A Celtics friend of mine is livid right now and blames "all those little kids who voted."
Yes, Michael Jordan and the Bulls barely edged out the Celtics in the fan voting to reach the finals of our NBA's all-time greatest roster tournament. Surprising? Maybe, except when you consider the "MJ factor."
The Lakers ran past Houston's towering front line to meet the Bulls. What would happen in a seven-game series with these dream rosters? Let's imagine how the games would have played out
Games 1 through 6
Every star in L.A. wanted a ticket for this series -- even Billy Crystal ditched his beloved Clippers to get a second-row seat behind Jack. Dyan Cannon admitted to spending $10,000 on eBay for one ticket in the eighth row behind the basket.
With the crowd rocking the Staples Center, the Lakers were a finely oiled machine in the opener, with Magic feeding Shaq and Kareem down low and dishing to Kobe, Worthy and Elgin Baylor on the break. The Bulls, known for their great defense, were perhaps a bit tired after their grueling upset of the Celtics. The Lakers scored 42 in the first quarter, had 80 at halftime -- and then went to their bench. Jerry West and Gail Goodrich each hit five 3's in the second half. Despite Jordan's 48 points, it was ugly: Lakers 147, Bulls 112.
In Game 2, Magic didn't take one shot -- he didn't have to; he finished with 29 assists, as Kareem and Shaq each tallied 30 points, Baylor scored 25 and Kobe and West each added 20. Jordan once again finished with 48, but the Lakers cruised to a 135-109 victory.
With the series headed back to Chicago, Phil Jackson challenged his team to play better defense -- specifically, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman and Artis Gilmore, who had been getting killed inside. He also moved Scottie Pippen into the backcourt alongside Jordan, told Pippen to hound Magic all game long, and put Bob Love into the starting lineup.
The changes seemed to be working with the Lakers holding a slim 56-54 lead in the third quarter when Rodman lost his cool after Shaq bumped him out of bounds fighting for a rebound. Rodman charged Shaq, who dismissed the pink-headed one with a quick shove to the forehead. Rodman and Shaq were both ejected, but Kareem took over in the fourth quarter, nailing four straight skyhooks over Gilmore, and Magic and West hit 10 straight free throws in the final minute to secure L.A.'s 108-104 victory.
With the Bulls trying to avoid the sweep, Shaq and Rodman were both suspended for Game 4; unfortunately for the Lakers, Kareem came down with a migraine and never left his hotel room. The Lakers moved Magic to center and while Magic finished with a triple-double (14 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists), he couldn't stop Gilmore, who scored 37. Jordan and Pippen held down Kobe and West and Chicago had a 116-103 victory.
On the off day before Game 5, Shaq responded that it's no surprise the Lakers lost without him, since it's his team.
When a reporter then confronted Kobe about those comments, Bryant responded, "There's more to life than whose team this is. But this is his team, so it's time for him to act like it. That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape, when your team is relying on your leadership on and off the court. It also means no more blaming others for our team's failure, or blaming staff members for not overdramatizing your injuries so that you avoid blame for your lack of conditioning."
Shaq refused to play in Game 5, saying he couldn't play with Kobe any longer. Even Magic couldn't hold the team together. Jordan scored 55 (Kobe got benched for his lackluster defense), a rejuvenated Rodman pulled down 23 rebounds and Jordan hit a last-second jumper over West for a 109-107 victory.
Shaq returned for Game 6, but Kobe refused to pass him the ball and Shaq refused to pass Kobe the ball. Jordan and Pippen were unstoppable on drives to the hoop. Jerry Sloan and Grant roughed up West and Baylor, knocking both out of the game with elbows to the face. Shaq fouled out after Jordan drove the lane with a huge dunk. The Lakers had one final possession with six seconds left, trailing 115-114. Magic penetrated and dished back to Kobe who simply held the ball, refusing to shoot. Bulls force Game 7.
With the Lakers in apparent disarray, the Bulls were now favored in Game 7. They had been killing the Lakers on the boards and Jordan and Pippen were flying past Magic and West on offense.
Lakers coach Pat Riley had a team meeting before the game. "Men, let's kneel down," he said, "and read a chapter from 'The Winner Within.' Let's go straight to chapter four ..."
Kareem suddenly spoke, "Coach, I'd prefer we read an excerpt from 'Black Profiles in Courage.'"
West interrupted, "Hey, I'm the logo!"
Baylor then tried to show everybody his Executive of the Year award.
It took Shaq to stop the chaos. "This is my team. We're watching 'Kazaam.'"
With that, the Lakers were a team again. Riley inserted West into the starting lineup and told him to shadow Jordan. He played Shaq and Kareem together. He let Baylor and Worthy run the break with Magic. Goodrich and Wilkes came off the bench to hit some long-range jumpers. Kobe didn't play the first half.
The Bulls hung close. Jordan had 21 at halftime. Rodman pulled down the rebounds. Chet Walker and Love were hitting their jump shots. The Lakers led 59-56 at the half. Midway through the third quarter, Kareem and Grant went up for a rebound and their goggles got entangled -- and broke. Both were out of the game, unable to see.
The Lakers' depth begin to pay off, as Shaq poured in 12 straight points late in the quarter. Jordan countered with two 3's to close out the period, but L.A. still led 91-86 entering the fourth quarter.
Jordan and Pippen were looking tired -- both had played every minute of the past three games, and it showed as West and Magic tallied six points apiece to stretch L.A.'s lead to 12. But never count out Jordan. He picked off two Magic passes for breakaway dunks and then drove and dished Gilmore for a dunk. Love hit two jumpers. West fouled out. So did Baylor. Riley had no option -- he had to go to Kobe.
With the game tied 116-116 with two minutes left, Kobe drove and dunked over the outstretched arms of the 7-2 Gilmore. Jordan immediately came down and dunked over Shaq. Magic penetrated and kicked back to Kobe for a 3. Jordan came down and nailed his own 3 in Kobe's face. Shaq scored over Gilmore. Jordan drove past Kobe and around Shaq for an impossible reverse lay-in. Kobe hit a jumper. Jordan hit his own jumper -- and was fouled!
He hits the free throw. The Bulls led 124-123, with 14 seconds left.
Up from the Lakers bench, sans goggles -- Kareem. "Put me in coach," he told Riley.
As the clock wound down, Magic had the ball at the top of the key, guarded by Jordan, Rodman and Grant were double-teaming Shaq, Pippen was all over Kobe. Gilmore was on Kareem.
Magic surveyed the court ... five seconds left ... Shaq can't get position, Pippen is denying Kobe, Worthy is open for a jump shot ... but Magic lobs the down to Kareem ... there is only one shot here ... the famous skyhook ...
Nothing but net.
David Schoenfield is the lead editor of Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.