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On This Date in Sports June 20, 1993

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Chicago Bulls win their third straight NBA Championship, beating the Phoenix Suns 99-98 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at America West Arena. The Bulls, who lost Game 5 with a chance to close the series out at home, needed a dramatic from John Paxson with 3.9 seconds left to win the game and avoid a Game 7, as Michael Jordan is named NBA Finals MVP.

The Chicago Bulls were the unquestioned rulers of the NBA after winning the NBA Championship in 1991 and 1992. Coming into the 1992/93 season, everyone was gearing up to dethrone the Bulls, especially the New York Knicks. The Bulls coached by Phil Jackson again were among the top teams in the NBA, posting a 57-25 record in the regular season, good for second overall in the Eastern Conference. After sweeping the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls ran into a wall losing the first two games of the Conference Finals to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The Bulls rebounded to win the next two at home and won Game 5 in New York thanks to clutch defense at the end. They would go on to win the series in six games.

The Phoenix Suns led by first-year coach Paul Westphal also geared up for a title run playing in newly opened America West Arena. During the off-season, the Suns made a big splash signing Danny Ainge and acquiring Charles Barkley from the Philadelphia 76ers for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang. Charles Barkley was everything the Suns wanted and more winning the NBA MVP, with 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. As a result, Phoenix posted the best record in the NBA at 63-19.

The Suns ran into trouble in the playoff right away as they dropped the first two games at home to the Los Angeles Lakers, and needed to win the next three games just to avoid becoming the first team to lose to an eighth seed. Escaping Game 3, with a 107-102 win the Suns got the series back to Phoenix where they won Game 5 in overtime 112-104, making good on Paul Westphal’s guarantee of a comeback. The Suns would move on to beat the San Antonio Spurs in six games, winning the finale 102-100 on a jumper by Charles Barkley in what would be the final game at HemisFair Arena. In the Western Conference Finals, the Suns were pushed to the limit again, needing seven games to beat the Seattle Supersonics.

The NBA Finals began with the Chicago Bulls establishing their dominance early in Phoenix as they scored 34 points in the first quarter and held off the Suns 100-92 in the opener, as Michael Jordan had a game-high 31 points. Game 2 was close throughout as Jordan and Charles Barley each scored 42 points. The Bulls would win again 111-108 as Scottie Pippen blocked Danny Ainge’s game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer. Facing desperation down 0-2 again in a Game 3 on the road, the Suns again rose to the occasion. However, Michael Jordan had another big game, scoring 44 points in what would be the second NBA Finals game to go to Triple Overtime. Both games of which involved the Phoenix Suns, who battled the Boston Celtics into Triple Overtime in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals. Suns coach Paul Westphal had been a player on that Suns team that lost to the Celtics. This time the Suns, would win 131-129, as Dan Marjele had 28 points, Kevin Johnson had 25 and Charles Barkley had 24 points and 19 rebounds. Game 4 would turn into a battle of teammates from the Dream Team, as Barkley had a Triple Double with 32 points, 12 boards, and ten assists. Jordan meanwhile scored 55 points tying Rick Barry for the second most points in NBA Finals Game, behind Elgin Baylor’s 61 points in 1962.

Trailing 3-1, the Phoenix Suns could not afford another loss, as the Chicago prepared for another rowdy celebration. Before Game 5, Charles Barkley remarked, “we need to win to save the city”, referencing Chicago’s problems from 1992. Michael Jordan had another monster game scoring 41 points, but it was the Suns winning 108-98 as Kevin Johnson and Richard Dumas each scored 25, while Barkley had 24 to send the series back to the desert. Like Game 1, the Bulls came out strong in Game 6 in Phoenix scoring 37 points in the first quarter, but the Suns fought back all game and took a lead late in the fourth quarter as Barkley and Dan Marjele each scored 21, while Johnson added 19 points. Down 98-94 in the final minute, Michael Jordan scored the last of his game-high 31 points on a layup to cut the deficit to two. After Marjele missed a three-point try, the Bulls got the ball looking to tie or take the lead. With all eyes on Jordan, Horace Grant found John Paxson open from three-point range. Paxson shot was good, as the Bulls took a 99-98 lead with 3.9 seconds left. Looking to answer, Kevin Johnson was blocked by Grant, as the Bulls became the first team three-peat in over 25 years.

Michael Jordan would equal Magic Johnson’s record for three NBA Finals MVP, averaging 41.0 points per game during the season. Little did anyone know at the time that Jordan would retire before the start of the next season after a trying off-season that saw his father murdered in an attempted carjacking in North Carolina. Jordan would return after missing nearly two years and the Bulls would go on another three-peat, winning six titles in eight years.