Ask anybody associated with the 1990-91 Bulls about that scintillating season, and be prepared to hear two things: No, it doesn't feel like it has been 20 years. And Detroit sucks.
OK, so nobody actually said the latter. But as the organization prepares to honor the 20th anniversary of the first of six NBA championships and the start of one of sports' great dynasties, overcoming the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals en route to downing the Western Conference champion Lakers remained prominently on the principals' minds.
Scottie Pippen said of vanquishing the Pistons. "That was a huge relief, a guy who had suffered a migraine in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals the year before. It was a lot of joy, that breakthrough of finally beating your nemesis. And then winning that first championship was the most fun. It was new, so the celebration felt lasting."
The celebration begins again Saturday night during an extended halftime ceremony with former broadcaster Jim Durham serving as master of ceremonies. All 12 players, save for Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright, are scheduled to attend. Phil Jackson and some of his same staff members are chasing title No. 12 with the Lakers. General manager Jerry Krause is busy scouting baseball.
But for one glorious night, most of the band will be together again.
"I'm looking forward to seeing who's going to come back," Michael Jordan said in a rare interview. "I want to see if everybody's fat just like me. It should be fun."
"I can't believe it has been 20 years," Horace Grant said. "It seems like it was just yesterday myself, Scottie, Bill, MJ, John Paxson and all of us were running up and down the court. But it has been 20 years.
"Overall, it was just the growing of togetherness of a group of guys who depended on each other on the court. Just the camaraderie, the respect, the learning process that we had is my memory. Specifically, getting over that hump called the Detroit Pistons. And then that championship, there's nothing like that first."
So many defining moments occurred during the Bulls' 61-21 regular season and 15-2 steamroll through the postseason. But most players pointed to the growing trust Michael Jordan displayed in his teammates and the triangle offense as a catalyst for such success.
"That was always the thing from Day One, the trust factor," John Paxson said. "I was fortunate because I had a lengthy run with Michael. It was more what Phil instilled in us that the team wins. Play your role and you can contribute to the success of the team. That's what Michael bought into. He was going to score his 30 a game no matter what. Phil's objective was for other guys to get involved. We became a team when Michael trusted us."
Paxson, of course, helped close out the Lakers in Game 5 with clutch fourth-quarter jumpers. Pippen hounded Magic Johnson throughout. ("I just tried to work him, force him to be more of a left-hand ballhandler where he wasn't the playmaker. Slow him down, take him out of their transition game," Pippen recalled.)
And the rest is Chicago sports history.
"I'm hoping this night reminds all our fans how special this was because this was our first," Paxson said. "I remember the energy from the fans when we won that year. It was really special. People not only embraced Michael but also the team. In all the other sports in Chicago, only the Bears had won in '86 and not much else had happened in the city before that for a long period of time. So winning was pretty special. There are a lot of Bulls fans out there now who are fans for life because of us winning that championship."
Just ask Will Perdue.
"Just a few days ago in Miami, I had people come up to me and say, 'Will Perdue. John Whoever. I used to love going to Chicago Stadium and buy standing room tickets. You put so much enjoyment in my life. I just want to thank you for that and tell you how much fun I had back in those days.'" Perdue recalled. "And you're like, 'Damn!' The impact it still has is amazing."
Grant, who also won a title with the Lakers, has had similar experiences over the years.
"Chicago has some of the most electrifying and passionate fans in the world," Grant said. "They understand what we accomplished is so difficult. They respected the hard work, the togetherness that we had. Each and every one of the guys who stepped on the court gave it everything he had. The fans appreciated that.
"Fifty years from now, they're still going to respect what we did as a team. That's never going to go away."
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The Bulls celebrate after beating the Lakers. (Tribune file photo)