By Jose M. Romero
Let’s put it out there right from the start. Michael Jordan is, for me, the best basketball player of all time.
With that said, the argument is generational. People 10 years younger than me say Kobe Bryant is the guy. People 20 years younger say it’s LeBron James. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are high on the list too.
Jordan and those Bulls crushed the dreams of fans in a lot of places six times in the 1990s. They handed it to my beloved Portland Trail Blazers in 1992, when Jordan, who said in the ‘Last Dance’ documentary that he felt he had to prove he was far better than Blazers star Clyde Drexler, won his second ring.
That series was when I started rooting for the Bulls to lose and fade away. But every time they got to the Finals, they didn’t.
I know Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns and Seattle Supersonics (NOT the OKC Thunder) fans can understand my frustration. I saw Jordan play in person once, at a memorable Tournament of the Americas game in 1992 at the old Memorial Coliseum in Portland, with the Dream Team.
That was enough for me.
“The Last Dance” was phenomenal. But for me, not because of the Bulls. They got their titles. They destroyed teams. The best parts of the 10-episode series were seeing players from decades ago back on my TV screen, and remembering the decade in which I came to truly love the NBA.
Reggie Miller and his super cool haircut. John Starks. Charles Oakley. Charles Barkley. KJ. Clifford Robinson and the 1991-92 Blazers. Nick Anderson. Penny Hardaway. Gary Payton. Shawn Kemp. Antoine Carr. I could go on and on.
The old arenas like Market Square Arena in Indy. The LA Sports Arena. The Forum. The Seattle Center Coliseum. Spike Lee courtside. The Bad Boys of Detroit, whom I loathed.
Enough of Jordan — although the baseball stuff in the film was riveting. Let me focus on Scottie Pippen if I may.
Scottie got his big payday — the one the film pointed out he never got in Chicago — when he left the Bulls, even in his early 30s. He came to Portland in 1999, and like many Blazers fans, I felt like the roster that season would bring my hometown its first NBA title since 1977.
I was too young to recall that one.
It wasn’t a collection of the most likeable guys in the league, but that team had Pippen, who brought a championship mentality to Oregon. There was a young and rising star in Rasheed Wallace. A nifty-passing big man with two bad Achilles in Arvydas Sabonis. Local guy Damon Stoudamire, back home trying to win one for Rip City. Sharpshooter Steve Smith. And veterans coming off the bench in The Plastic Man (Stacey Augmon), Detlef Schrempf, power forward Brian Grant and point guard Greg Anthony.
In the 2000 Western Conference Finals, with the Bulls’ dynasty broken up and only one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals, the Blazers had the Kobe-and-Shaq Lakers on the ropes in Game 7. Up 15 points with 10 minutes to play in LA.
And then it all came apart. As I watched from a Seattle sports bar in stunned shock, my team crumbled. The hated Lakers rallied and the Blazers went freezing cold. They didn’t score for at least eight minutes of the fourth.
Pippen, brought in to guide Rip City to victory with his experience and pedigree, had a solid season. But he ultimately didn’t get the job done, nor did his teammates, and the Blazers went 19 years before getting back to the West finals.
A golden opportunity for a second title — one I could remember and appreciate this time — was lost. They still don’t have that second championship.
Watching “The Last Dance” was a painful reminder that the Blazers could have drafted Jordan in 1984, but chose Sam Bowie instead with the No. 2 overall pick. It also highlighted that Chicago fans are highly blessed, with all of those titles and 12 years of His Airness in the prime of his career.