Way back in 1993, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to the third leg of a three-peat championship run, something he'd equal a few years later as well ('96-'98 playoffs). While we as a sports-loving population adored Jordan and his unmatched greatness, we actually had a chance at witnessing something truly special, as far as three-peats go.
Tennis player Jim Courier had a chance to three-peat in the French Open…falling short with a loss to Sergi Bruguera in 1993 after wins in '91 and '92. He'd go on to win Wimbledon the same year, his final Grand Slam at age 22, leaving a ton of unrealized future Grand Slam potential on the table.
The Duke Blue Devils had a chance to three-peat in 1993's NCAA bracket also, after National Championships in '91 and '92. Staying with the theme, they were ousted during March Madness' second round in 1993, by a Cal team that had not polled higher than 19th in the nation…coincidentally in December of '92 when Duke held a month-long number 1 position in the same polls. Needless to say, it was as much an upset as the Spanish Bruguera defeating the phenom Courier in France.
And then we get to why this is on PSAMP. Our Pittsburgh Penguins. Mario Lemieux-led Penguins teams won the Stanley Cup under coach Badger Bob Johnson in 1991, and under legendary coach Scotty Bowman in '92 following the Badger's passing. They entered '92-'93 with a pretty stacked team, still considered probably the greatest offensive team in franchise history. Lemieux (160), Kevin Stevens (111), Rick Tocchet (109) and Ron Francis (100) all had 100 points or more on the season. The young stud Jaromir Jagr had 94. Defenseman Larry Murphy had 85. This team steamrolled to 56 regular season wins, basically daring teams to try and out-score them.
And then the playoffs happened. The Pens dominated the New Jersey Devils in Round 1, scoring at will aside from a one-game misstep where they scored a single goal and Jersey won its only game of the series.
Following the Devils were the New York Islanders, 3rd in the Patrick Division that season with only one player over 100 points, Pierre Turgeon (132). Turgeon was famously cheap-shotted by Washington's Dale Hunter after Turgeon scored the first round series-clinching goal and ended up missing the series against the Pens. Pittsburgh should've shredded the Isles, yet lost two games in the series while still scoring 5 goals. The Isles role players were fired up. In OT of Game 7, David Volek, he of the 21 points that season, ended the much-vaunted Pens season. It still hurts to type this and I'm sure you're in just as much pain reading.
That game took place on Friday, May 14th of 1993. The Bulls began their three-peat quest in the NBA Finals less than a month later, June 9th. The Penguins' stunning loss provided the continuation of the '93 three-peat failures narrative following Duke's March ousting. And just three days before the NBA Finals began, Courier's French Open loss cemented the storyline which helped keep that Pens team in a place of infamy.
So the Bulls looked at what had happened around the sports world and shrugged it off to beat the Phoenix Suns in six games, one of the losses being in three overtimes. The failure narrative had been snapped by one of the greatest athletes ever, but oh what might have been. The sports world could've seen something truly magical had Courier, Duke and the Pens taken care of business.
We can point to any number of reasons why the Pens lost that season. The team's defense and goaltending had let in a ton more goals against the Islanders that series than was normal. The Isles were fired up after Turgeon's injury. THE DAMN PIGEON LOGO SEEN IN THE ABOVE PICTURE that was introduced just that season following the Pens' back-to-back Cups and desire to cash in on new merchandising opportunities. The luck of the Volek. It happened, and Pens fans live with that fear in every playoff series in which Pittsburgh is the favorite.
And thanks to ESPN Classic, we can all re-live that horror while watching old sports footage that has little to nothing to do with hockey or the Pens in general.