Dorfman: 1991, The First Time Was The Best
By Daniel I. Dorfman–
It is easy to think of the Bulls championship in 1991 as a start since it was the first of a glorious six title in eight season run. It is hard to believe there will ever be a dynasty like that ever again in sports, much less the NBA. But as much as 1991 marked a beginning, in so many ways both good and bad – it was also an end.
Saturday night the Bulls will celebrate their first title. It will give the United Center crowd a chance to remember that dominating season which culminated on June 12, 1991 when the Bulls closed out the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. Despite over 7,000 days passing since then, the memories are still vivid. There was John Paxson knocking down one jumper after another to seal the victory, Jack Nicholson shaking hands with Phil Jackson, Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen locked arm in arm in celebration and the most iconic image of all: a quivering Michael Jordan sitting in the locker room clutching the trophy with his father James putting his arm around him.
It was the culmination of a terrific season that after a troubling 0-3 start finally saw the Bulls reach the mountaintop after so many close calls and lingering doubt. As sweet as the triumph over the Lakers was, the Eastern Conference Final sweep of the “Bad Boys” Pistons was almost sweeter. After three straight years of coming up short to the hated and dirty Pistons, the Bulls had finally matured enough to get rid of them once and for all. Most remember Isaiah Thomas leading most – if not all – of his teammates off the court without shaking hands, but my favorite memory of that series came in Game 2 as the Bulls were blowing out the Pistons and coach Chuck Daly was changing the lineup seemingly at every clock stoppage in a futile attempt to change momentum. “HE’S FISHING, HE’S FISHING!!!,” screamed Johnny “Red” Kerr. It was like seeing the school bully take a punch to the gut knowing he would never bother you again.
Still, there is a strange sense of melancholy regarding the 1991 season, as the feeling was never quite the same for the resulting championships.
It would be absurd to say it was all downhill after 1991. Five championships that changed the city’s worldwide image were marvelous. While the trophies came in, out the door went the notion of Chicago teams failing big time in the playoffs began to fade away. At that point, Chicago sports may not have been the graveyard as they had been the late 70s, but the trophy cases still remained pretty bare. The Bears Super Bowl XX title was the city’s sole title since 1963 (before you yell at me Lee Stern, yes I know the Sting won soccer titles in 1981 and 1984) and even that was scarred by the subsequent three home playoff losses and the what-might-have-been feeling that still exists about that team to this day.
Moreover, the 1991 Bulls along with the rest of the city had just witnessed their Chicago Stadium co-tenants; the Blackhawks lead the NHL in points in the regular season and then embarrassingly lose in the first round of the playoffs. Notwithstanding the Cubs and the preposterous idea of a curse, what the Bulls did in that 15-2 run was mortally wound a silly stigma hovering over Chicago teams.
But soon things changed and maybe the world of the Bulls wasn’t worse, but it was certainly different.
Within a few weeks, Jim Durham was gone as the team’s announcer. All these years later, I still yearn to hear a “Rimming, NO!” when watching a game. Later on in 1991, Sam Smith’s The Jordan Rules aired out some of the team’s dirty laundry.
And both on and off the court the resulting championships had a different tint to them.
While we got a scare when Sam Perkins knocked down the three to capture Game 1 of the Finals for the Lakers, but the championship seemed inevitable and it was. In 1992 and 1993, there was doubt and frustration at times as the Knicks, Blazers and Suns provided challenges in different ways.
But more disturbingly was what occurred away from the court as titles 2-6 were acquired. Championships in 1992 and 1993 were marred by the idiots who looted Chicago’s streets and Michael Jordan’s gambling habits came into question and were a constant sideshow.
And as for the second threepeat, it was always a matter of whether Phil Jackson and the rest of the team would return the following season. It was a soap opera that got as tiresome as Charlie Sheen talk is today.
Perhaps it is naïve to think of the 1991 championship as innocent. But maybe the better words are unencumbered and refreshingly drama free.
So on Saturday night when we watch the halftime ceremony, it is virtually certain there will be some thoughts about whether Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and the rest of the 2011 team will be receiving a championship title from NBA Commissioner David Stern? And if that is achieved, will it feel as good as 1991?
Do you agree with Daniel? Post your comments below.
Daniel I. Dorfman is a local freelance writer who has written and reported for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe among many other nationally prominent broadcast, online and print media organizations. He is also a researcher for 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDorfman.