The Best Finals Ever

1993 pic

When the Bulls and the Suns met in the 1993 NBA Finals, the championship showdown had everything: Michael Jordan at his peak, Charles Barkley at his most animated, a triple-overtime classic and a title-clinching jump shot that will live in the memories of basketball fans forever. Twenty years after the blockbuster series, some of the principals, including Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Danny Ainge and John Paxson, recall what many deem the “best finals ever” to contributing writer Jack McCallum in this week’s SI.

“No matter what anyone says about being ready, nothing will prepare you for the pressure of the Finals when you’ve never been there before,” says former Suns point guard Johnson, now the mayor of Sacramento, who struggled in a Game 1 loss.

Barkley’s 42 points in Game 2 were not enough for the Suns to avoid going down 2-0 in the series.All season long the Suns rode Barkley on the offensive end, but his indifference on the defensive end frustrated coaches. During the regular season Barkley even admitted to Suns coach Paul Westphal, “It’s not that I can’t play defense, it’s just that I don’t always want to”. (PAGE 66)

In Game 3, the Suns defeated the Bulls 129-121 in triple overtime.  “It was the greatest basketball game I ever played in,” says Barkley. Before the game, Westphal chose a struggling Johnson to guard Jordan.

“I was sleeping with a blanket over my head on the flight to Chicago and somewhere between Utah and Kansas, Paul wakes me up and says, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the series is not over. The bad news is, you’re going to be guarding Jordan.’ I put the blanket back over my head and on the way out of the plane, I say to Paul , ‘You won’t believe the nightmare I had. You told me I’d be guarding Michael.’ And he says to me, ‘That wasn’t a dream.’” (PAGE 68)

After Jordan put up 55 points in a Game 4 win, Suns rookie Richard Dumas’s 25 points led Phoenix to a Game 5 victory. Dumas would play only two more seasons before drug problems ended his career. “I feel bad every time I think of what could’ve been for Richard Dumas,” says Westphal. (PAGE 70)

The game-and series-winning three-pointer by the Bulls’ Paxson in Game 6 erased the Suns late game lead and inevitably their NBA Finals run. Paxson was wide open after Ainge decided to leave and help on Horace Grant. “All I know is that it was like a million other jump shots, in my driveway, in college, in the pros,” recalls Paxson. (PAGE 72)

“‘Don’t leave your man.’ That’s what Paul told us. So the so-called smartest guy on the team, Danny, leaves his man,” says Johnson. (PAGE 72)

The following season there were high hopes for the rising Suns, but injuries got in their way. “The next season I had taken so many injections in my knee, I wouldn’t have been able to play in the Finals anyway,” says Barkley. (PAGE 72)


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