The Chicago Bulls began their period of domination in the NBA with victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in June 1991. Led by the legendary Michael Jordan, the Bulls won six league titles from 1991 and 1998, a level of success they have never come close to repeating, before or since. Before Jordan joined the franchise in 1984 the Bulls were a club who struggled to win games and to win fans. The season before his arrival, the Bulls finished 21st out of 23 teams in home attendance. Jordan changed that instantly.
Over Jordan's first six seasons, the Bulls became entertaining and competitive, but an NBA title eluded them. Before they could even reach a final, they had a major obstacle. The Detroit Pistons were the team to beat in the East. In 1989 and 1990 the "Bad Boys" knocked the Bulls out of the play-offs as they went on to win titles. The Pistons team of Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars didn't just beat the Bulls in those series, they beat them up physically.
"The Jordan Rules" were developed in Detroit and meant that every time Michael Jordan took the ball to the basket, he was going to get fouled - hard. It worked, until 1991. In the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and the rest of the Bulls embarrassed the Pistons, beating them four games to none. For Bulls supporters, watching the humbled Pistons walking off after the loss might be the single best moment of the entire Jordan era.
The hype surrounding the 1991 NBA Finals was as strong as you will ever see. The headline was "Jordan against Magic Johnson". The Lakers weren't a team, they were a brand. They were "Showtime". They embodied Hollywood. Just as it is today with Kobe Bryant's team, celebrities were courtside nightly to watch Magic, James Worthy, Byron Scott and the rest of the Lakers. On paper, this looked like a great series, but the mental strength and determination is not a statistic you can quantify. Jordan had both in abundance.
The 1991, Jordan was already a global brand, he was considered the best player in the world, but his basketball resume was incomplete. He retired as the kingpin of six NBA championships, but, in 1991, he was an unfulfilled star. Jordan dominated that series, winning his first Finals MVP as he averaged 31 points and 11 assists per game. The Lakers won Game One to make it interesting, but with Magic restricted by a thigh injury, the Bulls won the next four to win their first title.
If there was one snapshot of the series that will stay in my mind of sports fans from that series, it was the move Jordan made in Game Two. Jordan took it down the lane and leaped in the air to throw down a right-handed dunk. While in mid-air Jordan reacted to Lakers forward AC Green who began to go up for the block. At the last possible moment, Jordan switched the ball to his left hand and flipped the ball up on the glass. It went in. It was pure Jordan.
To put the first Bulls title in perspective, you have to realise that Chicago was a tough place to be a sports fan at the time. The Bears won a Super Bowl in 1985, but baseball teams the Cubs and the White Sox were usually disappointments. Before Jordan showed up, the Bulls were an afterthought. On June 12 1991, the Bulls took over a football-mad city. Jordan made it his kingdom and for the next seven seasons, except for his brief first retirement, it stayed that way.