News

WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR

Page 2 of 4

For me this season will never end. It will remain frozen in time. Hope will triumph over gloom.

@rule:
@body:By the time I reached the ground floor of America West Arena, the Suns players were walking slowly through the corridor to their dressing room.

Frank Johnson's thoughts were his own. The reserve point guard did not make eye contact with any of the dozens of people lined along the walls.

Was he blaming himself for missing that key basket in the final minutes? He shouldn't have been. Frank Johnson, or "Fourth Quarter Frank," as they call him on the radio, had made too many big shots all year long.

Cedric Ceballos patted Frank on the shoulder. Ceballos was wearing a gaudy, purple sport coat. He kept shaking his head in disbelief as he limped on the injured leg that had kept him out of the Finals.

Only five minutes previously, Ceballos had been on the Suns' bench, waving his arms wildly, leading the crowd in cheers. The Suns were fighting valiantly to protect a four-point lead.

But with 38 seconds to play, Jordan drove the length of the court to the basket and scored. With four seconds to play, John Paxson of the Bulls tossed a three-point shot through the hoop. This was the ninth three-point shot of the game for the Bulls, and this one did the job. It was all net. Suddenly, the Bulls had the lead. The clock was down to the final seconds. And, all at once, the game and the series were over. The Bulls were NBA champs for the third year in a row. There is a league rule that calls for a ten-minute cooling-off period after each game before the media are admitted to the dressing room.

Outside the Suns' dressing room, there was total silence. The little band of media people waiting with its cameras, lights, tape recorders and microphones seemed despondent.

And then there was a burst of sound from the other end of the long hall. It is such a big place, and the noise was coming from the Bulls' dressing room, half a block away.

"They're coming this way," a man said.
I can see the figures moving and the television lights. It is like a moving train of people. As it approaches me, I duck into a doorway to avoid being trampled. The stridency resembled the music of a German military band.

The oncoming group consists of a half-dozen camera operators, four photographers and several security guards. They are all surrounding Jordan, who is carrying a bottle of champagne. He wears an oversize, white baseball cap with an emblem commemorating the Bulls' NBA championship.

The noisy group is on its way to the interview room, where Jordan will talk for his fans on national television.

Jordan passes swiftly. The cacophony ends. Now all was silence again in the hallway.

And then I heard a man talking behind me.
"They may have won their third straight championship, but the Bulls are not a very smart team," the man said. I looked around. The speaker was Jack Ramsay, who won an NBA title in 1977 as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Ramsay was once considered the most brilliant coach in the league. But Ramsay was a coach who succeeded by diagramming plays and by controlling the actions of his players on the court. He ran the show. The new NBA is run by the superstar players. They decide what plays will be run. If there is ever a disagreement between a superstar like Jordan and his coach, it will be the coach who will depart the scene.

Several minutes after Jordan and his entourage clattered down the hall, a small, heavyset man with glasses tromped down the same path.

David Stern wore a dark-blue suit. He looked like an undertaker. Accompanied by three somber-faced aides, the NBA commissioner entered the Suns' dressing room to dispense his greetings and best wishes.

Stern, a humorless lawyer with the heart of an accountant, seems to grow more self-important and puffed-up by the minute. One wonders where all this grandiose behavior will end.

There was enough heavy, black wire in the media group gathered outside the Suns' dressing room to hog-tie the entire Chicago Bulls team, as well as Phil Jackson, the Bulls' elongated coach with the strange, out-of-place brush mustache.

Phil Jackson has read all of John Updike's novels about Rabbit Angstrom, the fictional, alcoholic basketball player. He has read and admired Updike's famous farewell to Ted Williams, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," a half-dozen times. So my sympathies should be with him at the other end of the hall, in the winners' dressing room.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick