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Running with the Bulls: A look at the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s 
Posted on June 28, 2014 at 03:52 PM.
Part One: 1991 NBA FINALS Bulls vs Lakers

So here we are, a project that will be years in the telling but i`ve made a start. The Chicago Bulls of the 1990s were the first truly modern NBA dynasty as the decade progressed the era of free agency being a big thing grew and in fact the Bulls took advantage of that with a key player in the 2nd half of their run. However now, let us focus on the beginning with some background at first....

I was never the biggest basketball fan and while we did get decent NBA coverage here before Jordan`s Bulls started going wild I just wasn`t really deep into the sport. I always admired the historic teams in the Celtics and Lakers and I did enjoy seeing Michael Jordan as well but just before he would become THE Michael Jordan I just didn`t really appreciate what I was seeing. In the summer of 1991 my cousin`s husband who`s been a family friend for a few years beforehand was enraptured by the greatness of Jordan and the Bulls. He would remain a steadfast fan of Jordan and while he`s never been the biggest sports fan he still remains somewhat of a basketball fan to this day. I remember sitting in the living room of my house before the Finals and he asked me who I wanted to win the series. I was being contrarian and said the Lakers would whup the Bulls all over the place and he scoffed at me. Needless to say that kind of contrarian anti-Bulls streak of mine would continue off and on during the Bulls Dynasty especially in the two series against the Jazz. Nonetheless neither of us knew that we were watching literal history in the making and one of the few times in sports where one Era literally passes the torch to another.

The 1991 NBA Finals was also a new era in the television broadcasting end as NBC would have the NBA rights for a long time and this was their first NBA Finals in YEARS. To people of my generation the NBA on NBC was a golden era for the league and the image of said league. On the afternoon of June 2nd 1991 we were in for a treat as Bob Costas invited the millions in their living rooms to witness the scene at loud and venerable Chicago Stadium with the great Marv Albert calling the game and Mike Fratello "The Czar of the Telestrator" providing color. Steve "Snapper" Jones and Ahmad Rashad would work the sidelines for the Lakers and Bulls respectively in the series.

This series started off much as you would expect with the Lakers moving the ball and draining the shot clock while the Bulls relied heavily on Jordan. It was interesting to see the strategy employed by Phil Jackson to start as he had Jordan guarding Magic while it wasn`t a mismatch per se it really taxed Jordan as he would hold his own with Magic but more often than not Magic would be able to distribute the ball and do his thing. As stated previously Jordan was the main cog of the Bulls offense to start as he had 15 points in the first quarter alone. This would be a back and forth affair as the banged up James Worthy, whose health was a major concern coming into this with a bad ankle was able to alleviate defensive pressure against Magic by being the receipient of passes. A young Vlade Divac also had a nice game demonstrating that he was more than just a "foreign born player". At the end of the 1st half the game was pretty close with the Bulls hanging onto a 53-51 lead. The Lakers came out on fire in the 3rd quarter outplaying the Bulls as Chicago would come up short and generally looking a little rushed. However once the 4th quarter rolled around it was time for Jordan to take over and he showed why he was an exceptional talent as he made big play after big play leading the Bulls to a lead late in the game only to see Sam Perkins and Lakers put a dagger into them as the Lakers would come out on top with a 93-91 victory.

The main topic of discussion between Games 1 and 2 was the admission by everyone (including Jordan) on the Bulls admitting that the moment was too big for them in Game 1. This is pretty mind boggling as one would think any team making that kind of admission today would be roasted for making such a definitive statement about their play. Jordan was the man for the Bulls as everyone thought he would be but almost to the exclusion of everyone else. The Lakers on the other hand looked like the savvy, experienced team who could pull out the W. This would later prove to be a false hope for Lakers fans.....

Game 2 would see a couple adjustments by Phil Jackson which would prove pivotal in the series. The main adjustment being that he put the bigger Scottie Pippen against Magic and have the more athletic Jordan guarding Divac. The other adjustment which also had a large effect on the series was getting Jordan to become a distributor with the basketball. The first 20 minutes of the game saw a rarity in that Jordan only scored 2 points and had something like 3 shot attempts. You would think the Bulls would be struggling mightily in that situation but that was not the case as Jordan draw a crowd defensively and get the ball off to others. Horace Grant was the big beneficiary as he had 14 points in the 1st half. As expected with Pippen guarding Magic it would prove difficult for the Lakers to really get anything going but they were still very much in the game however, a troubling sign was manifesting itself as it seemed only Magic, Worthy and Divac were truly effective. Perkins and Scott were not getting much done especially Scott who looked frustrated more often then not during this game and indeed the entire series. There were other frustrations mounting as Magic was battling the referees as he felt he was getting fouled but not getting any calls. This frustration on the part of Magic and the Lakers would continue on even greater once the series shifted to LA.

Halftime would see one of the more amusing moments of the series as Bob Costas would boast about a season long shooting contest he had with Pat Riley with the loser having to wear their hair in the style of the winner. As would be expected, Riley`s hair had been so conked out and straightened with gel throughout the years that there was barely any change to his hairstyle though Costas at the end of the segment would muss up Riles` hair a bit to show that indeed Riley`s hair did loosen out a bit.

The 2nd half would see the Bulls completely dominate even when Michael Jordan was on the bench for some time in the quarter due to foul trouble the Bulls and their bench would just absolutely outplay, out hustle and out defend the Lakers. Jackson alternated between a regular defense and a full court press as the youth and athleticism of the Bulls proved to be too much for the bigger Lakers squad. Once Jordan came back into the game it became no contest for real as Jordan would lead an 11-0 run and make great shot after great shot. One of which was probably THE iconic image of this series as Jordan drove to the basket raising the ball in his right hand then switching over the left for a layup.

This game would prove to be the blueprint for what the Bulls would do for the rest of the series as this writer has forgotten that in 1991 it wasn`t quite "Michael and the Jordanaires". it also wasn`t quite the Jordan and Pippen show either as stalwarts like Horace Grant, John Paxson (who would shoot the lights out going 8 for 8 on FG attempts for 16 points) and Bill Cartwright would have a good game and a good series. Even the bench guys like Cliff Levingston would play key roles at the very least on the defensive end.

For the Lakers this was the beginning of real trouble Sam Perkins had a pretty good game and Magic was more or less his usual self and Vlade was more than holding his own against the Bulls but it was the other guys who were starting to falter. Mike Dunleavy had clearly begun to lose confidence in his bench what with Terry Teagle and AC Green not producing much of anything. This led him to ride his starters a lot more than he`d want to while Jackson would have the luxury of rotating his guys in and out.

The scene now shifted to the Fabulous Forum for what was arguably the most exciting game of the series as the Lakers felt the need to get a "W". At the beginning of the game it was revealed that Byron Scott was angry at Michael Jordan for showboating during the last game as he felt Jordan was taunting the Lakers bench. The Lakers and Bulls played a very good up and down ballgame however a trend had developed in this one as the Lakers front court couldn`t rebound to save their lives but at the same token the Bulls weren`t exactly taking full advantage of it. The Lakers were showing some spirited play and by the end of the 3rd quarter this game was looking like the mirror image of Game 2 what with the Lakers destroying the Bulls for most of the 3rd quarter with an 18-2 run but as the quarter was drawing to a close the Bulls would answer back with a 20-7 run which would tie the game at 74 in the 4th quarter. It was nip and tuck the rest of the way and with the clock winding down the Lakers losing by 1 would see a great moment as Divac went for the layup as he was blocked but somehow the ball fell in for 2. Divac`s reaction was priceless as he covered his mouth as if to say "I didn`t mean it to go in!" then hugging Magic. Divac would then convert the old fashioned 3 pt play. This led NBC to anoint Divac the player of the game even though there was still time left on the clock. It was amusing seeing that because the very next sequence saw Michael Jordan running down the court and shooting the J to tie the game which sucked the life out of the Lakers and Jordan would score half of the Bulls OT points as they took this one from the Lakers.

This was a tough game for the Lakers as they had a rebounding low in series history yet they were in the driver`s seat towards the end of the game. Vlade Divac played a whale of a game considering he had some major foul trouble. He ended the game with 24 points and looked very good doing so especially his ball handling skills as he showed he had super soft hands and could maneuver in tight spots. This would be the last gasp for the Lakers as Game 4 would be the death blow....

Game 4 saw the Lakers start out strong and competitively as they held the lead at the end of the 1st but that was a mirage as the Bulls would go on a 19-9 run to start the 2nd and Jordan would have 11 points in the quarter. The Lakers on the other hand saw their shooting go down the toilet especially from Sam Perkins. The Lakers would only convert on 12 of their 41 shots between the 2nd and 3rd quarter than disaster struck as Worthy and Scott would both go down to injuries. The Lakers wouldn`t go down without a fight but eventually it would be too much as the Bulls ran over the Lakers for a decisive victory.

Game 5 saw Mike Dunleavy being FORCED to use his bench guys after pretty much refusing to use the bench throughout the series. AC Green and Elden Campbell had to come in and play big minutes in this one. Surprisingly the Lakers saw some production from their unlikely heroes and Magic would not go down without a fight as he had 20 assists in the game. In the end though it would prove to be futile as the Bulls used pressure defense and great all around play to take this one. Scottie Pippen was the offensive star for the Bulls in this one as he had 32 points and 13 rebounds.

It was now truly the end of an era as the Bulls had won their first of 6 championships and their dominance would be nearly impossible to stop. The Lakers on the other hand looked like a tired and beaten team. Worthy was somewhat effective but the ankle injury really hobbled him while Byron Scott was just atrocious. In fact he went through a 1 hr 15m+ stretch between a FG in this series. Even Magic Johnson who had decent numbers looked like a sorely beaten man. In fact between game 4 and 5 he made statements pointing toward a willingness to retire after the season. These were statements that Magic had to backpedal off of even after the crushing blow of losing to the Bulls after Game 5. The only real bright spot for the Lakers was the play of Vlade Divac. This was pretty much Vlade`s coming out party. He showed he was a solid workmanlike center who could be gritty but had the soft hands and range to score when needed.

Broadcast wise this was a pretty interesting series as Marv Albert was on top of his game but Mike Fratello could sometimes be frustrating to listen to. He was clearly in "I want another coaching gig so i`m not gonna offend" mode as he would give blanket approval of the refs even when they made some questionalbe calls. In one game when Albert asked him about the spy cameras in the arenas to steal signs and whatnot from the opposing coach and how he would handle it, Fratello just threw out a lame joke and when pressed about it again he gave a rather limp answer. On the flip side of that Fratello was EXCELLENT at breaking down what was gong on and gave some kudos Phil Jackson`s adjustments throughout the series. Fratello did a very good job of illustrating what was going on with replay and such. Costas and Riley were uniformly good in their roles and it was very interesting to see a segment where Riley gave his predictions for the 1990s. He predicted that Magic would own a team and that Larry Bird would wind up coaching. Riles also advocated cutting the 24 second clock to a 20 second clock which would speed up the game and make for a run and gun type of game. This was pretty comical to listen to as Riley (and a few others) would be at the vanguard for the slow down and ugly style of play that permeated the league through most of the `90s.

I also found it really refreshing to see just how more professional NBC was at broadcasting the game. It was basically ALL about the game except for some stargazing at celebs when the series moved to LA. It shows that sticking to the drama at hand rather than fancy theme music and interviewing coaches DURING the game is not necessary. I hate how the direction of sports broadcasting has gone more for the fluff rather than substance though I do wish in hindsight that we had the technology and access to hear the coaches and players being mic`ed up.

Last but not least in this wrap up of Part One in my series I have to say this was the dynastic Bulls team at their most embryonic. Phil Jackson was actually coaching the GAME not egos. He was able to convince Jordan to be a facilitator and it was more of a cohesive team than just Jordan and Pippen running wild. The Bulls also had a bench that had players who fit very definitive roles which would be a hallmark of their dynasty but one that would wane a bit as their run continued. I also forgot just how non competitive this series was for the most part as the Bulls were clearly the better team throughout. Having said that, if Vlade`s shot had stood up in Game 3 who knows what would`ve happened.
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