1991 NBA Finals
|Announcers:||Marv Albert and Mike Fratello|
|Game 1: Hugh Evans, Jack Madden, Hue Hollins|
|Game 2: Jake O'Donnell, Jess Kersey, Mike Mathis|
|Game 3: Darell Garretson, Joe Crawford, Bill Oakes|
|Game 4: Hugh Evans, Ed T. Rush, Dick Bavetta|
|Game 5: Jake O'Donnell, Jack Madden, Mike Mathis|
|Hall of Famers:||Magic Johnson (2002)
James Worthy (2003)
Michael Jordan (2009)
Scottie Pippen (2010)
Phil Jackson (2007)
Tex Winter (2011)
|Eastern Finals:||Bulls defeat Pistons, 4-0|
|Western Finals:||Lakers defeat Trail Blazers, 4-2|
The documentary "Learning to Fly" recaps Chicago's successful first championship season, narrated by Jeff Kaye (who is also the narrator for NFL Films). The theme song is "Learning to Fly" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The Chicago Bulls of the Eastern Conference took on the Los Angeles Lakers of the Western Conference for the title, with Chicago having home court advantage. This Finals was Michael Jordan's first NBA Finals appearance, Magic Johnson's last one, and the last NBA Finals trip of the Lakers until 2000. The Bulls would win the series 4-1. Jordan averaged 31.2 points on 56% shooting, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks en route to his first NBA Finals MVP Award.
The finals series was Jim Durham's only appearance as the Bulls' radio announcer (he also announced Bulls games on television via simulcast during the regular season and playoffs). He would later announce several NBA Finals games on ESPN Radio. Neil Funk succeeded Durham the following season and was the radio voice on five NBA Finals involving the Bulls (1992, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998). The simulcasts would also end after the season, with Wayne Larrivee (on WGN-TV) and Tom Dore (on cable) becoming the Bulls' television announcers the next season; since the 2008–09 NBA season Funk is calling television play-by-play on both networks while Chuck Swirsky is calling radio play-by-play.
The series wasn't the first time that the Bulls and Lakers faced off in the playoffs. Prior to 1991, they met for four postseason series (1968, 1971, 1972 and 1973), all Lakers victories. Chicago was a member of the Western Conference at the time and moved into the East in 1981. The 1991 Finals marked the first time the Bulls defeated the Lakers in a playoff series. It also helped vindicate the former Bulls players who played against the Lakers during the period; namely Norm Van Lier, Jerry Sloan, Bob Love and Tom Boerwinkle, who lost against Laker teams led by Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
This series would mark the end of the Lakers Showtime era and the beginning of the Bulls' dynasty. After winning five championships in eight finals appearances in the 1980s, the Lakers would struggle for the rest of the 1990s before returning to glory again in the late 90's and 2000s (decade) with four championships beginning the 1999-2000 season, as well as a title in 2009-10, ending the 2000s decade. The Lakers were led by Johnson, already into his thirties as was fellow All-Star James Worthy; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had retired two seasons earlier. As for the Bulls, led by MVP Michael Jordan and superstar Scottie Pippen, they would win five more championships in a seven-year span cementing their status as a dynasty before struggling badly in a post-MJ era that saw them take several years to even become average, though they have recently regained their status as one of the NBA's best teams.
When it was all said and done, Michael Jordan became only the third man in NBA history (after George Mikan and Abdul-Jabbar to capture the scoring title and the NBA Finals Championship in the same season.
As of 2012, the Bulls were the last team to win an NBA championship despite fielding a full roster lacking in championship or Finals experience. None of the Bulls players had logged even a minute of NBA Finals experience prior to this.
The Road to the Finals: The Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons had several hard-fought, bitter encounters during the late 1980s and early 1990s. During that time, no team had an answer for Jordan defensively until the advent of the "Bad Boy" Pistons, named for their physical, confrontational tactics. Pistons coach Chuck Daly developed a specific strategy that he called "The Jordan Rules", detailing how to stop the league's most prolific scorer. Detroit's main protagonists of this style of play were Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer, known respectively as "The Worm" and "The Prince of Darkness" in some NBA arenas. There were many punches thrown, obscenities exchanged and all-around mayhem between the two teams during their rivalry.
In 1988, after finally ousting the Boston Celtics as the best in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in seven games before sweeping them for the title in 1989, and defeating the Portland Trail Blazers to repeat in 1990.
The 1988-89 season marked a second straight year of major off-season moves (after making noise by winning 50 games in the regular season before losing to the Pistons in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals) for the Chicago Bulls. Popular power forward Charles Oakley, who had led the league in total rebounds in both 1987 and 1988, was traded to the New York Knicks for center Bill Cartwright and a draft pick which they used on center Will Perdue. The new starting lineup of John Paxson, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Bill Cartwright took some time to mesh, winning fewer games than the previous season, but making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were subdued in six games by the eventual NBA champion Pistons.
In 1989-90, Jordan led the league in scoring for the fourth straight season, and was joined on the All-Star squad for the first time by Scottie Pippen. There was also a major change on the sidelines, where Doug Collins was replaced by assistant Phil Jackson, a specialist in the triangle offense. The Bulls also picked up rookie center Stacey King and rookie point guard B.J. Armstrong in the 1989 draft. With these additional pieces and the previous year's starting five, the Bulls again made it to the Conference Finals, and pushed the Pistons to seven games before being edged out for the third straight year by Detroit.
By the 1990-91 season, the Bulls were tired of falling short and finally found the right balance of role players around Michael Jordan's superstardom, as well as seeing Pippen make a leap from good to greatness. In 1991, the rivalry climaxed when the Bulls swept the Pistons out of the Conference Finals, in which the Pistons, in their last show of defiance, walked off the court with :08 left on the clock in a blowout loss at home so as not to congratulate the new Eastern Conference Champions, though Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, and John Salley did remain to shake the Bulls' hands.
The Road to the Finals: The Los Angeles Lakers
Also in the 1989-90 season, Magic Johnson became the all-time assist leader, surpassing Oscar Robertson. The Los Angeles Lakers' first-year coach, Mike Dunleavy, Sr. (who succeeded Pat Riley) was able to take them to the Finals. The year before, the Lakers seemed to adapt well to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's absence. New center Vlade Divac helped the team to a 63-win season and their ninth consecutive division title, and Magic took another MVP award. However, the Phoenix Suns had their number that year in the playoffs.
In the 1990-91 season, the Portland Trail Blazers (the defending Western Conference champions) posted a 63-19 record—the best in the league and the best in franchise history. They ended the Lakers' nine-year reign over the Pacific Division and won home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They easily dispatched their first two opponents in the playoffs; but the season ended in heartbreak when the Lakers defeated the Blazers 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers narrowly won Game 1 on the road, but the home teams took each succeeding game, culminating in a Game 6 victory at home for the Lakers.
How They Got Here
|Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference Champion)||Chicago Bulls (Eastern Conference Champion)|
3rd seed in the West, 3rd best league record
1st seed in the East, 2nd best league record
|Defeated the (6) Houston Rockets, 3–0||First Round||Defeated the (8) New York Knicks, 3–0|
|Defeated the (7) Golden State Warriors, 4–1||Conference Semifinals||Defeated the (5) Philadelphia 76ers, 4–1|
|Defeated the (1) Portland Trail Blazers, 4–2||Conference Finals||Defeated the (3) Detroit Pistons, 4–0|
Regular season series
Both teams split the two meetings, each won by the home team:
February 3, 1991
|Chicago Bulls 86, Los Angeles Lakers 99|
|Game||Date||Home Team||Result||Road Team|
|Game 1||Sunday, June 2||Chicago Bulls||91-93 (0-1)||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Game 2||Wednesday, June 5||Chicago Bulls||107-86 (1-1)||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Game 3||Friday, June 7||Los Angeles Lakers||96-104 OT (1-2)||Chicago Bulls|
|Game 4||Sunday, June 9||Los Angeles Lakers||82-97 (1-3)||Chicago Bulls|
|Game 5||Wednesday, June 12||Los Angeles Lakers||101-108 (1-4)||Chicago Bulls|
3:30 pm EDT
|Los Angeles Lakers 93, Chicago Bulls 91|
|Scoring by quarter: 29–30, 22–23, 24–15, 18–23|
|Pts: Perkins, Worthy 22 each
Rebs: Vlade Divac 14
Asts: Magic Johnson 11
|Pts: Michael Jordan 36
Rebs: Horace Grant 10
Asts: Michael Jordan 12
|Los Angeles lead the series, 1–0|
Michael Jordan started dominating with 15 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists in the first quarter alone. In the second quarter, the Lakers continued to stay competitive despite Magic Johnson not attempting one field goal in the second quarter. Despite this, Magic Johnson would hit back-to-back 3 pointers in the third period to give the Lakers their largest lead, and also Magic Johnson's 29th career playoff triple-double. Jordan made a comeback in the fourth quarter with 13 points, but it was Scottie Pippen's two free throws that would give the Bulls a 91-89 lead. Each team ran the shot clock down but neither could hit a shot until Sam Perkins hit a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to give the Lakers a 92-91 lead. Michael Jordan's 17-foot jumper then rattled out, and Byron Scott hit one of two free throws. The Bulls, unfortunately, were out of time outs so all they could manage was a 50-foot heave by Pippen that went off the back of the rim.
This was also the last Sunday NBA Finals game aired at 3:30pm ET/12:30pm PT.
9:00 pm EDT
|Los Angeles Lakers 86, Chicago Bulls 107|
|Scoring by quarter: 23–28, 20–20, 26–38, 17–21|
|Pts: James Worthy 24
Rebs: Green, Johnson 7 each
Asts: Magic Johnson 10
|Pts: Michael Jordan 33
Rebs: Jordan, Perdue 7 each
Asts: Michael Jordan 13
|Series tied, 1–1|
The biggest decision of the game was putting Scottie Pippen on Magic Johnson, while Michael Jordan guarded Vlade Divac. This proved to be effective as Scottie Pippen stopped Magic from "going off" keeping him to only 14 points and 10 assists. For the Bulls, the hero was Horace Grant who led the Bulls with 14 first half points, while Jordan only had 2 points for the first 20 minutes; however, for Jordan, this shooting drought would only prove to be temporary and Jordan would hit his next 13 shots in compensation. The Lakers were in the game even when Chicago was leading 58-51 until Byron Scott fouled Pippen, and the Bulls would make 17 of their next 20 field goals in the third quarter despite Jordan spending time on the bench with foul trouble. By the time Jordan returned, their lead was 16 and then Jordan led the Bulls to a 11-0 run to a Bulls victory. The most legendary moment in the game came when Jordan accelerated towards the basket, raised the ball in his right hand, then switched over his left and tossed in a layup that caused a booming standing ovation at Chicago Stadium.
9:00 pm EDT
|Chicago Bulls 104, Los Angeles Lakers 96 (OT)|
|Scoring by quarter: 25–25, 23–22, 18–25, 26–20, OT: 12–4|
|Pts: Michael Jordan 29
Rebs: Scottie Pippen 13
Asts: Michael Jordan 9
|Pts: Sam Perkins 25
Rebs: Sam Perkins 9
Asts: Magic Johnson 10
|Chicago lead the series, 2–1|
The Bulls were having trouble in the frontcourt (in Game 1, the Lakers frontcourt outscored Chicago's 60-31). In Game 3, the Lakers would be the ones having trouble, setting a rebounding low in the Finals. Despite this problem, the Lakers went for an 18-2 run that brought them from 3 down (49-52) to 13 up (67-54). The Bulls would answer with a 20-7 run that would tie the game in the 4th quarter at 74. Horace Grant's layup gave the Bulls a 3-point lead with 1:07 to play, while Perkins then scored to cut the lead to 1 with 0:39 left. Vlade would then go for a layup, only to be fouled and give the Lakers a 2-point lead. Michael then went up and shot a 2 point field goal to tie the game. In overtime, Jordan would score half of the Bulls 12 points to win the game.
7:00 pm EDT
|Chicago Bulls 97, Los Angeles Lakers 82|
|Scoring by quarter: 27–28, 25–16, 22–14, 23–24|
|Pts: Michael Jordan 28
Rebs: Scottie Pippen 9
Asts: Michael Jordan 13
|Pts: Vlade Divac 27
Rebs: Vlade Divac 11
Asts: Magic Johnson 11
|Chicago lead the series, 3–1|
The Lakers had a 28-27 lead in the first quarter; only the second time in the 1991 playoffs that a team led the Bulls at the end of the first quarter. This did not matter as Chicago went on a 19-9 run to start the second period and gain a 46-37 lead. While Michael Jordan scored 11 points in the second quarter, the Lakers only made 12 of their 41 shots in the second and third quarters. The Lakers faced a huge blow as Worthy and Scott left the game (and eventually the series) with ankle and shoulder injuries, respectively. With the lack of Worthy and Scott, and bad shooting (especially from Sam Perkins), the Bulls were able to take a 16-point lead in the third quarter. The Lakers refused to go down and brought the deficit to 7 points in the fourth quarter, but that is the closest they would get, as Pippen and Jordan led the Bulls to a 19-8 run to put them one game to the NBA Championship.
9:00 pm EDT
|Chicago Bulls 108, Los Angeles Lakers 101|
|Scoring by quarter: 27–25, 21–24, 32–31, 28–21|
|Pts: Scottie Pippen 32
Rebs: Scottie Pippen 13
Asts: Michael Jordan 10
|Pts: Sam Perkins 22
Rebs: Magic Johnson 11
Asts: Magic Johnson 20
|Chicago wins the series, 4–1|
The Lakers were facing elimination, and the absences of James Worthy and Byron Scott were not any help to the Lakers. This would not stop Magic Johnson as Johnson had 20 assists in the game. Elden Campbell outscored Michael Jordan with 13 points in the first half. The Lakers still fought and even led 93-90 in the fourth quarter, but the Bulls went on a 9-0 run, and Paxson's 10 points in the final half of the fourth quarter helped secure the Chicago Bulls', and Michael Jordan's, first NBA title. This was the last NBA Finals game to be played in The Forum; by the time the Lakers returned to an NBA Finals they had moved to the new Staples Center.
The Bulls championship started the dynasty that lasted through the 1990s. In the 1991-92 NBA season the Bulls won their second straight NBA title, winning a then-franchise record 67 wins and defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in six games of the 1992 NBA Finals. The Chicago Blackhawks played for the Stanley Cup at the same time the Bulls won this championship, but were swept by the defending champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Lakers' Showtime era would end in 7 November 1991, as Magic Johnson announced his retirement due to the HIV virus. He did, however, play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game and eventually with the Dream Team in the 1992 Summer Olympics. The Lakers would decline in the years following Magic's retirement, being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs two straight years (1992 - 1993) before missing the playoffs entirely in 1994. It would be nine years before the Lakers returned to the NBA Finals; by then they have moved to the Staples Center, marking the 1991 Finals the last to be held at the Forum.
This was the only NBA Finals series in which recently departed Lakers coach Pat Riley worked as a broadcaster; he was paired with Bob Costas in the pre-game, half-time and post-game presentations. Riley was then hired as head coach by the New York Knicks in the 1991 offseason. This was also the only one of the Bulls' six finals appearances to end in an outcome other than four games to two.
- Michael Jordan 1990-91 NBA Finals, basketball-reference.com, accessed April 26, 2009.
- Vincent Goodwill (2010-07-01). "Ex-Piston Isiah Thomas regrets snub of Bulls in '91". The Detroit News. Retrieved 2010-07-01.