June 23, 1997
June 23, 1997

Table of Contents
June 23, 1997

Faces In The Crowd


If these were the last days of the empire, if the musing from
the owner's suite finally does what no opponent could and brings
the dynasty down, then remember the Chicago Bulls the way they
were last Friday night, when they won their fifth NBA
championship. Remember the way Michael Jordan insisted that his
faithful sidekick, Scottie Pippen, help him lift Jordan's fifth
Finals MVP award. Remember Pippen standing near the edge of the
court during the postgame celebration, holding a champagne
bottle behind his back until Dennis Rodman--who everyone assumes
will be cast out by the Bulls--walked by and then dousing the
Worm in a gesture that was meant to tell him that for now, at
least, he was still one of them. Remember how Jordan and coach
Phil Jackson embraced for just a beat longer than you thought
they would, clinging not just to each other but also to this
moment, this team. And remember Jordan's words to the media. "We
are entitled to defend what we have until we lose it," he said,
after Chicago had defeated the Utah Jazz 90-86 at the United
Center to wrap up the best-of-seven series in six games.

This is an article from the June 23, 1997 issue Original Layout

There are times when the financial books must be put aside in
favor of the history books. If chairman Jerry Reinsdorf sets
aside his notion of remaking the Bulls for the longer haul; if
he re-signs Jackson and Jordan, whose contracts expire July 1;
and if he resists the urge to trade Pippen, who can become a
free agent after next season, the Bulls will have a chance to do
what once seemed unthinkable: take a place beside the Boston
Celtics of the 1950s and '60s as the two most imperial dynasties
in NBA history.

Chicago has been so dominant since it won its first
championship, in 1991, that its true competition is no longer
its contemporaries. The Bulls' sustained success--five titles in
the last seven years, including the last two in a row--puts them
in competition only with those Celtics, who won 11 of 13
championships (including eight straight) from '57 to '69, and
the Los Angeles Lakers of the Showtime era, who won five crowns
in nine years, from '80 to '88. Chicago measures up well against

"Comparing teams from different eras is always an impossible
thing to do," says James Worthy, a star forward on three of
those Lakers championship teams and now an analyst for Fox
Sports News. "All you can really do is compare how teams did in
their periods, against the competition and under the conditions
that were out there for them. If you do that, I think you would
have to say that Chicago has dominated its time as much as any
team the league has ever seen."

The Bulls have done so with less star power than either the old
Celtics or Lakers. Boston counted on eight future Hall of
Famers, led by center Bill Russell and including guards Bob
Cousy, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and Bill Sharman, forward Tom
Heinsohn, sixth man Frank Ramsey and swingman John Havlicek. Los
Angeles had center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who's in the Hall, guard
Magic Johnson, who will be in the Hall, and Worthy, who should
also be enshrined someday. Chicago has two certain Hall
inductees in Jordan and Pippen, but the rest of the Bulls'
lineup over the years, even with superb forwards Horace Grant
and Rodman, has been remarkably nondescript for a dynasty.

"I think the Lakers came at you with more outstanding players,"
says Pat Riley, who was L.A.'s Showtime coach and is now the
coach and president of the Miami Heat. "We had Byron Scott and
Norm Nixon beside Magic in the backcourt, and we could come off
the bench with people like Michael Cooper and Bob McAdoo and
Mychal Thompson. The Bulls have role players who have done their
jobs exceptionally well and the team has great chemistry, but I
don't think Chicago has quite the firepower that those Lakers
teams did."

That doesn't mean, however, that the three dynasties don't have
similarities. They all revolved around one transcendent player
whose passion to win matched his skills, a player who changed
the game with his unique style. Russell proved that it was
possible to dominate a game--and a league--with defense. The
6'9" Johnson was the first oversized point guard, the forerunner
of the players who populate the league now, such as the Orlando
Magic's Penny Hardaway and the Detroit Pistons' Grant Hill, who
possess the height of forwards but the ball-handling and
playmaking abilities of guards. Jordan has proved to be an
endlessly inventive and fierce performer, particularly when a
championship is at stake.

As hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when Jordan
was thought to be all style and no substance, that he would win
scoring titles (he now has nine) but not NBA titles because he
could not elevate the play of his teammates. That seems even
more ludicrous in light of his brilliance during these Finals,
especially his performance in Game 5 on June 11 in Salt Lake
City, when he crawled out of his sickbed with a stomach virus to
score 38 points and hit the decisive three-pointer in the Bulls'
90-88 victory (box).

The three dynasties have had different personae--the Celtics
were coolly efficient, the Lakers exuded Hollywood flash, and
the Bulls are the hip basketball equivalent of rock stars--but
they have possessed a similar mystique, an aura that could
defeat a lesser team before the game began. "All great teams
have that," says Worthy. "When we stepped out on the court some
nights, you could see it in some guys' eyes: 'Uh-oh, Showtime.'
You see the same thing with the Bulls. Just their appearance on
the floor makes some guys' eyes get wide, and when the Bulls see
that, they know they have you beaten."

Moreover, as these dynasties evolved, the Celtics, Lakers and
Bulls added to their opponents' frustration by doling out defeat
even when they weren't playing well. That was the story of
Chicago's 1997 postseason, and it held true in the decisive Game
6. The Bulls led for only 4:54 of the entire game, only to win
with a fourth-quarter rally, which culminated in guard Steve
Kerr's jumper with five seconds left that broke an 86-86 tie.
"Dynasties get better as they get older," says Riley. "After a
while they begin to win games not so much on talent as on the
confidence that comes with experience. They succeed because they
know they have succeeded in the past. If you don't develop that
ability, you cannot be a team that becomes a repeat champion."

It's no coincidence that all three dynasties had coaching
stability. Jackson has overseen Chicago's entire championship
run. Riley, who began his Lakers stint early in the 1981-82
season, coached four of the five L.A. champions. (Paul Westhead
was in charge in '80.) Red Auerbach led Boston to all but the
final two championships of the Russell era; he became the
Celtics' full-time general manager in '66, with Russell taking
over as player-coach. On the surface Auerbach and Riley, both
tough, no-nonsense types, appear to have more in common with
each other than either has with the laid-back, philosophical
Jackson. But behind the gruff image, Auerbach had some of the
motivational qualities for which Jackson is celebrated. "Red was
more similar to Jackson than you might think," says Heinsohn,
who himself won two championships, in 1974 and '76, as Boston's
coach and is a Celtics broadcaster. "He was not a Prussian
general sending his guys out of the trenches and into the
machine guns. He allowed his players to express their opinions
from training camp to the last shot of the game. Jackson does
the same thing. They're both great handlers of people."

With their extended dominance--and especially considering those
record eight championships in a row--the Celtics must still be
ranked as the NBA's preeminent dynasty, but the Bulls are closer
to them than it might appear. If Jordan had not retired for 18
months, thus missing the 1993-94 season and most of the '94-95
campaign, Chicago's latest championship might very well have
been its seventh straight, and the Bulls would be setting their
sights on Boston's mark. The last time the Bulls lost a playoff
series when Jordan played the entire regular season was in '90,
when the Pistons beat them in seven games in the Eastern
Conference finals.

However, even if the Bulls had won seven straight titles, they
would still face the argument that their achievement was less
impressive than the Celtics' because of the caliber of their
competition. There were eight teams in the NBA when Boston won
its first title, and the league had expanded only to 14 by the
time the Celtics won in 1969. Chicago won its first title in
'91, in a 27-team league that has since grown to 29. With more
teams, the thinking goes, the talent has been spread more thinly
than it was in Boston's era, making it easier for a good team to
dominate. It is telling that while Russell's Celtics had Wilt
Chamberlain and his teams (the Philadelphia and San Francisco
Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Lakers) as constant
rivals and the Showtime Lakers had Larry Bird's Celtics, the
Bulls have had no consistent challenger. Chicago has beaten five
teams in the Finals: the Lakers, the Portland Trail Blazers, the
Phoenix Suns, the Seattle SuperSonics and the Jazz.

"When we played, the league was not diluted," says Heinsohn, a
Celtics forward from 1956-57 through '64-65. "Today you can be a
good team with only two outstanding players, but in those days
every team had at least three or four players in that category.
What the Bulls have accomplished is remarkable, but I would have
to say that it was harder to win a championship in those days
than it is now."

These days, though it may not take as large a nucleus of stars
to win a championship, it is harder to keep that nucleus
together. In this era of free agency and the salary cap,
successful teams tend to break up as the players responsible for
that success command bigger salaries. That's why the strongest
challenge to the Bulls' dynasty is coming not from any other
team but from Reinsdorf, who has to meet their growing payroll.
Chicago lost Grant to free agency in 1994 when he signed with
the Magic. This off-season the Bulls would dearly love to keep
forward-center Brian Williams, a key late-season acquisition who
played well in the playoffs, but Williams is a free agent and
Chicago doesn't have room under the salary cap to offer him the
more than $5 million a year he is seeking. There have been
reports that Reinsdorf and vice president of basketball
operations Jerry Krause have contemplated trading Pippen before
he becomes a free agent, partly because he will no doubt be in
search of a huge contract.

"Those are things we didn't have to worry about," says Heinsohn.
"In the old days, you joined a team and you stayed with them
until they traded you. We didn't have to worry about Russell
becoming a free agent and taking a bunch of money to go play for
the Cincinnati Royals. That's why I think the Bulls' greatest
accomplishment has been keeping that nucleus of Jordan and
Pippen together all these years. It definitely would have been
harder for us to keep our team together and win all those titles
if players could have moved around the way they can today."

If they played today, the Russell-era Celtics also would have
had to survive more playoff games to win their championships.
The postseason wasn't nearly the long, grueling ordeal for the
Boston teams that it has been for Los Angeles and Chicago. In
each of their first eight championship seasons, the Celtics had
to win only two series to take the title, and they needed to
beat only three playoff opponents to win each of their last
three championships of the Russell era. By contrast, the Lakers'
championship teams needed to win three series twice and four
series thrice, and the Bulls needed to prevail in four series in
each of their championship seasons. More opponents mean more of
a chance of being beaten. However, the relative ease with which
the Bulls have gone through postseasons during their reign is
the one aspect of championship performance in which they have
surpassed the Celtics and the Lakers.

Chicago is the only one of the three dynamos that is undefeated
in the Finals. (The Celtics lost to the St. Louis Hawks in 1958;
the Lakers lost to the 76ers in '83 and the Celtics in '84.)
Astonishingly, the Bulls' title teams have never been pushed to
a seventh game in the Finals, and overall they have played only
one seven-game series, in the '92 Eastern Conference semifinals
against the New York Knicks. The Lakers played three seven-game
series, all in '88, their last championship season, and the
Celtics made a habit of playing--and winning--seventh games:
They won all 10 they played during their championship years.

Although Chicago and L.A. have won with more ease in the
playoffs, Boston was the more dominant regular-season team. The
Celtics finished with the best record in the NBA in nine of the
13 years that spanned their dynasty, while the Bulls have had
the best record in three of the last seven years, and the Lakers
finished on top in the regular season only in the last two
seasons of their nine-year run.

So it says here the Celtics still reign as the premier dynasty,
but the Bulls have surpassed the Lakers, and Jordan isn't
finished yet. The confetti was still floating from the United
Center rafters last Friday night when he looked into a
television camera and held up his fingers to symbolize Chicago's
titles. Jordan did not hold up five fingers. He held up six.

COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. COVER Is the Jordan Dynasty the NBA's best ever? [Michael Jordan holding NBA championship trophy]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER As Chicago beat Utah in six, Jordan kept topping himself--and Karl Malone. [Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen in game]COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. The Bulls' swarming defense held Malone and the Jazz to 85.3 points a game in the four Utah losses. [Steve Kerr, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Dennis Rodman in game]THREE B/W PHOTOS: WALTER IOOSS JR. (2) [Red Auerbach; Bill Russel; Bob Cousy]COLOR PHOTO: FRED KAPLAN [John Havlicek]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Pat Riley]COLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT [Michael Cooper]TWO COLOR PHOTOS: MANNY MILLAN (2) [Kurt Rambis; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar]TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [Phil Jackson; Scottie Pippen]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Michael Jordan]COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS Same time next year? That was the question hanging over celebrants Jackson and Jordan. [Michael Jordan embracing Phil Jackson]


Before the Bulls ruled the NBA roost, the Lakers and the Celtics
had long runs as the league's powerhouse. Drawing from each
club's most dominant period, here is a comparison of the stars
and the role players who contributed to the teams' success.


TITLES WON 11 from 1956-57 5 from '79-80 5 from '90-91
to '68-69 to '87-88 to '96-97

BEST SEASON 62-18 ('64-65) 65-17 ('86-87) 72-10 ('95-96)

COACH Red Auerbach Pat Riley Phil Jackson

COACHING Machiavellian Machiavelli in Sacred hoops
METHOD bluster Armani

FORWARDS Tom Heinsohn, Jamaal Wilkes, Scottie Pippen,
Tom Sanders, A.C. Green, Horace Grant,
Willie Naulls, James Worthy, Toni Kukoc,
Bailey Howell Kurt Rambis Dennis Rodman

GUARDS Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan,
Bill Sharman, Norm Nixon, B.J. Armstrong,
K.C. Jones, Byron Scott John Paxson,
Sam Jones Ron Harper

CENTERS Bill Russell Kareem Abdul- Bill Cartwright,
Jabbar Will Perdue,
Luc Longley

SWING/SIXTH Frank Ramsey, Michael Cooper Pippen, Kukoc
MEN John Havlicek

RESERVES Larry Siegfried, Bob McAdoo, Craig Hodges,
Don Nelson Mychal Thompson, Steve Kerr
Mike McGee

STYLE OF Russell's block Magic runs Triangle
PLAY triggers break Showtime offense

MONEY Sam Jones, Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Paxson,
SHOOTERS Havlicek Johnson, Nixon, Kukoc, Kerr
Worthy, Scott

BLUE-COLLAR Sanders, Rambis Grant, Harper,
HEROES Siegfried Kerr

HATCHET MAN Jim Loscutoff Rambis Rodman

TOUGHEST Wilt's Warriors Bird's Celtics Ewing's Knicks
RIVALS and Sixers; Lakers

KEY PLAYERS Cousy, Havlicek, Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Pippen
AMONG NBA'S Sam Jones, Johnson,
50 GREATEST Russell, Sharman Worthy

ULTIMATE Russell's block Kareem's Air Jordan
WEAPON skyhook