Which team rates edge? Story on D3
What used to be Magic vs. Bird is now Magic vs. Michael.Only 12 times since Michael Jordan came into the NBA in 1984 have he and Magic Johnson met in the same game.
By June 16, that number could increase by seven after Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, making their ninth NBA Finals appearance in 12 seasons, meet Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, who are in the championship series for the first time in the franchise's 25-year history.
"I think it's exciting," Johnson said. "Michael and I have become real good friends. We always wanted to play in the Finals, and now he has his chance."
Both players will do their best to put their teams ahead of the marquee matchup, but Jordan said Friday he realizes what the focus will be.
"I understand the media hype, and it's a business situation," Jordan said. "I understand it's good for the league to make it a 1-on-1 situation.
"Magic vs. Jordan is the hype of it, but I know my team is playing against the Lakers. I'm not going to take it out of context. I'm not going to try and make it a 1-on-1 situation. I'm going to do whatever I can to show leadership for my team. I'm not going to try and make it anything special."
Johnson, who expanded his reputation during NBA Finals meetings with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, had flashbacks of glorious finishes past with seconds left in Thursday night's 91-90 victory over Portland in the Western Conference finals.
With the Lakers ahead by one point, Johnson said he saw the clock stuck on 2.2 seconds after he passed the ball wildly over his head and watched it roll tantalizingly toward the other end of the floor. The clock kept ticking, and the ball rolled out of bounds with 0.1 seconds remaining, too little time for Portland to do anything but try a length-of-the-court pass.
"I thought I was back in Boston Garden," Johnson said. But, on Sunday it will be Jordan and the Bulls in Game 1 at Chicago Stadium for Johnson, who has helped the Lakers win five championships.
"We're not relieved to be playing against the former champions," Jordan said. "We're here focusing on ourselves and what he have to do as a team. We have to look at the Lakers as a whole and what we have to do to defense them and slow them down."
The Jordan-Johnson matchup will actually occur only on one end of the court, where Jordan will guard Johnson. The Lakers' Byron Scott will guard Jordan.
"It's ideal to have Michael and Magic in the same series," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "But the matchup is only on one end. Both have a great influence on the game, and that's the story."
Jordan said he would try to slow down Johnson as much as possible.
"I know he's a threat in terms of running the team," Jordan said. "I'm going to try to wear him down as much as possible, eliminate him from getting into an open-court situation, where he is very dangerous."
Lakers assistant coach Randy Pfund said the matchup between small forwards Scottie Pippen and James Worthy is more pivotal than Jordan-Johnson.
"Scottie has improved by watching and emulating Michael over the last few years," Pfund said. "The fact that Mike Dunleavy coached in the Eastern Conference will help."
Worthy was hampered in Thursday's finale against Portland by an injured ankle.
"It was very tender and sore," he said. "I couldn't explode to the basket. Hopefully, with two full days of rest and therapy, it'll be 100 percent."
Jordan and Johnson, however, will hog the spotlight, and their teammates seem to understand that.
"It won't be a distraction to us," Bulls guard John Paxson said. "We won't be watching the pregame TV shows."
"You have two great superstars," Bulls forward Horace Grant added. "I think it's great for the game. Both teams have been in the background of these two players and there's nothing different about it now."
All the players and coaches will have to do their best to concentrate on winning the series.
"Meeting the Lakers is one thing, beating the Lakers is something else," Jackson said. "I won't say we have an edge, but it will be an interesting series and more of a finesse game.
"It's the first time in 25 years for the Bulls. We want to win and be the champs. They know how to execute in tense situations. They have five or six players who have been in championships before, and experience is the only teacher."