Which was why Coach Phil Jackson's motivational skills are so important, as evidenced in an article in today's local paper of record, authored by beat writer Mike Bresnahan:
Whenever Jackson mentions the Chicago Bulls, it rarely hits home with Lakers fans unless it's a direct comparison of Bryant and Michael Jordan. But some solace was offered by Jackson when he talked about the 1991-92 Bulls, recalling they suffered a "couple devastating losses" in March and April.Having been a follower of the sport in the early-90's, Jackson's reminiscence of his earlier tenure coaching the Michael Jordan-led six-time champions certainly resonates with me, although it always seemed to me that the Bulls of that era almost never lost big games, even in the regular season. In fact, during that run Chicago had the best record in the NBA in four of the six championship years, and in only one season did they win the title without having at least the best record in the Eastern Conference, in 1993, when the finished second to the Knicks. So I was surprised to find that the Bulls also had to confront late season demons during that era, even in winning six titles, including the 1992 title mentioned above.
"I was concerned. The players said it's just the end of the season and we'll get it back when we get into the playoffs . . . and we did. We got it back."
The Bulls ended up beating Portland in the NBA Finals.
As it turns out, of course, it never happened. Not in 1992, not in any of the seasons in which Jordan, Pippen and supporting cast were winning rings. The season mentioned above, in 1992, the Bulls finished the regular season winning 19 of their last 22 games, en route to a league-best 67-15 record. Of the three games they lost, one was at Cleveland, the team they would meet up with in the Eastern Conference finals, a game in which the Bulls were so pumped to play that they didn't even bother to suit up Michael Jordan.
Maybe Jackson was referring to 1993, when, as mentioned above, the Bulls finished second in the Eastern Conference to New York, and also trailed Western Conference champ Phoenix in the standings, but went on to win their third straight title. In fact, in 1993 the Bulls won 15 of 20 to conclude the season. They did finish behind the Knicks and Suns, and lost to both teams down the stretch, but they were already behind those teams to start with, and their weak, anemic .750 play to close out the regular season was not a factor.
So what championship team was he talking about? 1998, when the Bulls had the top mark in the East but were edged out by Utah (via tiebreaker) for the league's best record? Nope, the Bulls won 16 of 20 at the end, including a thirteen-game winning streak. 1991? The Bulls did have a tepid finish, winning "only" 11 of their last 17, thus enabling Portland to sneak through with the best record in the league by winning 16 straight, but Chicago wasn't the defending champion at the time, and none of its losses down the stretch could really be called "devastating," even by the melodramatic Zen Master. I didn't do a full breakdown of the 1996 or 1997 seasons, but considering the Bulls had two of three best records in NBA history those seasons, it would be hard to claim that they had a rough time of it down the stretch.
In short, the great Bulls teams of the 90's did not suffer "devastating" losses in the regular season in any of the years they won the title, and by no means suffered anything like a five-game losing streak. It could be that in his dotage, using the same brain that remains convinced that Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher are championship-calibre starters, he simply misremembered the recent past. Considering the Lakers performance tonight, squeaking out a victory over the Spurs' scrub team, it seems to have provided the proper motivation. But what's the excuse for the LA Times writer who permitted that statement to go uncorrected?