Adam Fluck at Bulls.com spoke with Phil Jackson about his first season with the Bulls, Chicago’s rise to the top, the Kobe versus Michael debate, and more. Here’s a snippet:
For Jackson, Jordan’s defining moment came during the team’s first championship run in 1991. After losing the series opener in Chicago, the Bulls won four straight games to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1, in the Finals. During the fifth and deciding game, the Bulls faced a resilient Lakers team on their homecourt.
“We got stalled,” he recalled. “The Lakers were damn sure that Michael wasn’t going to beat them and stacked their defense against him. When I called a timeout, we talked a little bit about it on the bench. I asked him to tell me who was open because of how they were crowding him. He said Paxson. He knew it. I said, ‘OK,’ and that’s all I had to say.”
Jordan promptly fed Paxson for several jump shots, who connected on four-of-five down the stretch and finished with 20 points in 33 minutes.
“He was content to know that he was going to beat this team by being the provocateur and setting up his teammates,” Jackson said. “That was the defining moment, his transition from being a great scorer to learning how to beat teams without having to score. He knew we’d win championships because of it. It was a changing moment for him.”
Also on Bulls.com, Sam Smith looks back on MJ’s record-setting sophomore season:
There’s always much commotion made of basketball in Madison Square Garden, but that was a half century before when it was the premier arena with the biggest games. The National Invitational Tournament in New York in March was bigger than the NCAA tournament in March played in smaller venues around the country. But the Knicks, other than a brief revival in the early 1970s with two championships, had consistently been a miserable, losing franchise, and the Garden stunk. Literally. There always seemed to be a smell of a past circus hanging there, an unappreciative, angry fan base and one of the oldest, least appealing arenas in the NBA. Still, it was New York, and the massive media there insisted it was special. They always did have one good idea going there by darkening the stands so the lighted court stands out. It emphasized the spotlight aspect, which always appealed to Jordan’s competitiveness.
So Jordan opened the season with a statement for the NBA: I’m here to stay!
Jordan scored 50 points, along with three blocks and four steals, making 20-of-22 free throws against the baffled Knicks, as the Bulls with new coach Doug Collins opened with a 108-103 win. Late in the game, the Knicks had come from behind to take a 90-85 lead. Jordan walked by Collins after the timeout huddle and said, “Don’t worry coach. I’m not going to let you lose your first game.” Jordan scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and clinched the game with a driving layup with 22 seconds left against a triple team.
They went to Cleveland on the way home and Jordan scored 41 points and added eight rebounds and four blocks.
There hadn’t been anything like this since Wilt.
Plus, Jordan was doing it in spectacular, theatric fashion with double pump, hanging, 360-degree layups and flying slam dunks. Bulls assistant Tex Winter, who had helped develop the famous triangle offense and had been a student of the game for 40 years, admitted Jordan’s play was making him reevaluate his concepts about the game because he’d never seen anything like this. And Tex had coached against Wilt while coaching Kansas State and beat Wilt’s Kansas team in 1958 for the conference title.