2012 NBA Finals: Why the Thunder Can Be Compared to the 1991 Chicago Bulls
Team drafts superstar. Team is mediocre. Team gets superstar a super sidekick. Team adds young coach to guide superstar and super sidekick. Team goes to the NBA Finals.
Story sound familiar? It should. It's basically the story of the current Oklahoma City Thunder and the 1991 Chicago Bulls, who, around this time 21 years ago, were fighting for their first NBA Championship.
There are may similarities between the two teams, but the Thunder are missing one glaring element, a Larry O'Brien trophy. After taking out Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs to reach their first NBA Finals in the city of Oklahoma, Kevin Durant and company are hoping to conclude their story the same way the Bulls did in 1991. Only time will tell.
Here's what these great teams have in common.
The Perfect Centerpiece
Both teams were stumbling through eras of mediocrity, before they benefited from draft day goofs by the Portland Trailblazers.
In 1984, the Blazers passed on a dynamic underclassman from North Carolina, and took big man Sam Bowie with the second pick in the draft.
Fast forward to the 2007 NBA Draft, where Portland took Ohio State center Greg Oden with the first overall pick and let the freshman phenom Durant slide to the then Seattle Supersonics.
A quick recap of history. Michael Jordan led the Bulls to six championships in the 90s, and Kevin Durant is one of the top three players in the league.
As for Bowie and Oden, they are now answers to sports trivia questions: "Who was drafted before...?"
Batman needed Robin. Ren needed Stimpy. Michael needed Tito (kinda).
No matter how great Jordan was (and Durant is), the success of their respective teams cannot be solely accredited to one individual. The Thunder were never considered a threat to win it all until the emergence of point guard Russell Westbrook, and the Bulls weren't taken seriously as contenders until Scottie Pippen came into his own.
Both Jordan and Durant were just great players on poor teams until they received a little help. With Westbrook on the floor, teams cannot afford to ignore him and double-team Durant.
Scottie was named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players, but knew his role and understood that it was Jordan's team. Both players did extraordinary things in each other's absence, but neither reached the promised land without the other.
In the past, it has seemed like it was hard for Westbrook to accept his role as the No. 2, but so far this postseason he has let Durant lead the way and it has equaled success.
Strong Supporting Casts
A lead actor is only as good as his supporting cast. The Thunder, just like the '91 Bulls, surrounded their stars with the perfect mixture of youthful athleticism and veteran leadership.
Besides Westbrook, Oklahoma City has the support of Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who has the capability to score 40 points off the bench. The toughness of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins on the inside have also helped the Thunder grind out many a tough victory.
Combine that with the defensive intensity of Thabo Sefolosha and the championship-level basketball IQ of Derek Fisher, and you have a supporting cast that rivals that of Ocean's 11.
Jordan and Pippen were surrounded by young sparks BJ Armstrong (offensively) and Horace Grant (defensively). The front office added John Paxson and Bill Cartwright for veteran know-how. This combination was the core for the Bulls' first three-peat run.
A Players' Coach
Before the 1990-91 season, the Bulls took a chance and promoted their young, cool, calm and collected assistant coach, Phil Jackson, to lead the team. By the end the season, Michael Jordan was clutching his first O'Brien trophy.
Scott Brooks may not seem as calm as Jackson at times, but his unique ability to corral and connect to multiple superstars is very comparable to the style of the Zen Master.
In 1991, Phil was able to add a coaching championship ring to the ones he won as a player on the 1970 and 1973 New York Knicks. Brooks is hoping to do the same this year and put a coaching ring next to the one he won with the Houston Rockets in 1994.
For two straight years, the Jordan-led Bulls failed to defeat the Detroit Pistons and break into the championship picture. In 1991, Chicago swept the two-time defending champion Pistons out of the Eastern Conference Finals like they were the Washington Generals (Globetrotter reference, anyone?).
After two straight postseasons of showing promise but not being able to break through, the Thunder took no prisoners in this year's playoffs.
The Thunder swept last year's champion, the Dallas Mavericks, in the first round. They took five games in the second round to oust the 2009 champion Los Angeles Lakers. Then they took out the best team in the league and four-time NBA champs, the San Antonio Spurs, in six games to lock up the Western Conference Championship.
Any doubters that thought they weren't ready for the big time can now be silent.
Until the Thunder's locker room is covered in champagne, there can really be no comparison to the '91 Bulls. The Bulls eventually became one of the most dominant dynasties in sports history after winning it all in 1991.
Oklahoma City has all the key ingredients to be a force to be reckoned with for a very long time, but first they must meet the challenge of King James, D-Wade and the Miami Heat, a task not to be taken lightly.