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SMITH: Pippen was always complaining about his contract. And now they’re recruiting Kukoc. [Negotiations to bring the European player Toni Kukoc to the team that year ultimately fell through, to the delight of Pippen and Jordan and the consternation of Krause. Kukoc would not join the team until 1993.] Because the fans were so locked into Jordan and Pippen and the team and so negative toward Jerry Krause, [the wooing of Kukoc] was looked at as some kind of betrayal. It was ludicrous. [Management was] trying to improve the team—trying to get the best player in Europe basically for free.
KRAUSE: Toni was an unusual situation. He was the Jordan of Europe. He was a god. He could not walk down the street without getting mobbed. Phil and I are sitting there watching him play, [thinking that] we got stupid lucky [by drafting him in 1990]. He’s better than I ever thought.
JACKSON: Yeah, you know, the players got wind of it a little bit—they knew that we were enamored with Toni. But we knew he’d taken the contract with [the] Benetton [team] in Italy and he was getting paid really well with them.
SMITH: [Phil Jackson] did take advantage a little bit of Krause. He fed the Kukoc thing a little bit in his own sly way—with a comment here or there in a way that might provoke the players. The Bulls guys didn’t hate one another. They sort of hated all the outside forces. Jordan didn’t hate Pippen. Grant and Jordan didn’t get along particularly, but they didn’t hate each other. They hated Krause and they hated [Pippen’s] contract. They hated Kukoc.
JERRY REINSDORF (chairman): But these off-the-court things, they weren’t that important. You go back to the Oakland Athletics of the early seventies. When they won five divisions and three World Series in a row, these guys used to fight in the clubhouse. They didn’t like each other. The important thing is what do you do when you’re out on the field, out on the court? And there was certainly a unity among the [Bulls] players.
PERDUE: There were fights and fracases, but that happens anywhere. I think the one thing that team proved is that you don’t necessarily have to like the people you play with, but you’ve got to respect the people you play with. I can’t sit here and say this person hated that person. It’s really hard to say who disliked whom. But the one thing we did do, when you looked up and that clock hit and you crossed the white line, we played as a team.
SMITH: They blow through the playoffs. They knock off the Knicks. They destroy them. They go to Philly and basically overwhelm them. They lose one game, but they’re down 20-something points and lose by 2. So now it’s all what the season is about: This whole season has been played for right now. Game 1, our court, against Detroit.
REINSDORF: [The Pistons] had Rodman and they had Isiah [Thomas]. These are tough players, and they’re good players, and they weren’t going to go down easily. And when you get to the conference finals, the games tend to be close because now you’ve got the best teams playing.
PAXSON: We had a real quiet confidence about ourselves. We knew that those first two home games were the absolutely two most important games for us—because we worked all year to get home-court advantage. We had to hold serve those first two games.
JIM DURHAM (Bulls radio play-by-play announcer): The one thing that was different was the home-court advantage. They hadn’t had that in those other years with the Pistons. I think that gave them confidence.
PAXSON: Like I said, they had such control of us in a lot of ways mentally. Honestly, for years we thought we had to fight back. Because Mike would go up for a shot and would land, and they would give him an extra shot, or he comes in traffic, the whistle blows, and, boom, they’re getting him. They’d do it to all of us. For years, we felt we had to play the same way and stand up and be a man to them. [But] in that series, we didn’t feel we had to do that. We felt we could accept those things.
JACKSON: My issue with the team was that they felt they had to compete physically with Detroit, and physically they were going to get out-strong-armed by Detroit. [The Pistons] had Laimbeer, they had Rodman. They had big bodies. We were long and rangy and more greyhound, and my thing was, “We’ve got to beat them with speed. We’ve got to beat them with speed and quickness.” We started using what we call automatics. We’d pull [the Pistons] out away from the basket when they’d come up and try to attack us, and then [we’d] step into the vacuums that were provided by them extending their defense and try to use our speed to break by them.
CARTWRIGHT: Phil had the mindset for us that we were going to play how we played. [Detroit] wanted to pound everything, they wanted to play a slow-tempo game. And we didn’t want to do that. We’re a fluid team; we wanted to push the ball up and down the floor.
KRAUSE: I know going into the series with Detroit, the Bulls were a pumped club.
DURHAM: The Bulls were just getting great confidence with each game. The series moved on—the Bulls winning the first two in Chicago and playing better in Game 2 than in Game 1.
PERDUE: [But] you can’t sit there and say, “Man, we just whipped their ass,” because every game was a dogfight. I mean, you could tell after the game guys were mentally and physically drained. And yet there was that sense of euphoria knowing that, hey, we just beat those guys, and we can do it again for Game 3.
KING: We go [to Detroit] and win the third game. In our eyes, it’s over. But we still know they’re going to come out and give their best effort. Let me tell you how cocky they were: We had morning shootaround, and there’s a time limit with the shoot-around—you have to be off the floor within an hour. So our shootaround had about 15 minutes to go. Phil was going over the game plan. And we were talking about what we were going to do that night. So [the Pistons] were in the hallway, and they’re disrupting practice—whistling and yelling. I remember Bill Laimbeer was like, “Get the hell off our court, time’s up.” [But] Scottie was cocky, too. I remember [him] doing a dance, like with a broom. Somebody goes, “Scottie, what you doin’?” “I’m sweeping up the trash—just like we’re gonna do tonight.” They really couldn’t say anything. We were cracking up.
SMITH: Toward the end [of the fourth game], Rodman threw Pippen into the stands. Pippen got a cut on his chin, six stitches or something. And didn’t retaliate, didn’t lose it. Just came back on the court and made his free throws. That sort of symbolized [the Bulls’ attitude]: “We’re past this now, those who are resorting to this. We don’t have to. We’re just better.”
REINSDORF: [The Pistons] acted like spoiled children in the fourth game, and they walked off the court. It didn’t bother me that they didn’t shake hands, but the idea that they walked off the court before the game was over, walked right by our bench—that certainly was a low-class thing. But in a way, I was glad. They had the dirtiest player who ever played in the NBA on their side—Laimbeer. He was just terrible. I despised that entire team, as I think all Bulls fans did. Not only did we beat them but we frustrated them.
PAXSON: It was incredibly satisfying, the fact that they had to walk by our bench. You could still see Isiah was kind of ducking down, shoulders kind of slouched, trying not to be seen. The disappointing thing about that is they had a similar circumstance with Boston where [the Pistons] had to overcome [the Celtics]. When they did, when they finally beat Boston to get to the finals three years before, [Celtics forward Kevin] McHale and all those guys went right to them and were like, “Congratulations, you’ve earned it.” We obviously didn’t get the same thing. But it did kind of validate what we believed in—that we played the right way. They were really good, but their time had come and gone, and it was our turn now.
JORDAN: When that happened, when we broke through and swept them four straight, the leaders of the [Pistons] showed their true colors. They lost a lot of respect by walking off the floor and not shaking our hands.
KRAUSE: [After] the fourth game in Detroit, I was dancing in the aisles on the plane. We were having a helluva ride back to Chicago. Players are all laughing like hell because I’m dancing in the aisles. We beat those sons of bitches.
JACKSON: There’s a video that the players made of [Krause] dancing. I don’t know if it’s available for the public, [but] it was a high moment in his life, and he recognizes that to this day. He knows I give him credit—even if our relationship was broken apart by the end. I have great respect for Jerry and the job he did.
SMITH: I remember Jordan talking about it at that point—you know, “We’ve come this far, we might as well win it.” The Lakers had upset Portland, and now the Bulls had home-court advantage [for the finals].