This week on NBA Tuesday, we celebrate the return of Michael Jordan to the NBA, full time. He came back late in the 1995 regular season, but in 1996, he truly was on a mission. The NBA itself needed Air Jordan, as we saw with the “fixed” result in the prior season’s Finals. Yet the league still had to elongate the process of re-crowning its king, as these Finals should have been an easy sweep—but the TV ratings were too rich to cut short. Hence, another season of suspect postseason officiating ensued. Boo!
1996 NBA FINALS MVP: Michael Jordan, SG, Chicago (original, confirmed)
The historical record shows the Chicago Bulls beating the Seattle SuperSonics in six games to win the NBA title, but those who were there know better. In Games 1-3, the Bulls shot a combined 43.9 percent from the floor—including an even 50 percent in Game 3, the first one in Seattle. Then suddenly, Chicago couldn’t hit a shot in Games 4-5, still in Seattle, to the tune of a 38.9-percent effort from the floor. Then, ho hum, the series returned to the Bulls’ home court, and Chicago cruised to its fourth win.
Yes, we think the officials swallowed their whistles in Games 4-5, so two things could happen: Jordan could clinch his crown in front of the hometown fans, and the league could get an extra two games of TV ad revenue (not to mention several extra days of headline coverage on off days). Either way, Jordan was voted the Finals MVP for his statistical line: 27.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, and 1.7 spg, all in 42 mpg. The points and minutes played led the Bulls, but the stats show he wasn’t as dominant as before.
At age 32, Jordan was slowing down a bit, choosing his moments more critically, and learning to hand the reins to someone one when necessary and/or possible. This is how the Bulls won a then-record 72 games in the regular season. Jordan made everyone around him better in this way, so this is why we confirm his Finals MVP Award (again, his fourth overall).
1996 NBA DPOY: Gary Payton, PG, Seattle (original); Alonzo Mourning, C, Miami (revised)
We have a lot of candidates for this award, which went to Seattle point guard Gary Payton (5.57 DWS), also known as The Glove for his tight coverage of opposing players. However, with his teammate, power forward Shawn Kemp (6.06) on the radar, too, neither can win the award. By the way, Chicago teammates Jordan (6.23) and Scottie Pippen (5.32) were also eliminated by our “rule” so we’re being fair as always. Ironically, Payton and Pippen got more votes than their “better” teammates. Go figure.
Our vetted list of finalists includes San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson (7.19), New York Knicks C Patrick Ewing (6.13), Detroit Pistons SF Grant Hill (5.69), Miami Heat C Alonzo Mourning (5.48), Utah Jazz PF Karl Malone (5.28), and Houston Rockets C Hakeem Olajuwon (5.21). Tough crowd, as every one of these guys is in the Hall of Fame. The playoff margins decide it all: Miami (1), Detroit (5), New York (6), Houston (12), Utah (19), and San Antonio (23). Mourning, it is, therefore.
This was Mourning’s first season with the Heat after playing his first three years with Charlotte, and he stepped his game up in every way at age 25: 7.3 defensive rebounds per game, 2.7 blocks per game, and 1.0 steals per game. The first and third numbers were career bests at that time, which led to a career-high 23.2 ppg and 2.3 apg, too. They say defense wins championships, but only when you’re scoring off turnovers and creating plays off them as well with your passing. Mourning was doing just that.