Looking Back: Michael Jordan’s First Championship

By Joshua Schnitman

On June 12, 1991, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls clinched their first-ever NBA championship and the first of six throughout the decade. This 1991 NBA Finals victory for Jordan and the Bulls came against “Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. Jordan capped off his second of an eventual five MVP seasons by winning his first of a record six Finals MVP awards. Jordan finished the clinching Game 5 with 30 points, 10 assists, and five steals. Scottie Pippen, whom Jordan forged one of the greatest all-time one-two-punches with, finished the game with 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. A week earlier, in Game 2 of the series, Jordan showcased one of the most unforgettable moves ever seen on a basketball court: “the mid-air, switch-hand layup.” Jordan became the first-and-only NBA Finals MVP in 1991 to average 30 + points per game and 10 + assists per game in a championship series.

The Magic-led “Showtime” Lakers had dominated the NBA throughout the 1980s and drastically transformed the league and the sport but 1991 marked the passing of the torch to Jordan and the Bulls, the NBA’s face and dynasty of the 1990s, who continued to elevate the game forward. This Game 5 Lakers loss to the Bulls turned out to be Johnson’s last NBA Finals game and he finished with a triple-double: 16 points, 20 assists, and 11 rebounds. Johnson notably retired from playing in the NBA just before the start of the 1991-92 season but would return to capture the MVP of the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, to join forces with Jordan and Pippen on the 1992 United States gold medal-winning “Dream Team,” before officially re-appearing in a Lakers uniform for the second half of the 1995-96 season.  

Jordan proved to be the preeminent NBA superstar and athlete of the 90s era. His unrelenting competitiveness and drive enabled him to finally overcome and sweep the back-to-back defending NBA Champion Detroit Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. The “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons, led by the iconic Isiah Thomas and coached by the great Chuck Daly. The Pistons had frustrated Jordan and the Bulls in the playoffs each year from 1988 – 1990. They had even executed a team defense, “Jordan rules,” to swarm him at every turn. Prior to the 1989-90 season, Phil Jackson was hired with his first NBA head coaching gig to guide the Bulls. The team really began to fire on all cylinders in 1990-91 while Jordan played some of the most amazing basketball ever witnessed. Jackson and his sidekick, Tex Winter, guided Jordan and Pippen to all six of their championships throughout the 1990s, proving to be two all-time great basketball minds in the process. 

The 1992 United States “Dream Team,” which was coached by Daly, globalized basketball on a gargantuan scale. Almost every single member of the “Dream Team” has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, as has the “Dream Team” itself. With both Johnson and Jordan, the “Dream Team” featured the universally-considered-to-be greatest point guard of all time and the universally-considered-to-be greatest shooting guard of all time. The torch was respectfully passed down from one of these two game-elevating icons to the next.

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