``I never lost hope,`` said a tear-stained Michael Jordan, who had 30 points 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 just happy for everyone, all of us, the organization, the city, the people of Chicago,`` said John Paxson, who scored 20 points, including 10 of 12 points in a crucial three-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter after the 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 finding him 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 championship trophy while being flanked by his wife, Juanita, and father, James.
``I`ve never seen a celebration like this,`` said Jackson, drenched in champagne. ``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 16 points, 20 assists and 11 rebounds and Elden Campbell, who came in for the injured 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 crowd throughout the fourth quarter until Paxson`s jumper gave the Bulls a 95-93 lead with 3 minutes 25 seconds left.
Paxson added another jumper and then a layup to give the Bulls a 99-93 lead. 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 Bulls added 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 the first 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 then grabbed champagne bottles, dousing one another. Bill Cartwright quietly said, ``Finally.`` Paxson ran up for the trophy presentation from Commissioner David Stern.
``I`ve got to be a part of this,`` he yelled.