``I never lost hope,`` said a tear-stained Michael Jordan, who had 30points and 10 assists as the Bulls wrapped up the NBA title for the first time in franchise history with a thrilling 108-101 victory over the Lakers.
``I`m so happy for my family and this team and this franchise. It`ssomething I`ve worked seven years for and I thank God for the talent and theopportunity that I`ve had.``
``I`m just happy for everyone, all of us, the organization, the city, the people of Chicago,`` said John Paxson, who scored 20 points, including 10 of12 points in a crucial three-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter afterthe Lakers had tied the score at 93. ``It`s an unbelievable feeling because we did it as a team. I can`t wait to get home and share this with the city.``
``Pax was the key,`` said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. ``M.J. was findinghim and he stepped up and hit the shot.``
``That`s why I`ve always wanted him on my team and why I want him to stay on my team,`` said Jordan, holding the Larry O`Brien league championshiptrophy while being flanked by his wife, Juanita, and father, James.
``I`ve never seen a celebration like this,`` said Jackson, drenched inchampagne. ``I was with the `70 Knicks and the `73 Knicks and there was never anything like this. This has been a poised team and they just lost it.``
And they almost lost the game. The Lakers-led by Magic Johnson`s 16points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds and Elden Campbell, who came in for theinjured James Worthy to score 21 points-made it hard on the Bulls.
The Lakers led at halftime 49-48 and the score was tied at 80 after three quarters. The game ferryed back and forth on the seas of a rocking crowdthroughout the fourth quarter until Paxson`s jumper gave the Bulls a 95-93lead with 3 minutes 25 seconds left.
Paxson added another jumper and then a layup to give the Bulls a 99-93lead. But the Lakers continually fought back, cutting the lead to 103-101 with a minute left.
But Paxson nailed the coffin shut with another jumper and then the Bullsadded a free throw against the frustrated Lakers to take the series four games to one, winning the last four in a row, including all three in the Forum.
And they exulted.
Pippen, with 32 points and 13 rebounds after a slow start, popped thefirst champagne bottle, dumping it over Horace Grant`s head as the locker room resembled a fraternity party.
The players immediately gathered in a circle for a prayer and thengrabbed champagne bottles, dousing one another. Bill Cartwright quietly said, ``Finally.`` Paxson ran up for the trophy presentation from CommissionerDavid Stern.
``I`ve got to be a part of this,`` he yelled.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf smiled and laughed and wore champagne like acomfortable suit. General Manager Jerry Krause hugged Craig Hodges.
Will Perdue dumped champagne on Cartwright. Hodges stood alone, shouting, ``Yeah, yeah, yeah.``
It wasn`t the best of times for the Lakers as they started under theworst of conditions.
Neither Byron Scott nor Worthy were able to play, so they were replacedin the starting lineup by A.C. Green and Terry Teagle.
``I just didn`t feel like I could help the team in my condition,`` saidWorthy, bothered by a sprained ankle.
Scott, with a sore shoulder, came out early to shoot, but also decided he was shot for the night.
And shots turned out to be a problem for the Bulls early.The Bulls missed eight of their first 12 shots and trailed 7-2 and 16-11.
``There was a lot of nervousness in the locker room,`` Jordan admitted.
And why not?
The Lakers had been all but written off while the Bulls repeatedly wereasked about parade routes.
And suddenly the Lakers started a parade to the basket behind Vlade Divac, who had eight of the Lakers` first 16 points on aggressive play inside. Meanwhile, the Bulls were misfiring, except for Paxson, who scored theteam`s first six points. But the Bulls finally began to get active on theoffensive boards, Grant and Cartwright putting in misses to get the Bullswithin 20-17.
Grant, though, drew his second foul and had to leave with three minutesleft in the first quarter while Paxson and Divac got into a shoving match that excited the crowd.
But it seemed to incite the Bulls.
Trailing 23-19, they forced consecutive turnovers and Jordan and Pippen,just 2 of 9 in the half but with four steals, slammed after a Cartwrightjumper. The Bulls then took a 27-23 lead before the Lakers closed the quarter with two free throws.
Hodges opened the second period with a three-point field goal to give the Bulls a 30-25 lead, but the Lakers drew within 32-31 three minutes later.
The Lakers then elected to push the pace and took a 35-34 lead when TonySmith took a Johnson pass on the run for a layup.
But with Jordan, who led the Bulls with 12 points in the half, strippingthe ball from Divac for a breakaway slam, the Bulls moved back ahead 40-37with 6:44 left in the half.
Teagle, with nine points in the half, and Campbell, with 13, got insidefor short jumpers to give the Lakers a 45-44 lead with just over three minutes left.
But the Bulls committed consecutive turnovers, a rarity in the series onthe way to a whopping 12 in the half, and the Lakers edged ahead at halftime49-48.
The Bulls came out pumping haymakers to open the second half as Pippendrove for two baskets and Paxson hit a jumper as the Bulls took a 56-51 lead. But back came the Lakers, like a tired heavyweight, summoning up stillanother flurry on a Johnson drive and Green slam on a fast break to go backahead 57-56.
The Lakers moved ahead 60-58 after a Johnson three-pointer, but back came the Bulls with a Jordan reverse on a drive and Pippen out on the run for twobaskets to give the Bulls a 64-60 lead with 7:27 left in the third quarter.
But again the Lakers forged back in what was becoming perhaps the mostemotion-charged game of the series. The Bulls took their biggest lead at 70-62 after Pippen threw down a reverse slam after a steal, but Perkins and Johnson hit three-point field goals in the next two possessions to put the Lakers back within 70-68 midway through the third.
Paxson again hit a jumper to give the Bulls some breathing room, butSmith got loose downcourt after a Jordan miss for a layp and three-point play that drew the Lakers within 73-72 with 3:35 left in the third.
The game flicked back and forth the remainder of the quarter with Johnson finding Campbell underneath for slams and Jordan throwing down a basketrattling slam on a lob pass from Pippen.
But when the fourth quarter dawned, the teams were tied at 80.