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Jordan & Co. champs at last

The achievement would be remarkable enough, even without the details. A world championship for the Chicago Bulls, the first in their 25-year existence. But with the details included, we're talking epic. The Bulls whipped the Los Angeles Lakers in five easy games, concluding the series Wednesday night with their third consecutive triumph on the road.

From all angles, it looked like the Bulls got away with something.

Chicago's "supporting cast," which played like the Charlotte Hornets in Game 1, answered the challenge of team leader/spokesman/superstar Michael Jordan and, from that point on, the Lakers never knew what hit them.

The Bulls didn't win because of a Jordan snit. They won because they have better athletes _ and better basketball players _ than the Lakers. They won because they got almost every loose ball in every game. And they won because of stupendous shooting.

They won because Jordan has always been Jordan.

Crucial, too, they won because Jordan's supporting cast, which has not always been supportive, removed the quotation marks and stood beside him instead of beneath him.

"I've always stood behind my teammates," Jordan insisted prior to the Bulls' clinching victory in Game 5. "I always felt that I had enough talent around. It's just that they had to want it bad enough and step up and play and gain respect. I was in favor of them all the time. I'm one of the proudest players on the team."

Jordan has always held this truth to be self-evident: "Fellas, I can't do it by myself."

So has Magic Johnson, his counterpart on the Lakers. From one franchise player to another, Jordan and Johnson share many of the same frustrations when less talented teammates don't produce.

Johnson verbally abuses Vlade Divac when the second-year player messes up as if it is his birthright.

Jordan is crucified for doing the same thing.

Magic said his supporting cast is not as good as Michael's, and that's why the Bulls are winning.

That's telling it like it is.

Except when Michael does it. Then it's telling it like Michael wants it to be. The cad.

Magic says of the injured James Worthy and Byron Scott, "If they're not going to be there, then they shouldn't be there."

Jordan must consider the rest of the Bulls his equal, even though they're not.

But that's about to change.

"I've seen seven hard years get to a point where we've accomplished what very few people get the opportunity to do," Jordan said. "A lot of people said I wouldn't get a chance to do it.

"I always felt we'd win a championship in Chicago. I just didn't know when."

Michael can now say what he wants, about whom he wants, when and where he wants.

The Bulls are champions.


"We can't deny the fact of who Michael is, any more than a kid walking down the street can deny it," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "People give him his due and, in the same way, there are times when we have to give him the ball and let him do his thing."

Jordan has won five consecutive scoring titles. Only Wilt Chamberlain has won more consecutive scoring crowns (seven). But Jordan is the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970-71 to win the scoring title and league title in the same season.

"Michael needs this for himself, not for history," Johnson said. "It's that he's achieved everything else he could. You get tired of the individual things, and you want the big thing _ the championship. He's the one who led them there."

So who's the greatest player of the past decade? Johnson? Jordan? Larry Bird?

Could Johnson win a championship without Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy and Jamaal Wilkes? Could Bird have won without Kevin McHale and Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson?

Could either player win, as Jordan has done, with John Paxson and Bill Cartwright, and B.J. Armstrong coming off the bench?

"When I first got here, Michael didn't have the confidence in us to make the big shots," Bulls forward Horace Grant said.

"I accepted a long time ago that Michael is the greatest athlete in this sport, maybe in the world, and you've got to accept your role," Paxson said. "Michael's been a great leader, and we responded."

Earlier this season, Jordan demanded the Bulls trade for Walter Davis, then pouted to the press when it didn't happen.

His teammates said the slight didn't bother them.

Don't believe it.

"For the first time in his life," Grant said with a smile, "Michael was wrong.

"We proved him wrong."

NBA Finals

Bulls win series 4-1.

Game 1: Lakers 93, Bulls 91

Game 2: Bulls 107, Lakers 86

Game 3: Bulls 104, Lakers 96 in overtime

Game 4: Bulls 97, Lakers 82

Game 5: Bulls 108, Lakers 101.