Jay C. Brandriet
We know that Michael Jordan won six rings. He did not lose when he got to the biggest stage. As the years go by, the details of the story seem to change. A popular belief is that “Michael did not beat great teams in the Finals.”
How is that possible? I’m not saying the teams he defeated were the best runner ups I’ve seen. These teams should not need to be validated.
1991 Los Angeles Lakers (58-24)
Michael’s first trip to the NBA Finals was against a legend he had been chasing for years. Earvin “Magic” Johnson had been the league MVP the previous two seasons and was still at the top of his game. This series was viewed as basketballs two most iconic players going head to head. While it’s true this Lakers team wasn’t the dynasty’s best, taking down Magic Johnson was a sweet way to start MJ’s June resume.
Magic Johnson- Magic was participating in his ninth NBA Finals in eleven seasons.
James Worthy– A Hall of Famer, who gave this club 21.4 points a game.
Byron Scott– A beautiful shooter and legit athlete. Byron played 82 games and scored 14.5 a contest.
Sam Perkins– “Big Smooth” was a quality addition to the Lakers. His three pointer at the end of game one, gave L.A. their only victory in the series.
Vlade Divac– This promising rookie would lead the team in rebounding and go on to have a very good career.
A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, Terry Teagle.
1992 Portland Trailblazers (57-25)
Portland had a mature group of blue-collar stars. They had been in the Finals two years earlier. They were led by the sensational Clyde Drexler. He was at his individual peak. The story line in this matchup was “Clyde versus Michael.”
Clyde Drexler– Some considered Clyde “the Michael Jordan of the West”. He was runner-up for league MVP, to Mike.
Terry Porter– Terry was one of the most steady, focused, guards of the day. He averaged 21 points and 7 assists in this playoff run. Dude was clutch.
Buck Williams– One of the best defensive brawler’s and rebounders of his generation. Buck helped the Blazers finish number two in boards.
Jerome Kersey– He was a rugged guy, with hops. Over a 65 game post season stretch, Kersey scored 18.5 points a game and pulled down 7.7 rebounds.
Clifford Robinson- This versatile gem made two All-Defensive Teams and scored 19,500 points.
Danny Ainge– Ainge started on arguably the best team ever (1986 Celtics). Big games were routine for Danny.
Kevin Duckworth– Seven feet tall and 275 pounds. Add some nifty skill, Duckworth played a big role. Two time All-Star.
1993 Phoenix Suns (62-20)
This team could put the ball in the hoop. They were the run away leader in points scored. Charles Barkley was coming off leading the “Dream Team” in scoring, He was the 1993 Most Valuable Player. Feeling himself, his Suns, and being good friends with Michael made this must see T.V.
Charles Barkley– Even among the best that have laced them up, Barkley was unique. The finest version of Chuck came in 1993.
Kevin Johnson– “KJ” was the real deal. In 105 playoff games he averaged 20 points and nine assists.
Dan Majerle– “Thunder Dan” led the league in three pointers made. He was also All-Defense second team. Majerle played in three All-Star games.
Tom Chambers– Chambers dropped 20,000 points, and was an All-Star game MVP. He was still giving Phoenix 24 minutes nightly.
Cedric Ceballos– The ball was drawn to him like a magnet. Ceballos had more than just his garbage man gifts. He was number one in field goal percentage this season (57.6%).
Danny Ainge– He was an All-Star in 1988. More big games, more Danny Ainge.
Mark West, Richard Dumas.
1996 Seattle Supersonics (64-18)
This team featured two of the twelve best players on the planet. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were rolling. They were going to get out on the break and throw the ball over your head. They swept the defending back to back champion Rockets in the second round. Seattle beat a hungry Jazz team in seven in the Western Finals.
Gary Payton- Payton was the current Defensive Player of the Year. “The Glove” was nasty.
Shawn Kemp- This was an exotic talent, flying his highest. He was the first “man-child” I remember in the pros.
Detlef Schrempf– Underrated star. He could post, shoot, and bang.
Hersey Hawkins- An All-Star five years earlier in Philly. Career wise, Hawkins shot 40 percent from three and 87 from the foul line.
Sam Perkins- Always a solid contributor.
Nate McMillan– Nate was a smart, slick player. We now know he was a coach on the floor. Two years earlier he led the NBA in steals while starting just eight times.
1997 Utah Jazz (64-18)
John Stockton and Karl Malone had dominated the league for a decade and had finally broken through to the big party. This Jazz team reflected the toughness of their coach Jerry Sloan. They would make you feel them through rough play and fouling. Utah was 31-4 after the All-Star break. They were tied for number one in points (103.1) with Chicago. The Jazz were first in assists and field goal percentage.
Karl Malone– When a guy who’s been a top five player in the NBA for nine years, hits another level, HE is the MVP.
John Stockton– John’s shot to beat the Rockets, is a key chapter in the NBA’s story. Jordan knew Stockton made you bring a lunch pail to the floor.
Jeff Hornacek– He was a dead eye shooter. Jeff shot 95 percent from the line in 1999-00.
Bryon Russell, Antoine Carr, Greg Ostertag, Shandon Anderson.
1998 UTAH JAZZ (62-20)
When it came to execution, this Utah team was a machine. They finished number one in offensive rating. Everyone on the roster, fit so well. Utah swept away the ultra skilled Lakers. Shaq has admitted they would have preferred to avoid Utah. Having to play the Jazz for a second straight time, seemed like too tall of task for the Bulls.. I thought Jordan’s good fortune had run out. Chicago survived against Indiana, just to make the Finals. I believed MJ was the underdog in this rematch.
Karl Malone- 1998. All-NBA First Team. All-NBA First Team Defense. Led the league in win shares.
John Stockton- As dominant and efficient as point guards come.
Jeff Hornacek- Jeff could handle and pass. His crafty play was like a commercial for a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Bryon Russell, Antoine Carr, Shandon Anderson, Greg Ostertag, Howard Eisley, Adam Keefe.
The East is where the majority of Michael’s struggle took place.
Any conference champ from the 1990’s does not need to apologize. Among MJ’s victims were classic competitors. This included four, sixty win teams. Those groups simply beat each other up, and came around during the wrong era.
The teams Jordan beat deserve our respect.
Jay C. Brandriet