CHICAGO -- In 1993, Jerry Krause called Red Auerbach. And then he called Jerry West. What the Bulls general manager wanted to know was why their teams had failed.
Of course, failure is a relative term, given that Krause hoped to pick the brains of those Hall of Fame executives for clues on how to win a third straight NBA championship. You know, to three-peat, just years after Pat Riley first trademarked the term.
Auerbach had done so as Celtics coach, winning a ridiculous eight straight titles from 1959-66 as one of just five teams in NBA history overall to achieve the three-peat feat. But as general manager, his Celtics fell short in 1970 after winning two straight titles, as did West's Lakers in 1989.
The Bulls know what the Heat are enduring in aiming for a third straight title. Their two three-peat teams from 1991-93 and 1996-98 formed one of the NBA's great dynasties. The Minneapolis Lakers from 1952-54 and Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-02 are the only other teams along with that Celtics' dynasty to three-peat.
The challenge is as much mental as it is physical.
"You can use that to your advantage or disadvantage," said Bill Cartwright, the starting center on the Bulls' first three-peat and an assistant coach for one of the second three titles. "You want to accomplish something or are you tired? You want to be a part of history or are you tired? You have such a great opportunity."
Cartwright spoke before the Heat fell into a surprising 3-1 hole against the Spurs. And nobody doubts the Heat's will or resolve. In fact, unlike, say the NFL's 1972 Miami Dolphins, there isn't much protecting of sacred ground among the three-peat Bulls, save for an inflammatory Horace Grant quote or two.
Instead, as players who went to three straight Finals, some genuine appreciation existed for a team making its fourth straight appearance.
"I enjoy watching them play," said Will Perdue, Cartwright's backup on the first three-peat team. "I guess being a player I look at it differently. But I don't get this significant hatred for the Heat. It's unfortunate because people don't always appreciate what they're watching. These players are so good and what they have been able to accomplish these last four years is impressive."
If the Heat becomes the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 Finals deficit, their entry into such an exclusive three-peat club would be legendary and well-earned.
"I just want to see good basketball. That's all," Cartwright said. "And this series, there has been good basketball. These teams move the ball. They move themselves. They have good spacing. They execute plays. It's great to watch."
The Bulls played 58 playoff games in both three-peats. Sunday's Game 5 will be the Heat's 87th playoff game in their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, something no team had accomplished since the 1984-87 Celtics. That's more than a whole extra season.
"The grind can wear on you," Perdue said. "You have to be mentally and physically prepared. And we were."
Beyond the Bulls bringing more bodies to training camp in October 1992 to limit practice and exhibition game repetitions for the principals, Perdue said coach Phil Jackson acknowledged the rarity of the potential accomplishment from day one.
"Instead of going two-a-days that first month in October, we had one longer practice," Perdue said. "There would be some days where after we practiced, we would lie on the floor and turn the lights off in the gym and do breathing exercises. He was trying to find ways for us to conserve energy and change things up a bit."
Adding to the cumulative wear-and-tear, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen participated in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Pippen added the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. LeBron James played in the 2012 London Olympics.
That's a lot of basketball.
"Did you see LeBron in Game 3?" Perdue asked. "He didn't sit down on chairs during timeouts. He collapsed. That's what these guys are facing, the fatigue both mentally and physically."
It takes a special to team to overcome it and three-peat -- or even have the chance to do so.
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