The 90s in the NBA is frequently called the golden era of basketball. Not surprisingly, because this is a period when the USA Dream Team formed and Michael Jordan came to prominence. Also, centers were dominating the league, with almost every team having a famous big man in the squad.
Which teams won the championship titles in the 90s? The Chicago Bulls (6 times), the Houston Rockets (twice), the Portland Trail Blazers (once) and the San Antonio Spurs (once) were the only teams to win the title in the 90s. The Chicago Bulls and Jordan were dominant though.
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When Jordan retired for 2 seasons it eventually opened new opportunities for other players to clinch the title. In this article we will talk about each final separately and how they unfolded.
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1990 NBA Champions – Detroit Pistons
Prior to the 1990 Finals, the Pistons had already won a title in 1989 and were on a course to claim another one. In the Finals, Chuck Daly’s Pistons defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 4:1. The Pistons featured some of the prominent players such as Isiah Thomas (MVP), Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman. The Blazers also had elite-class players including Drazen Petrovic and Clyde Drexler. The Pistons Bad Boys were famous for their defensive and sometimes dirty play against opponents.
Even though the Pistons won the series 4:1 the series were pretty close, except the third game which the Pistons won by 15 points. The duo of Thomas and Dumars however was too much for the Blazers and they sealed the series in the fifth match by winning 92:90.
Another interesting fact surrounding the Finals was that the Pistons became only the third franchise after the Celtics and the Lakers to win back-to-back championship titles. This feat, however, was achieved several times afterwards.
1991 NBA Champions- Chicago Bulls
A turning point in the NBA. Michael Jordan entered the playing arena and started dominating the league. His Chicago Bulls, with Phil Jackson being a head coach, is deservedly one of the greatest teams the NBA has ever seen. The series ended the Lakers reign and paved the way for a new franchise under Jordan’s leadership.
The series ended with the Bulls winning the series in a dominant fashion – 4:1 against Magic Johnson, who was playing his last full season with the team. Alongside Michael Jordan, who averaged 31.2 points, Scottie Pippen is also a noteworthy figure. The latter played a massive role in 6 titles. Jordan also became the third player after George Mikan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to win the scoring and championship title in the same season. His performance cemented the status of the Bulls as a dynasty. Of course, Jordan became the Finals MVP and went on to win the award 5 times more.
1992 NBA Champions – Chicago Bulls
After the Detroit Pistons, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bulls became the fourth team to maintain the championship title. In the 1992 Finals, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 4:2. These two teams were frequently meeting each other in the postseason, which laid the foundation of Drexler-Jordan rivalry.
Jordan’s phenomenal performance (in the fifth game he scored 46 points), sealed another championship for the Bulls. Of course, assistance from Scottie Pippen (20.8 points during the series) is significant as well. Michael became the MVP for the second successive season and there were no questions regarding the winner of the award. The Chicago Bulls of 1991-1992 were included in the 10 greatest teams of the NBA.
1993 NBA Champions – Chicago Bulls
3-peat was accomplished – the Chicago Bulls managed to successfully defend the title for the third consecutive season. In the series, the Bulls were playing against the Phoenix Suns, which they defeated 4-2. But these series were not as easy as the previous ones – in the sixth game of the NBA Finals, John Paxson hit the game-winner for the Bulls. The latter won the match 99-98. Had it not been the last shot, things could have turned out to be different in the seventh game.
Jordan was playing against the Phoenix Suns, which had Charles Barkley in the team. Barkley is one of the best players of his generation that retired without a single championship ring. He was a tough force to face, but Michael Jordan was even stronger. During the series, Jordan averaged an astounding 41 points and in the fourth game, he had 55 points, which is remarkable even by today’s standards. Pippen was once again on point and contributed to the team. After the end of the series, Michael Jordan won another MVP title.
After winning the title, Jordan briefly retired from playing basketball. His father was murdered and Jordan announced his retirement, having lost a desire to play basketball.
1994 NBA Champions – Houston Rockets
As Jordan was no more in the league after his retirement, this was a chance for other teams to fight for the title. Jordan’s presence in the NBA was so dominant that he single-handedly beat every team. The Houston Rockets were the ones to prevail and under Hakeem Olajuwon’s leadership, who came in the NBA the same year as Michael Jordan, defeated the New York Knicks 4:3. Rudy Tomjanovich came into the spotlight, after winning a tense encounter against Pat Riley.
The series was close and the overall result clearly indicates that fact. The matchup between Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon – the 2 best centers of the generation – was incredible. Olajuwon averaged 26.9 points, while his counterpart – 18.9. Both of these players spent 44 minutes on the field during 7 matches.
Hakeem became the MVP and we can remember that in the sixth game, he made a decisive block shot. Had John Starks made a final shot, the Knicks would have taken the title, but the match ended in a narrow victory for the Rockets (86-84).
1995 NBA Champions – Houston Rockets
With Michael Jordan still not being in the NBA, the Houston Rockets found a perfect moment to clinch another title. In the series, the Rockets were playing against the Orlando Magic, who had perhaps the most dominant center of all time – Shaquille O’Neal – in the roster. There was hype before the series had ever begun and the matchup between Shaq and Olajuwon was compared to the Russell-Chamberlain encounter.
Unfortunately, the series failed to live up to the expectations of spectators, as the Rockets swept their opponent. The first and third matches were probably the closest ones, as in the former the Rockets needed overtime to defeat the Magic, while in the latter Houston won with a slight margin (106-103).
Hakeem Olajuwon became the MVP of the Finals for the second consecutive season. He averaged 32.8 points and Olajuwon was joined by Clyde Drexler who finally won his first and only title. He did not manage to accomplish this feat with the Blazers.
The Rockets’ run for 3-peat ended briefly, as Michael Jordan returned to the league. The rest is only history…
1996 NBA Champions – Chicago Bulls
After 2 years of absence, Michael Jordan returned with the Chicago Bulls. Even his first departure from the NBA was surprising, as Jordan was still in his prime, but the death of the father severely impacted the league’s best player. Jordan quickly established himself and during the season, the Bulls won 72 games (the record was later broken by the Golden State Warriors). This was actually the first championship in the second 3-peat.
In the NBA Finals, the Bulls were playing against the Seattle SuperSonics coached by George Karl. Pippen and Jordan were joined by the defensive specialist Dennis Rodman, who was famous for his rebounding and fancy gameplay. The Bulls defeated the opponent 4:2 and efforts from Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were not enough to overpower Jordan.
Michael Jordan once again became the MVP for the fourth time. Compared to the previous championships, Jordan’s stats were average – he only had 27.3 points during the whole series, but it proved to be enough to claim the fourth title. This was also the final appearance of the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals and right now they are known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
1997 NBA Champions – Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan and company continued the path for greatness by adding another championship title to the tally. This time, they faced a formidable duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton who were playing for the Utah Jazz. Coached by Jerry Sloan, the Jazz played fantastically throughout the whole season, but like many other players, Malone and Stockton were unfortunate to play in Jordan’s generation. The Bulls defeated the Jazz 4:2. This was actually the first time until 2016 when 2 teams won more than 130 games combined.
Jordan averaged 32.3 points, while Karl Malone – 23.8. Michael became the MVP for the fifth time. In the fifth and sixth game of the series, he scored 38 and 39 points respectively. The fifth game also known as “The Flu Game” turned out to be pivotal. Jordan was poisoned prior to the match and he was likely to miss the encounter, but the Bulls needed him. With a stomach virus that was probably caused by a pizza ordered the night before, Jordan still delivered a fantastic performance. After the end of the match, he collapsed into Pippen’s arm and it symbolizes the efforts he gave to win the encounter.
1998 NBA Champions – Chicago Bulls
In one of the most memorable Finals series of all time, the Chicago Bulls were once again playing against the Utah Jazz. While the Bulls were considered the favourites to win the Finals, fans anticipated a close matchup. It was indeed very close. The Jazz won the first match, while losing the next 3 and eventually the Bulls won the series 4:2, shattering the dreams for the Stockton-Malone duo to win the championship title.
The sixth and the final match of the series is what cemented Jordan’s status of the greatest player of all time even more. In the final seconds, he stole the ball from Karl Malone, went directly into the offence and made a game winning-shot. Jordan did not think for a second to pass the ball to some else, took the matters in his hands and closed the series. That was it – another 3 peat was accomplished for the Bulls and Michael Jordan retired for the second time. From that time, the decline of the Bull’s dynasty started and new teams appeared at the forefront of the league, such as the San Antonio Spurs.
1999 NBA Champions – San Antonio Spurs
As Jordan retired and the Bulls were already weak, new contenders started to emerge. Under Gregg Popovich’s leadership, the San Antonio Spurs became a force to be reckoned with. The duo of Tim Duncan and David “Admiral” Robinson managed to defeat the New York Knicks 4:1 in the Finals. Duncan had the greatest performance in the series, averaging 27.4 points and 14.0 rebounds while playing 45.8 minutes. The Knicks were without their leader Patrick Ewing who was absent because of the injury. The whole burden of carrying the team was put on Latrell Sprewell, who averaged 26.0 points but it was not enough. Tim Duncan became the MVP of the Finals, but the Spurs did not manage to defend the title a year after.