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After answering every bell for the Chicago Bulls this season, including the ultimate one that tolled for the Lakers in Los Angeles last week, Michael Jordan was apologetic for getting a late start on the first day of his summer vacation. "Alarm clock malfunction," said Jordan last Saturday morning, sliding into a booth at a restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, not far from Jordan's home. "Can you believe I missed my first tee time? The official beginning of the golf season?" He shook his head in amazement.
Jordan was scheduled to play a second round that afternoon at one o'clock, and his breakfast companion suggested that maybe, just maybe, he was too tired for 36 holes, considering the events of the preceding few days: an NBA championship on Wednesday followed by an all-night victory party in Los Angeles, a mini-homecoming ceremony on his lawn on Thursday, a motorcade and rally in downtown Chicago on Friday and an overall emotional catharsis that, in scope and intensity, surprised even Jordan.
"Too tired for golf?" said Jordan on Saturday, genuinely perplexed. "You're kidding, right?"
And so this is Michael Jeffrey Jordan in late spring of 1991—an indefatigable 28-year-old still enchanted with games. But he is somehow different, somehow transformed. The Bulls' first NBA title, secured with a 108-101 victory over the Lakers in Game 5 of the Finals at The Forum, didn't earn for Jordan—as it did for such teammates as Scottie Pip-pen, Horace Grant and John Paxson—much more fame. Jordan has had an astounding measure of that since he came into the NBA in 1984. Neither will the title do much for his bank account, as it will for Pippen's; last Friday Pippen received a five-year contract extension worth $18 million. Jordan will average about $3.7 million per year from the Bulls over the next five years (undoubtedly the best deal for a franchise in all of sport), and his earning power off the court (in excess of $10 million a year) defies credulity. He says he expects to reduce, not increase, his off-the-court commitments.
"The difference," said Jordan, tapping his chest, "is in here."
This feeling of inner peace means no more moments of doubt, however fleeting, no more wondering if he was a true winner like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird or Julius Erving, all of whom have played on teams that won NBA titles. "I think people will now feel it's O.K. to put me in the category of players like Magic," said Jordan, pushing around waffles on his plate. "Personally, I always felt that in terms of intensity and unselfishness, I played like those type of players. Some people saw that, but many others didn't. And the championship, in the minds of a lot of people, is a sign of, well, greatness. I guess they can say that about me now."
It would be hard to say anything less after Jordan's masterly performance throughout the five games of the Finals, the last four of which were Chicago victories. He scored with metronomic consistency, averaging 31.2 points—a 36-point effort in Game 1 was his high, a 28-point night in Game 4 his low—and a .558 shooting percentage from the floor. (By contrast, Magic, who recognizes a good shot better than anyone, averaged 18.6 points and .431.) Jordan also averaged 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocked shots. And his energetic defensive play, along with that of Pippen and Grant, the other two members of what assistant coach Johnny Bach calls the Wild Bunch, was the key to the series.
In sum, Jordan turned in what was probably the finest all-around performance in a five-game Finals series, of which there have been 11 in NBA history. Jerry West, for example, had more points (33.8 average) in the five-game 1965 Finals between his Lakers and the Celtics, but Jordan set five-game records for assists (57 to Bob Cousy's 53 in 1961) and steals (14 to Terry Porter's 10 in 1990). And few guards have grabbed more rebounds, Magic being one of them: He got 40 rebounds in the series to Jordan's 33. When NBA officials collected the ballots for MVP near the end of Game 5, several members of the media asked, "Are you serious?" Jordan won unanimously.
The Bulls were also helped by a sound game plan. Coach Phil Jackson sniffed out the Lakers' true weakness—the lack of a penetrator who can consistently break down the defense off the dribble—and massed his defensive strength to double-and sometimes triple-team L.A.'s post-up players. The Lakers could muster no counterpunch, and time after time they mindlessly threw the ball into the post, only to have Sam Perkins, James Worthy or Vlade Divac—their vision "occluded," as Bach put it, by the pressure—dribble frantically out to the corner, taking precious seconds off the 24-second clock. L.A. coach Mike Dunleavy finally confused the Bulls somewhat by giving playing time to the young and talented Elden Campbell and Tony Smith in Game 5, but that strategy was more or less forced upon him by injuries to Worthy and Byron Scott. There is no doubt that the Lakers, in contrast to the healthy Bulls, were tired and somewhat battered after an enervating six-game Western Conference final against the Portland Trail Blazers. But there is also no doubt that Jackson decisively outcoached Dunleavy when it counted.
Best of all for the Bulls, Jordan's performance, while sometimes show-stopping, was never showy. (Well, ignore, if you can, the moment late in Game 5 when he blindly tossed in a 12-foot bank shot over his shoulder as he walked to the foul line.) That gave plenty of room for the talents of Pippen, who scored a game-high 32 points in the clincher, and Paxson, who shot a remarkable .653 from the field for the series, mostly on radarlike jumpers from the perimeter. In Game 5, Paxson broke the game open when he scored 10 points in the final four minutes, mostly on long, clutch jumpers. Grant, a gutty power forward in a small forward's body, epitomized the Bulls' team effort; he didn't attempt a single bad shot in five games and averaged an economical 14.6 points on .627 shooting. No wonder the Bulls' .527 team shooting percentage tied the 1989 Pistons for the best in NBA Finals history. And no wonder Jordan insisted that the other four starters, Pippen, Grant, Paxson and center Bill Cartwright, be included in the now traditional "I'm Going to Disney World" commercial filmed shortly after Game 5, for which they divided $100,000.