After such a legendary senior season, Horace was selected tenth overall in the 1987 draft by the Chicago Bulls, where he would join rising star Michael Jordan and fellow draft day acquisition Scottie Pippen. Horace was instrumental in earning the Bulls’ first three-peat of Championships from 1991 to 1993, a streak of greatness that will go down in history as one of the most entertaining years of the NBA. As one of the greatest trios of all time; Jordan, Pippen and Grant forged a path for long, successful careers in the many years to come. Through countless magazine covers, unparalleled media attention, and a staunch rivalry with the “Bad Boy” Pistons – the Bulls made history in the early 1990’s.
The Best Is Yet To Come
After ending such a legendary season, Horace was the tenth overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft and began his seven year career with the Chicago Bulls. Having gained a significant amount of muscle in college, Horace was now entering the NBA as a 6’10’’, 245 lb power forward who was a force to be reckoned with. Grant identified the day he got drafted as one of the top three moments of his entire career.
The Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in his first season (1987-88) and the Eastern Conference Finals in his second, (1988-89) although it wouldn’t be until his third season in the NBA that Grant earned a spot on the starting lineup. Here he joined the ranks of NBA legend Michael Jordan and fellow draft-day acquisition Scottie Pippen, forming one of the greatest NBA trios of all time. In the 1989-90 season the Bulls placed second in the Central Division and were seeded third in the playoffs before losing in a heated Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons.
Grant identified the day he got drafted as one of the top three moments of his entire career.
What would come to be known as a reign of greatness for the Bulls began in Horace’s fourth season, from 1990-1991. Over the last few seasons Chicago had built a strong rivalry with the “bad boys” of the NBA – the Detroit Pistons. After many years of falling to intense physicality and aptly named “Jordan rules,” Chicago finally swept Detroit in Conference Finals. As an intentional slight to the Bulls, all but three of the opposing team walked off of the court with eight seconds on the clock to avoid congratulating the victors.
Paving the Way
Entering the Finals ranked first in both the Central Division and Eastern Conference, the Bulls took on the Los Angeles Lakers. Led by Magic Johnson, the Lakers were third seed in the Western division with a 58-24 record. After losing the first game by just two points, the Bulls won four consecutive games, taking the series in five. Horace averaged 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting .627 from the field.
The championship began a reign of success that led them to the first of two three-peats during the Jordan era. When asked about how it felt to win his first Championship, Horace maintains, “Growing up it always had been my dream to help a team win an NBA championship. Just something you dreamed about, but then here you are on that stage and then you are kissing that trophy. What a moment!” He also recognizes the important role of his new prescription goggles by claiming “I don’t think I’ll ever take them off again. I’ll sleep in them. I’ll kiss them. I’ll caress them” in reference to his incredible play during the series.
“Michael humbled himself. He could see that we had a chance to win a championship this year, so if we were scoring early and he only got two points, he’ll accept that as long as we’re winning.”
Not only was it the first championship win for Horace, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but it was the first franchise win for the Chicago Bulls Organization as a whole. The Championship served as more than just a ring to the team, but showed fans across the nation there was more to the Chicago Bulls than just Michael Jordan. After Game 5 Jordan confidently touted, “Maybe now people will stop referring to us as a one-man team, because we won this thing as a team. I played my game, but with the efforts they gave us, we did it as a team.” Horace saw a shift in MJ’s play as well, claiming “Michael humbled himself. He could see that we had a chance to win a championship this year, so if we were scoring early and he only got two points, he’ll accept that as long as we’re winning.”
When asked about the following season and the possibility of another Championship, the team chose to simply revel in their glory with family and friends rather than speculate about the future. After dousing themselves in champagne in the locker room, Jordan claimed “I’m not even thinking about any other championships right now, I just want to enjoy this one for as long as I can.”
The Second Ring
Despite humbly addressing the future after the Bull’s first ring, their second Championship was earned during the following season in 1991-92, when Chicago finished first place in the Eastern Conference for a second year in a row and led with the best record (67-15) in the NBA. The Bulls took down another harsh rival, the New York Knicks, in the Conference Semifinals before taking the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games for the conference finals. Horace says the victory of beating the Knicks was nearly as sweet as advancing in the series, remembering “the Knicks fought us tooth and nail. They fought hard, but we fought harder.”
Coach Jackson believed the Trailblazers would, “self-destruct if we showed them how.”
Chicago then met the Portland Trailblazers in the Finals, who were the first seed in the Western Conference with a record of 57-25. The media created a strong rivalry between Michael Jordan and swingman Clyde Drexler, who Sports Illustrated cited as Jordan’s #1 rival in the NBA. A pre-scouting report claimed the Coach Jackson believed the Trailblazers would “self-destruct if we showed them how.”
Chicago Bulls vs. Porland TrailblazersHorace defends ten time All-Star Clyde Drexler during the 1992 NBA Finals, which resulted in the Bulls’ second Championship in six games.
With a biting start to an epic series, the first game of the 1992 Finals proved to create a lasting impression on NBA history. Referring to MJ, announcer Joe McConnell declared the first half of Game 1 “the greatest performance, maybe ever, in a single half, playoffs or in the history of the league!” This statement was followed only by the Jordan’s iconic shrug, as if to say he was just as surprised as the spectators were when he scored six three pointers in the first half, tying a league record at the time.
The Bulls and Trailblazers proceeded to share back and forth victories for the first four games before Chicago cinched games five and six for their second consecutive NBA Championship. They came back from a fifteen point deficit during the fourth quarter of Game 6 to take a 97-93 victory. Chicagoans celebrated their first ever Championship win at home by carrying the party from Chicago Stadium to the streets spanning around North Michigan Avenue. Grant describes the insane reaction by the audience as nothing short of “amazing. I’ve never seen a crowd light up like they did when we won that first title at home.”
“The first time was neat. The second time was quite a feat. The third time will be oh, so, sweet!”Will Perdue
With another ring to add to the collection, one question was on everyone’s mind: “What about three?” After another champagne-induced celebration, players were questioned on their forecast for the following season. Backup center Will Perdue aptly rhymed “The first time was neat. The second time was quite a feat. The third time will be oh, so, sweet!” In retrospect, Horace laughs remembering the euphoria that came with his second Championship title. Shaking his head and smiling, he recalls “looking at my teammates and knowing we were making history. I had never smiled more in my life. People were crying, people were cheering, but I will never forget the crazy feeling that came with that win.”
Coming off of an incredible amount of hype with the second championship, the Bulls had a lot to live up to going into the 1992-93 season, and Horace was hungry for another ring. The Bulls ended regulation season as first in the Central division, and second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 57-25. They swept the Cleveland Cavaliers during the Semifinals to advance against the New York Knicks once again during the Eastern Conference Finals. After losing the first two games, the Bulls came back to win the next four and take the series. It was the first time in Eastern Conference history that a team returned from an early two-game deficit to come back and earn a series win.
The 1993 Bulls were praying for a three-peat as they entered the Finals against the Phoenix Suns, led by league MVP Charles Barkley. To this day the Suns franchise has never won a Championship, but were just as eager for a ring as the defending champs. By winning games one and two, Chicago was the first team in history that won the first two games of a playoff series on the road, meaning the Suns were also the first team to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home. During Game 2 Horace scored 24 points, a career high. Game 3 played at Chicago Stadium went into triple overtime, and ended when Phoenix railed nine consecutive points to affirm their first win of the Finals series. The 129-123 victory gave the Suns a renewed sense of confidence, and Game 4 was preceded by an increased fervor on both sides of the court.
Charles Barkley famously encouraged his teammates on the Suns to, “Save the City,” referencing the riots that would run wild throughout Chicago, should the Bull’s win their third Championship at home during Game 5.
In the second game of the series at home, Jordan put up 55 points, helping assure the 111-105 win over the Suns. With just one more game standing between them and a three-peat, the Bulls were hankering for their fourth win to be at Chicago Stadium during Game 5. Barkley famously encouraged his teammates on the Suns to “Save the City,” referencing the imminent riots that would run wild throughout Chicago, as they did the previous year, should history be made. The Suns had it written on their chalkboard that night, and it became their mantra – “Save the City,” and push the series to at least into six games. Their goal was met, and ending the game at 108-98, the Bulls lost Game 5 and were forced to continue the Finals in Arizona.
The Bulls approached their next opportunity to seal the series with an insurmountable zeal for victory. In a hard fought battle, Chicago gained a double digit lead, before trailing behind the Suns by four in the fourth quarter. The players knew it was essential to win Game 6 to avoid taking the series to seven games, meaning every second was vital to their ultimate victory. With the Suns up 98-96, Horace passed to teammate John Paxson, who remembers: “I got a clean look at it. There was no one around me, and it felt good when it left. I just caught the ball and shot it- as I have my whole life… It was just reaction.” Paxson sunk a three-pointer with just 3.9 seconds left, meaning the Bulls were up by just one point in Game 6 of the Finals.
“Here’s Johnson. Johnson gets… No! He cannot get it off! Knocked away by Grant! It’s all over! The Chicago Bulls have made it three straight NBA Championships!”Marv Albert
Possession went to the Suns, when in the remaining fleeting seconds on the clock announcer Marv Albert exclaimed: “Here’s Johnson. Johnson gets… No! He cannot get it off! Knocked away by Grant! It’s all over! The Chicago Bulls have made it three straight NBA Championships!” Horace blocked a crucial field goal attempt by Suns point guard Kevin Johnson, assuring the Bull’s three-peat was now a reality.
“We feel we should be considered as one of the best teams of all time.”
Grant fondly remembers the last Finals win in the Chicago’s three-peat vividly, claiming “that may be one of my favorite games in my 17 seasons. Going back to back with an assist to John and blocking Kevin… I couldn’t believe my eyes myself.” Because no team in the NBA had completed a three-peat since the Celtic’s legendary 8 Championship reign ending in 1966, the Bulls proceeded to celebrate with unparalleled media attention, including five Sports Illustrated covers. A third champagne shower was in order, and history wrote itself. The Bulls affirmed their status as arguably one of the greatest teams of all time, prompting Jordan to agree: “The other teams that won three in a row were in a different era. We feel we should be considered as one of the best teams of all time… I’ve gone through a lot this season, and to cap it off this way was great. This is the hardest thing I’ve done in basketball.”
The End of an Era
A Mutual RespectThroughout his career Horace maintained that gaining the respect of his fellow players, including Michael Jordan, was one of the highlights of his 17 seasons in the NBA.
Following the immense success of their prior three seasons, shockwaves were sent throughout the NBA when Michael Jordan announced his early retirement from the league. Horace and the Bulls went into the 1993-94 season with a burden of doubt from fans and critics alike, and worked relentlessly to maintain their glory without their all-star. Concerning the roster, Coach Jackson claimed, “We had to scramble. We had to find some players to replace Michael, which was an impossibility. But those guys were determined to make it show and they stepped right up.” With five new players on the team, the Bulls accepted Steve Kerr, Pete Myers, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington and Corie Blount with open arms and great expectations. The pressure was on for returning players, especially Horace and Scottie Pippen. Pippen recalls the mentality of veterans going into the following season, saying “We had to stick to our routines, continue to train, and be ready for camp. Michael retiring opened up an opportunity for us to show that we were still a very good team.”
“Michael retiring opened up an opportunity for us to show that we were still a very good team.”Scottie Pippen
The 1994 NBA All Star GameHorace played alongside Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, B.J. Armstrong, Dominique Wilkins and other stars for the East. The East won 127-118 and Horace had 4 points and 8 rebounds.
Without Jordan, the Bulls still had a 55-win season, falling just two games short of their record the previous year. Chicago finished third in the Eastern Conference during regulation, but ended their season during the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks in seven games. Although the Bulls did not continue their streak of Championships, with the help of strong head Coach Phil Jackson, the team proved naysayers wrong by having an incredibly successful season without Jordan. Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong played in the NBA All Star game, and Horace made the NBA Second Defensive team for the second year in a row. Grant earned career bests in scoring (15.1 ppg), rebounding (11.0 rpg), and assists (3.4 assists per game).