and several of the latest ESPN articles for evidence) but they’re not completely crumbled away yet. The foundation that has kept him out has obviously been the lack of championships, and you don’t need Jason Siegel yelling at a middle school kid to realize that. If he wins one, the comparisons won’t stop, as we’ve seen already.

    Make no mistake, he still has a long way to go before he can match or surpass MJ as the greatest player ever, but he’s got a ton of time to do it which leaves a ton of time for speculation as to whether or not he can do it. And I for one am not looking forward to ESPN spewing out a daily article of Jordan/LeBron comparisons. For the next few weeks I will be the biggest Dirk fan out there, and I certainly hope that Kidd, Marion, and Tyson Chandler can shut down the Big 3 while Dirk asserts himself as the greatest European player ever.

    Hopefully if the Heat lose these finals the comparisons will shut off for a little while and the lockout will help cool off the debate as well, but right now its not looking good. Now I guess you know how the Lakers fans felt, Realist, trembling with fear that there may be someone better than your greatest player and hero. I’m certainly getting that feeling now.

    Jordan comparisons will never end, but I don’t think that anyone (even Kobe) has posed this great a threat until now (assuming he wins the championship this year). If he ultimately fails, then there will certainly be another person that takes his place as “The Next Jordan?” (my money’s on Kevin Durant) but for now Bulls fans like ourselves will have to sit idly by and hope Dirk can stop the impending shitstorm that is Lebron vs. Jordan.

    All that aside, great article Realist, and here’s to hoping the Bulls can somehow dump Boozer and then maybe sign Tyson Chandler from free agency (I think trading for Dwight Howard is asking a bit too much).

    Posted by Scalabrine 1 Lebron 0 | May 29, 2011, 8:52 am
    • And by ultimately fails I mean if he ends up like he said he would if he stayed on the Cavs. Thirty-three years old with bad knees and no championships.

      Posted by Scalabrine 1 Lebron 0 | May 29, 2011, 8:56 am
    • Great observations and I couldn’t agree with you more.

      History is absolutely repeating itself in that there are very similar parallels between the Magic vs. Jordan debate as there are with Kobe vs. Lebron. I have always held that Lebron was a better player but simply did not have the supporting cast to compete for a championship. Well, now he does, and it is up to him to make it happen. There are absolutely no excuses for Lebron to fail and if he does, it would be a black mark on his resume forever.

      With that said, you are absolutely right. This is the closest that any player has ever come to the threatening the MJ legacy. I never worried about the Kobe comparisons because quite frankly, never felt that Kobe was as good, and the stats substantiated this. I always truly believed that Kobe was a poor man’s Jordan. He never had the same level of skill, athleticism, athletic ability, stats, dominance, accolades, big game moments, etc.. However, Lebron is a different animal. Just watching the both of them play, the individual talent edge that Jordan had over Kobe becomes negated with Lebron. Now it comes down to their resumes.

      The one thing that MJ had however, is that he never lost to a team that he wasn’t supposed to lose to, and never lost to a team when he had home court advantage. It is an incredible testament to dominance. Lebron will also never approach the impact that MJ had on the game, and it is questionable as to whether he will be able to perform to the level that MJ did in big game moments. However, there are other ways in which Lebron can bolster his resume and only time will tell in the end.

      Thanks again for the read and kind words.

      Posted by The NBA Realist | May 29, 2011, 6:10 pm
      • Here’s my take on the Lebron/Jordan thing that I posted in the “Pippen states LeBron may be the greatest ever” thread…

        There will never be another Michael Jordan. I wish people would stop looking for him. That’s like looking for the next Michael Jackson. Or the Beatles. The complexities of what MJ so great goes beyond the numbers he posted, but I’ll start with it for the stat geeks out there.

        MJ has a decisive edge. He scored more points and he did it more efficiently. Wanna know how impressive that is? It’s like me being able to juggle six balls better than you can juggle four.

        Jordan had excellent court awareness. People are so blinded by his scoring ability, they didn’t catch that. Is it better than Lebron’s? I don’t know, but it’s arguable. Jordan had a season averaging 8 assists per game (at the same time he was averaging 33 ppg, by the way). If you look at the cumulative stats through the age of 26 for both players ([url]http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoopmiam…-the-stats-say[/url]), Lebron has a 7 to 6 edge in apg in the regular season and is in a virtual tie (7.0 to 6.7) in the playoffs. Consider that MJ outscores Lebron by 5 points per game in the regular season and 7 points per game in the playoffs and you may consider Jordan the much better all around player offensively. My point is, it’s harder to average 33 and 6 (on much higher efficiency) than 28 and 7. In the playoffs, the discrepancy widens. Jordan averaged 36 and 7 (again, on much higher efficiency) while Lebron averages 29 and 7. Who’s the better all-around player again??? Soon after this, MJ yielded a lot of playmaking duties to Pippen as he grew into a superstar player. Add in the fact that MJ was playing in the triangle offense (which is great because it keeps everyone involved, but it does limit a superstar’s stats). Allowing Pippen a chance to grow decreased his ability to rack up assists, but ultimately made the Bulls a better team. There is no stat to measure this.

        Did you know that MJ averaged more offensive rebounds per game over his 1072 game career than Lebron has over any season except for one? In fact, MJ averaged more offensive rebounds during the 3 years he played with Dennis Rodman than any 3 year stretch of Lebron’s career. MJ always prided himself on being a glue guy, someone that filled in the gaps of what the team needed. There was no reason for him to sit back and grab defensive rebounds when playing with Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Jasan Caffrey, etc. It takes positioning to get defensive rebounds. It takes desire to steal rebounds from the other team. And MJ did this better than Lebron ever has, even with all-time rebounders on his team.

        Jordan led the league 3 times and has more steals than anybody in NBA history not named John Stockton.

        Right now, Lebron has the edge. We’ll see how this turns out over the next 400 games or so.

        MJ 2.7 per game. LJ 3.3 per game

        I hope we can all agree that MJ was a superior defender. Lebron’s a good defender. MJ was great.

        Off the ball
        Michael was leagues better than Lebron with his off the ball movement. It’s precisely why Jordan was just as deadly with or without the ball. Lebron needs the ball to dominate, Jordan didn’t. When stat heads can come up with a good way to measure the impact of having a superstar player be dominant without having to dominate the ball, then I’ll put more trust in the numbers. Jordan put up more impressive stats in the 80’s, but he was a better player in the early 90’s because he didn’t need to dominate the ball to dominate the game. Stats won’t show this. Watch the games. This is why I hate when comparisons are boiled down to stats. Stats hide as much as they reveal. What about the intangibles? We saw Jordan win. And then keep winning. He won so easily that we forget how hard it is to do that. 6 titles and total domination in an 8-10 year span? This is a huge ACCOMPLISHMENT. You don’t just go out and win 6 titles in the way that Jordan did it. We haven’t seen Lebron win yet. What happens when/if he does? Does he relax? Does he continue to push his team even when they are all satisfied? How does he deal with that bulleye on his back for the next 7 years? Don’t let MJ fool you. It gets harder AFTER you win the first time. Let’s look at Jordan’s career. Look at him in 1988. Does he look like the same player in 1992? What about 1997? You can look at Jordan’s career and swear you’re seeing 3-4 different players. Think that was by coincidence? The post game that was so dominant in 1996? You saw him working on that in 1990. He was ahead of the curve. Why is that important? Because he was able to maintain top flight production and efficiency even as the game changed. What might have been effective against him in 1988 was not as effective in 1992. The type of defenders that gave him problems in 1992 did not bother him as much in 1997. That’s how he was so damn good for so long. I remember him saying he wanted to shave his head before people started noticing and talking about his receding hairline. Well, he did the same thing with his game. You didn’t notice much drop off because his game was so fluid and ever-changing. If he was a more efficient jump shooter, it was because he was adding to his game, right? Yes and no. Look at him in 1988 or 1989 then look at him in 1992. If you’re paying attention you’ll notice a slight drop off in athleticsm. You didn’t notice that at the time because he was working on that jumpshot WHEN HE DIDN’T NEED TO. So by the time it became his number one weapon, you didn’t notice the drop off in athleticism. Ahead of the curve. He worked on his postgame, jumpshot, off-the-ball movement when he was still by far the most dominant player in the world. Is Lebron ahead of the curve (still not much of a postgame 8 years into his career. Hmm…)? Even if you think so, will he STAY ahead of the curve after he starts winning?

        Mj was so competitive he was borderline crazy. While Lebron is dancing on the sidelines, MJ would be fabricating stories of how the Clippers coach said something negative about him, or the opposing 2-guard thinks someone is better or the GM said someone else was better. And then he would DESTROY that team. It was all about having a mental edge. Even in some December game against Phoenix. If anyone was more competitive, they would have imploded long before getting to the NBA. Anyone less competitive wouldn’t be as good.

        I won’t truly believe Lebron is in the conversation until teams are afraid of pissing him off. Until I see him kicking his team in the ass because they’re slacking two championships in. Until he is just as dominant after he leaves his physical prime. Until I hear his coaches say he’s the best practice player they’ve ever seen. When people make legitimate comparisons to Michael Jordan and it is about more than what numbers he posts, THEN we can have a decent conversation.

        Posted by tjhunt76 | May 29, 2011, 6:56 pm
        • Great points TJ and really great analysis,

          I actually had no idea that MJ averaged more offensive rebounds than Lebron. A couple of other thoughts:

          1.) MJ’s teams never lost a series when they had home court advantage and in fact never lost to a team that they weren’t expected to lose to. This to be in the biggest indicator of MJ’s “Winnability” or ability to win with the weapons given to you.

          2.) It is really unfair to provide a statistical comparison at this point, because Lebron is in the prime of his career and we have yet to see his stats decline which is bound to occur with age. I agree with you – If Lebron is averaging 30-7-4 with 2.2stls, 50% FG, 53% EFG, and 58 TS% at age 33, then perhaps it becomes a discussion. Until then, we will have to wait and the more accurate statistical comparison is to compare both players when they are at their peak. From 88-96, MJ was 32-7-6, 2.7 stls, 52% FG, 54% EFG, 59% TS. Astounding.

          3.) The only thing that I would be careful of when comparing points, rebounds, and assists is to take into account the pace of the game. Jordan benefitted from more possessions in the late 80s and early 90s. For example, in 1988, there were 99.6 possessions in a game and teams averaged 108.2 points per game. In 2011, there were 92.1 possessions and teams averaged 99.6 points per game. Lower pace means fewer assists, rebounds, and even points which may not provide for an apples-to-apples statistical comparison.

          Thanks again for the read.

          Posted by The NBA Realist | May 30, 2011, 6:24 pm
  30. LeBron may average great stats during the regular season, but someone forgot to tell him they matter most in the NBA Finals.

    When LeBron wins at least 3 Finals MVP’s then we can have a conversation.

    Posted by Bobby | June 11, 2011, 2:45 pm
  31. A conversation if he warrants to be in the top 5 best players ever.

    Posted by Bobby | June 11, 2011, 2:47 pm
  32. Perhaps I’m being harsh. Make that top 3 if he’s able to win 3 Finals MVP’s.

    Posted by Bobby | June 11, 2011, 2:57 pm
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  35. – Dude Yao has nothing on Sabonis. If you think Sabonis was rubsibh, watching him in the NBA is like saying Yao isn’t any good right now of course he is not, he has not feet or knees. But in their prime both were very good. The difference is, Yao in his prime is top? 20 all time maybe, Sabonis is top 5.

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