Michael Jordan: Bulls look title-ready
"You guys are in store for a lot of other championships," he said during a brief speech at halftime of the Jazz-Bulls game Saturday night. "You look at this team tonight. Don't be surprised if you don't have six more coming."
Jordan, who was in town for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Bulls' first ever championship team, had even more positive things to say during a short session with the media after the ceremony. He thinks the Bulls, and specifically point guard Derrick Rose, will win a title in less than the seven years it took Jordan to win one.
"I was just talking to [Bulls executive vice president John Paxson] and the guys upstairs. You guys could be the best team in the East if you play the type of basketball you've been playing," Jordan said. "No, I don't think it's going to take them seven years to win. I hope not. They've got a good balanced team. Once again, I think they've got the MVP of the league [in Rose]. I think that kid has come into his own. He's matured quite a bit.
"When he came into the league, everybody said he had speed, he could get to the rim, but he can't shoot. Now he can shoot. The 3 as well as pull-up shots. He has very few flaws. I'm pretty sure the next thing [critics] will say is that he doesn't play good defense, [or] he can't handle a double-team. Time will tell. The kid works hard and I think he's a great piece for this franchise to rebuild with. They've got some other pieces that help them quite a bit in the East. ... Everybody's talking about Boston, everybody's talking about Miami or Orlando, you tend to forget about Chicago. ... You're going to have a lot of work on your hands."
Bulls forward Luol Deng was honored by Jordan's praise.
"It's great for him to say that," Deng said. "What they did is one of the greatest things in sports, and just for us to be a part of the same organization, and to have a team that they see that's capable of doing that, says a lot about just the year that we had and the guys that we have here. We've still got a lot of work to do. I don't think we're where we need to be. We're definitely not even close to where they were as a team, but we're tying to get there."
Hall of Famers Jordan and Scottie Pippen along with some teammates and coaches were on hand for a halftime ceremony, reliving their past glory.
There was Jordan dunking over Patrick Ewing again. Pippen was wreaking havoc on both ends, John Paxson was nailing jumpers, the Pistons were hurrying off the court and the Bulls were hoisting the trophy, drenched in champagne after knocking off the Lakers.
It was all there during a video set to Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" that kicked off the festivities.
Former Bulls broadcaster Jim Durham served as the master of ceremonies, and there were loud cheers as each player was introduced, starting with Dennis Hopson. Horace Grant and Paxson each received a nice ovation.
Jprdan received a raucous standing ovation from the almost 23,000 in attendance.
"Before he even spoke, before he even said anything, you could just feel it in the building," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "And I felt like it was just really special to be able to see that. Twenty years later, the reception that Mike gets, he can't even two words across without the crowd ... the crowd was just going crazy. It was a special moment. To see all those guys together, it just shows what winning a championship is all about and it's a beautiful thing."
The anniversary celebration clearly touched Jordan.
"There's some guys I haven't seen in a while," he said. "Dennis Hopson, I haven't seen since 1991. For us to reunite, tell about old stories, brings back a lot of great memories. I wish we could turn the clock back. That's how I feel. But Father Time's coming, touches everybody. You've got to deal with the cards that you have. I miss it. I miss it."
Fans just about came unglued when Pippen was introduced. In his address to the crowd, Pippen thanked the organization for bringing "back a memory that we all want to live again just one more time."
"This is very special for us," he said.
As he stood in the bowels of the United Center, Jordan also noted just how much he misses the old Chicago Stadium.
"Oh, the first stadium," he said. "I had an autograph signing this morning and I signed parts of the old Stadium floor which brought back a lot of great memories. Ironic that it happened today, but this is a beautiful place here. What was more beautiful was it's the Chicago Stadium, and the home-court advantage we had back in the day. We can sit here and reminisce all day long. To me, it's unbelievable. I'm glad I had the opportunity to spend time here and make my career here. The fans are very, very enduring, in terms of hard work and effort we put on the floor. I played for them. As much as I played for myself, I played for the fans [of] Chicago."
Several key members of the first championship team were absent on Saturday, most notably Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause. In a taped message, Jackson said the clinching win was "truly an exciting moment for all of us" and was "just the start of something big."
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.