The Sonics may have lost the series, but they entered the playoffs with the rap of being chokers and underachievers and left having earned a reputation as a resilient, gallant group. No one did more to improve his image than Kemp, who did a bit of public speaking that changed the Sonics' mood after the Bulls had rolled over them in the first three games. At a media session the day after Seattle's abysmal performance in Game 3, a 108-86 loss at home, Kemp lashed out at his teammates, accusing them of having given up and implying that they would be cowards if they allowed the Bulls to "beat us and kick our butts."
In past years Kemp's words might have divided the Sonics even more. This time his diatribe galvanized them. "I thought it was just the right statement," guard Nate McMillan said after the Sonics' 89-78 victory in Game 5. "A lot of times you don't want to criticize your teammates, but sometimes it can help if it's said at the right time and it comes from the right person."
For Kemp it is finally the right time, and he has become the right person. Known in the past for his ability to make spectacular dunks and miss just about everything else—especially team flights and clutch shots—Kemp has matured both on and off the court. Through the first five games of the series, in contrast to the in-and-out performances of guard Gary Payton and front-courtmen Sam Perkins and Detlef Schrempf, Kemp was the Sonics' most consistent player, stroking an unerring medium-range jump shot that is a relatively recent addition to his repertoire. And some other elite big men who were more like brick men at the foul line in this postseason (the Orlando Magic's Shaquille O'Neal and the Utah Jazz's Karl Malone, this means you) should take note that the 6'10" Kemp was 42 of 49 (85.7%) from the line in the Finals.
Kemp also showed admirable self-control in his dealings with the annoying Rodman, and the other Sonics followed his lead. It was no coincidence that Rodman, who had 14 rebounds in Game 4 (a 107-86 Sonics win) and 12 in Game 5, wasn't nearly the factor on those occasions that he had been in the first three games. There was no better indication of how the tables had turned than the sight of Seattle front-courtman Frank Brickowski, the chief victim of Rodman's baiting in the first three games, applying the needle in return after Game 5. "I thought Dennis Rodman was kind of yelling at his teammates, which was disrespectful as far as I'm concerned," Brickowski said. "We were glad to see that. He did that with San Antonio last year, and he's starting to do it now."
It must have been particularly galling for Rodman to hear the lyrics of a song from his favorite band, Pearl Jam, blaring in Key Arena after Game 5: "I'm Still Alive." No one who saw the first three games thought those words would still apply to the Sonics two games later, so it was hard to blame the Bulls for thinking that they should have been returning to Chicago not for Game 6 but for the traditional championship celebration in Grant Park. Most of the questions the Bulls had fielded after Game 3 dealt with their ranking among the greatest teams in history. If you hadn't known better, you might have thought Game 4 was to be against the 1971-72 Lakers instead of the '95-96 Sonics.
After the two losses in Seattle, the Bulls were determined to avoid tempting fate again in Game 6. Following Chicago's win, someone asked guard Steve Kerr's wife, Margot, where the players would be celebrating that night. "I don't know," she said. "Nobody wanted to plan anything, because we did so much planning in Seattle." But no planning was necessary. The Bulls could have stayed all night in the United Center, where their delirious fans were turning the arena into the biggest juke joint in the city. As Jordan held the championship trophy, there was a feeling that it belonged nowhere but in his arms, that he had just rented it out to the Houston Rockets the last two seasons. The championship was back, as the old blues song has it, in its sweet home, Chicago.