Forty-two seconds changed the next 20 years of NBA basketball.
The Chicago Bulls trailed the Utah Jazz 86-83 in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals with 41.9 seconds remaining, and Game 7 was not only a possibility, but a problem. Scottie Pippen was playing hurt. Ron Harper was playing sick. Toni Kukoc was playing tired: he missed his pre-game nap while watching soccer.
Toni’s might have been a silly setback, but the team’s overall fatigue was real. The Bulls were gassed. Playing their first ever Finals Game 7 on the road against a team frothing for revenge was not ideal.
And, as it happened, it was not an option.
“My whole thought process was always, ‘We’re going to win the game,’” Michael Jordan wrote four months later in his book For the Love of The Game. “It didn’t matter whether we were down 4 points or 24 points. I always felt things would work out.”
Man, did they ever. MJ closed Game 6 with arguably the most famous one-player sequence in NBA history. In doing so, he won his sixth ring and sixth Finals MVP in six tries, setting the stage for every NBA debate of the past 20 years. Right or wrong, fair or not, every superstar since Mike has been judged by the number 6, along with “6 and 0,” two metrics that have driven discourse, made media careers, and influenced two of the biggest personnel moves of the period, the Kobe-Shaq breakup and The Decision.
To celebrate this historic game for its 20th anniversary, I dug deep to compile the oral history of MJ’s “last shot” and the final day of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, June 14, 1998. Nearly every quote in this story comes from just after the game—either that night or the next day—along with quotes from Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson from pieces written in 1998.
This is the true story of how one of the greatest runs in sports history came to an end, told in real time by the people who lived it.
PART I: “Are you ready to play 48 minutes?”
The Bulls in the ‘98 Finals were like the bus in Speed. If all you have is a bus flying down the freeway above 55 miles per hour, then great! You’ll reach your destination in no time at all. But that team did feel like it had a bomb strapped to it in the form of three elements:
1. Collective exhaustion, both generally (the 2nd three-peat as a whole, and the ‘98 season more specifically) and specifically (coming off of the franchise’s first 7-game series since 1994, and the first with Jordan since 1992)
2. Individual exhaustion, with Jordan completing an unfathomable stretch (351 of 352 total games from his return from baseball to the start of the Finals), Pippen battling injury all year, and an average age of 32.5 for the team’s top 7 players
3. No Finals home court advantage. The Bulls lost Game 1 of the Finals in overtime, and then rolled to a 3-1 lead, including the greatest ass-kicking in NBA history, a 96-54 Game 3 win that set NBA records for fewest points by a team in any game in the shot clock era and for the largest margin of victory in the NBA Finals.
Then came the potential clincher at home, which ended when Jordan missed an off-balance catch-and-shoot three-pointer that could have won the trophy and would have been Jordan’s final shot as a Bull.
This was a weird one—Jackson said that he drew up the game-winning shot for Kukoc, who had a team-high 30 that night, before the play was busted by Utah’s defense.
“As much as I wanted Michael to have that crowning glory, I figured it was a wonderful time to use him as a decoy,” Jackson said in an as-told-to piece with Rick Telander for ESPN The Magazine, published a month after the Finals. “And Michael wasn’t bothered by that.”
The problem, Jackson said, is that 6'6" Ron Harper was inbounding the ball, and was defended by 7'2" Greg Ostertag, who obscured Harper’s vision. Harp allegedly couldn’t see Kukoc, and instead spotted Jordan at the last second.
According to Jackson, Jordan described the sequence as “cute.”
“He was the mistress of the moment, and he was fascinated by it,” Jackson said. “If that had been the winning shot, it would have been like cheating the Devil, or God.”
The thing is, Kukoc was wide-open on the play. Jordan pretty obviously darts in front of him to take the pass from Harper. A year earlier, MJ had secured the 5th championship with a series-winning assist to Steve Kerr. It was the right basketball play, but I have to wonder if he would have felt diminished ever-so-slightly if yet again the championship-winning shot came from a teammate, not him, especially considering it would have been the final play of his Bulls career.
Whatever the case, Jordan’s missed shot in Game 5 meant the Bulls were going back to Utah for the remainder of the series. They would do so with Pippen ailing. And they would need everything MJ had left in the tank.
MICHAEL JORDAN (guard, Bulls): “We lost our opportunity to win it at home, and we came here. At first as soon as the game ended in Chicago, there were some negative thoughts. And as time went past, I think everybody realized that if we wanted a 6th title we’d have to go to Utah to get it.”
PHIL JACKSON (head coach, Bulls): “I talked to Michael in the locker room before Game 6 in Utah. He was the last one to get taped, and Scottie was lying on a table near him getting ice and electric stimulation for his bad back.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN (forward, Bulls): “I took too many charges from Karl Malone.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I told Phil that, ‘I know I am going to have to play a lot of minutes. I’m going to have to conserve energy somewhere.’”
DENNIS RODMAN (forward, Bulls): “The last couple of years have been more like people expected us to win. This year was more like we had to dig deep down inside to get this tonight.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “In some people’s eyes, no one expected us to fulfill this.”
DENNIS RODMAN: “It was mentally draining more than anything.”
STEVE KERR (guard, Bulls): “It’s not just the number of games. It’s that every game is the Super Bowl—for the fans, for the other team, for the media. Our games are not the Clippers vs. the Grizzlies.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Phil asked me before the game: ‘Are you ready to play 48 minutes?’ I said, ‘Whatever it takes.’”
Scottie tweaked his back on a dunk for the game’s first points, and exacerbated his condition later when he fell while making a jump hook. He limped and grimaced his way through the first half, ending both the 1st and 2nd quarters in the trainer’s room and receiving treatment at halftime. Pippen returned for the 2nd half but played only 26 minutes for the whole game.
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “I was hurting pretty bad. To start the game off I was able to get a dunk, and when I came down the pain just sort of built from that point. Every time I tried to run I was getting spasms.”
PHIL JACKSON: “Scottie said he couldn’t come back in the first half. He couldn’t move.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “I decided I had to take advantage of that little bit of time before the half and see what I could do.… Chip wanted to give me a little treatment. I took the treatment and I told him from there that I was just going to try to gut it out. I felt that my presence out on the floor would mean more than just sitting in the locker room.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “We knew Scottie was hurt, and just his presence gave us a lift: offensively, defensively, and emotionally.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “I felt like to some degree, without me being out on the court, that I was kind of letting the team down. They understood, but I wanted to be there.”
TONI KUKOC (forward, Bulls): “I know he shouldn’t have been playing, but his heart is much bigger than his back problem.”
PHIL JACKSON: “He got back in the second half and double-teamed Karl, got the ball away from him a couple of times and did a couple of things roving. But he wasn’t active as he usually is.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “The other guys came off the bench (and) held us in there in the 1st half. Especially Michael.”
PHIL JACKSON: “Michael became our offense. I told him to go to the hole because he didn't have enough energy for his jump shot.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I was more competitive than I ever was, because I wanted to win more than I ever did.”
PHIL JACKSON: “No matter how confident you are as a coach, you really don't want to go into a seventh game on an opponent's court.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “I didn’t want to be looking at a Game 7 knowing I’m not 100%. We would have pretty much had our backs against the wall playing on their court.”
PHIL JACKSON: “We've never played a Game 7 in the Finals, and there was no reason to start now.”
PART II: “As soon as Russell reached, he gave me a clear lane.”
Michael Jordan’s “last shot” was the culmination of three shots against the Jazz in the 1997 Finals, with Utah’s choice to either double-team or not double-team blowing up in their faces each time.
In Game 1, with the game tied, Utah defended Jordan one-on-one with Bryon Russell for the game’s final 7.5 seconds. Mike hit the game-winner.
In Game 5, AKA The Flu Game, with 30 seconds remaining in a tie game of a tie series, Jordan and Kerr created spacing around the arc while Pippen backed down Jeff Hornacek. When Russell left Jordan to double Pippen, Jordan slid to his left away from Kerr, leaving John Stockton to guard two players. Pippen fired a pass to Jordan. Stockton couldn’t recover. MJ nailed the back-breaking three.
In Game 6, with the teams tied at 86, Utah doubled Jordan. MJ took a handoff from Pippen with 10 seconds left, and when Stockton left Kerr for the double, Jordan pivoted between Stockton and Russell and found Kerr wide-open for the series-winning jumper.
This time, in Game 6 of 1998, when Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone and brought the ball into position to set up a potential Finals-winning shot, the Bulls spread the floor and again forced the Jazz to either double Jordan and leave a shooter open, or let MJ face a single defender.
MJ missed the final shot of the 1st quarter and the final shot of the first half, but I don’t think many Jazz fans clutched honestly to the notion that he might miss the final shot of the game. They were probably still fuming that the game was that close to begin with.
In the first quarter, officials waved off a three-pointer from backup Jazz point guard Howard Eisley, calling a shot clock violation. In the fourth, officials counted a two-pointer by Ron Harper. Replays showed that Eisley’s shot beat the clock while Harper’s did not—a five-point swing for the Bulls.
DENNIS RODMAN: “(Harper’s) was the biggest shot of the game. He was sick and throwing up all night last night. He didn’t sleep at all. But he came to play.”
JEFF HORNACEK (guard, Jazz): “You don’t argue things like that. The truth is, we had the lead near the end and they scored twice and won it. That, in the end, is all that counts.”
ANTOINE CARR (center, Jazz): “It was upsetting, especially when someone misses a call like that. Kind of makes you wonder what’s going on.”
JERRY SLOAN (head coach, Jazz): “We knew that was going to be tough. It was tough to swallow. What are you going to do about it now? That’s the way it is in this business. You’re still a loser.”
Like Hornacek said, even with the two missed calls, the Jazz had a three-point lead when Stockton drilled a three-pointer with 41.9 seconds remaining. The score stood 86-83, Utah. After a timeout, the Bulls took the floor with Jordan, Pippen, Kerr, Kukoc and Rodman. Pippen inbounded the ball to MJ. It was the last time any Bull other than Jordan would touch the ball.
MICHAEL JORDAN: “We went into the fourth quarter down (five) points. That was nothing. And it was nothing even with one of our key players out.”
PHIL JACKSON: “With a couple of minutes to play, I called a timeout, and (Michael) said ‘We’re gonna win this one.’ And I said, ‘I know.’ When Michael says that, it’s always a good sign.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “During the 1997-98 season I built toward the fourth quarter because I was conserving energy early in the game. My game had always been to go all out for 48 minutes. Now I was conserving myself for the last 12 minutes.”
JEFF HORNACEK: “He stepped up his game. We tried early to get too tight on him and he went around us and we just fouled him. Well, you can’t do that for long and get away with it.”
PHIL JACKSON: “The Jazz were just smacking him every time he drove, and he was making his free throws.”
ANTOINE CARR: “We were just trying to close him down.” Reporter: “It didn’t work.” Carr: “Obviously.”
PHIL JACKSON: “When Stockton made that three to give the Jazz a three-point lead with 41 seconds to play, I called time and told the players we had a two-for-one situation: if we stopped them and scored twice, we’d win.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I knew we were going to have an opportunity to win this game, and I wanted to do that from an offensive standpoint.”
JERRY SLOAN: “You have to understand who he is. Our people were working hard, they were trying hard. They didn’t say, ‘You can have it, we’re going to give it to you.’”
JEFF HORNACEK: “Mike just got us out of our intensity.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Phil called an isolation play for me to take it to the hole and make them foul me or get an easy basket.”
JERRY SLOAN: “We wanted to force him to the middle. That’s our philosophy. It’s been our philosophy for 13 years.”
After Jordan made a layup to make it 86-85, reducing Utah's lead to one point, Stockton took the ball to the left side of the floor, with Hornacek under the basket on the same side, guarded by Jordan, and Malone on the opposite side, under the basket, guarded by Rodman. Hornacek then set a screen on the baseline for Malone, essentially allowing them to switch spots. Jordan followed Hornacek, but then stopped, and remained behind Malone.
JOHN STOCKTON (guard, Jazz): “I like my chances of going to Karl every time. He makes great passes, he makes great decisions, and he scores.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “We had been trying to double team (Malone), and Hornacek was trying to (set a) pick, but he never really cleared, which gave me an opportunity to go back.”
JERRY SLOAN: “Turnovers killed us down the stretch.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Karl never saw me coming.”
KARL MALONE (forward, Jazz): “I don’t know. They got the ball. That’s fine. Whatever.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I was able to knock the ball away.… I looked up and saw 18.5 seconds left.”
PHIL JACKSON: “At that moment, I think we were of one mind.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Crowd gets quiet. The moment starts to become The Moment for me. That’s part of that Zen Buddhism stuff.”
PHIL JACKSON: “I was waving for him to go down court. I think he saw me out of the corner of his eye waving off a timeout.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I felt like we couldn’t call timeout because it would give the defense an opportunity to set up.”
PHIL JACKSON: “The flow was the right thing at the moment, so we didn’t want to stop.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I could see every player… as I came up the floor. Steve Kerr was in the corner. John Stockton faked at me and was going to come to me. I was up top. Dennis was curling underneath the post on the left. Scottie was on the bottom post on the right.”
BRYON RUSSELL (forward, Jazz), 2012: “My first thought was, ‘Thank goodness I can hand check,’ because if they had these rules now, for him, he’d average 60, easy.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I was going to the right because I knew I could get a shot off. Any time I needed to make a shot I went to my right as long as the defense didn’t make a mistake and open a lane to my left. When you go to your right the defensive player has to come across your body to get to the ball.”
PHIL JACKSON: “We spread the floor, and Michael waited until Bryon Russell reached for the ball.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Stockton was on the right hand side with Steve Kerr. He couldn’t gamble because Steve has killed them before.”
JERRY SLOAN: “You can double him, you can push him, but great players make those kinds of plays.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I had no intention of passing the ball under any circumstances. I figured I stole the ball and it was my opportunity to win or lose the game. I would have taken that shot with five people on me.”
JERRY SLOAN: “We’re not going to change our whole structure of basketball just for one person.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “As soon as Russell reached, he gave me a clear lane.”
BRYON RUSSELL, 2014: “He pushed me—obviously.”
JOHN STOCKTON, 2013: “No question. I’m not saying that because I think it should have been called a foul. I don’t. But he shoved him.”
PHIL JACKSON, 2013: “That wasn’t a push-off. It was a helping hand to a broke down comrade :-)”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I made my initial drive and he bit on it.”
BRYON RUSSELL, 2009: “That’s Mike. I don’t think he’s ever going to admit to anything.”
JOHN STOCKTON, 2014: “The push-off is part of the game. To be a great player and a great scorer, you have to find ways to get yourself open and get shots off. It's a dog fight. So, yeah, did he push off? Sure. But I don't think I would have called it.”
BRYON RUSSELL, 2013: “It was a great basketball play. They didn’t call it. I thought it was (a foul). Apparently the officials didn’t. There’s nothing for me to be upset about.”
PHIL JACKSON: “He went up for a jump shot near the free throw line.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I stopped, pulled up and had an easy jump shot.”
BRYON RUSSELL, 2009: “He gave that little laugh. You know how that go.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Ironically, I have problems going to my right for a stop, pull-up jumper because I have a tendency to come up short. I normally fade a little. But on this shot I didn’t want to fade because all my jump shots had been short. Think about that.”
JEFF HORNACEK: “You don’t expect him to be tired. He shows no signs of it.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I consciously extended my hand up and out toward the target because I had been coming up short. It looked like I was posing, but it was a fundamentally sound shot.”
PHIL JACKSON: “He cleared himself, and you can see in the video that he put extra stuff on the shot.”
BRYON RUSSELL, 2009: “I was hoping he missed. That was my thing. ‘I hope it don’t go in. (pause) Damn it went in. Timeout.’”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Great look, and it went in.”
BRYON RUSSELL, 2009: “It was a great shot.”
PHIL JACKSON: “I didn’t think he could top [the Flu Game], but he topped it here tonight.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Once it went in, I knew we had been hanging around long enough. That was the game-winning basket.”
PART III: “If this is the end, this is the only way to go out.”
The dynasty’s final possession was on defense, which was fitting, because in both versions of the 90s Bulls it was the D, not the scoring, that put them over the top.
In that respect, it was poetic for Ron Harper to make the dynasty’s final play, because Harp in some ways was the symbol of the 2nd three-peat. He was the 2nd “Jordan replacement” after Pete Myers, but reinvented himself as a defensive specialist after Mike returned and made it clear that he, Harper, was not the 20-point man the Bulls thought they’d signed.
In late 1995, Phil Jackson saw in Harper the 3rd big guard the team needed to compete with Orlando, and before the ‘95 expansion draft he asked Harper, Jordan and Pippen if they felt comfortable covering the league’s small, quick guards—guys like Stockton, for example. Harp, Mike and Pip told Phil not to worry, that between the three of them plus Steve Kerr, they would be ready.
They were, and so there was Harper, defending Stockton to close out championship number six. The win brought more questions than answers, of course. Conversation pretty quickly shifted to the enormous “what’s next?” that loomed over the entire season. Phil called it the “Last Dance,” which was as accurate as it was unprecedented.
Never in NBA history before or since has an entire championship team been set to disintegrate the following season. Along with Phil Jackson, the Bulls had 10 players with expiring contracts, including Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Longley and Kerr.
More than anyone else, the big question was Pippen. The Bulls had nearly traded him in 1994, 1995 and 1997, and while Jordan, Rodman and Jackson were getting paid on one-year deals after 1996 and 1997, Pippen was growing more and more underpaid; by 1998 he was the sixth-highest paid Bull.
The looming breakup of the Bulls was set to be bad business for just about everyone, except Pippen, who stood to make a relative fortune. And so the strangest championship celebration in perhaps the history of professional sports carried everyone into that good night.
JERRY SLOAN: “We were just trying to get a shot. That’s a very difficult thing to do against this team, and with the number of seconds on the clock.”
JOHN STOCKTON: “I had a good look at it. You never hear anyone say they didn’t think the shot was going to go in, but I really did think it was going in.”
JERRY SLOAN: “I thought we did a very poor job of executing the play we drew. Obviously they did a good job of trying to force us out on the floor a little farther.… John had to take a hurried shot.”
JOHN STOCKTON: “This is not a pleasurable experience, I can tell you that.”
KARL MALONE: “It’s the same thing, over and over, every year. I’m tired of it.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Our defense held up strong the whole series. We would never have been in this scenario if it hadn’t been for defense.”
When the buzzer sounded, Jordan delivered his signature jump-and-fist pump, and then walked toward the sideline yelling “Yes!” while holding six fingers in the air.
PHIL JACKSON: “We hugged at the end. Hard. I knew it was the end of a lot of things. ‘What an incredible finish,’ I said to Michael. ‘What a miraculous story.’”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I think it was bittersweet in the sense that it was the toughest route, toughest challenge in the six championships that we’ve won.”
KARL MALONE: “We fought hard. The guys did a good job. It’s a tough loss. Give them credit.”
JERRY SLOAN: “Our guy did everything he could. Karl Malone left his heart on the court, like he always does.”
TONI KUKOC: “We knew we would win, because we have Michael Jordan.”
PHIL JACKSON: “Michael is a real-life super hero.”
JOHN STOCKTON: “He’s the greatest closer in the history of the game.”
GREG FOSTER (forward/center, Jazz): “You just saw the best player who ever played the game take his team on his shoulders and there was nothing we could do about it.”
STEVE KERR: “Let’s face it: we all hopped on Michael’s back. He just carried us. It was his game. That guy is ridiculous. He is so good it’s scary.”
JERRY SLOAN: “I think everybody knows how he should be remembered: as the greatest player that ever played.”
PHIL JACKSON: “This was the best performance I’ve seen by Michael Jordan in a critical situation in a critical series.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Although we couldn’t do it in Chicago, there’s some gratification to do it here where the fans came down on us real hard.”
DENNIS RODMAN: “It was obvious that the referees expected us to roll over and die so (the NBA) could get an extra $30 million. Thank God we have the players that believe in themselves.”
KARL MALONE: “I’m not a quitter. I’ve just got to get away for a while to think about things.”
PHIL JACKSON: “We’re celebrating like this is our last one. Unless something absolutely unusual comes out of left field, I don’t expect us to be back here.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “I think this is probably it. It’s pretty much over.”
STEVE KERR, about Pippen: “When you’ve given your blood, sweat and tears to a franchise, it can’t be easy to leave.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “You hate to see it come to an end and you don’t want to see it end. We feel like we’re dominant.”
LUC LONGLEY (center, Bulls): “I hope Michael, Scottie and Phil all come back. But at this point, I’d be very surprised if they do.”
RON HARPER (guard, Bulls): “If this is the end, this is the only way to go out.”
JERRY KRAUSE (general manager, Bulls): “I’m very proud of this team. I believed they could win again and they did.”
TONI KUKOC: “Nobody said this is the end. If it is the last time, which I hope not, then it is the best way to end.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “My answer is that there are still a lot of unanswered questions.”
JOHN STOCKTON: “As long as he decides to play, you have to wonder if there’s any reason for the rest of us to play. It’s not a matter of being disheartened, but you know that as long as he’s breathing, he will not let his team lose.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “Michael has probably got another five years left before we see a decline in him.”
JOHN STOCKTON: “He’s not quitting. He’ll be back, and Scottie will be back and Phil Jackson will be back. I’m tired of hearing all of that.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “I would love for that to happen. I think that’s something that will have to be determined over the summer.”
JERRY KRAUSE: “Tonight all I want to do is celebrate and have fun and we’re going to talk later on.”
JERRY REINSDORF (Bulls chairman): “I can only hope and pray that Michael and Scottie will come back and defend the championship one more time.”
DWIGHT MANLEY (agent, Dennis Rodman): “Certain people high up in the organization said, ‘See you next year.’ So that’s a positive thing.”
JERRY KRAUSE: “I have to… sit down with Jerry Reinsdorf and give him my recommendations. And then we’ve got the draft right after that. Then, there’s a possible lockout. I don’t know how quickly things will develop. But as for what decisions I’ve made, I’d say none of them have been made yet. Anything is still possible.”
JERRY REINSDORF: “We hope that this is not the end of this run. I don’t want to be the person that breaks up the Chicago Bulls as long as they’re winning championships.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “It’s unforgettable. It’s something that I’ll be able to look back and cherish for the rest of my life. To be able to win six titles in the last eight years, it’s been a great run for us. It’s been a lot of fun, a lot of celebrations. You’ll never see any other team in the future being as dominant as this ball club has been.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “If and when that time comes that I have to walk away, I hope that no one will look at me (any) less.”
PHIL JACKSON: “The reality is, we planned this to be my last year. I just figured if I’m not coming back, my office is clean and I don’t have to make the extra trip. I don’t expect to be back, unless something unusual happens.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “Right now I just want to enjoy this moment and get myself feeling good again physically.” Reporter: “Is (coming back) a possibility?” Pippen: “Anything is possible.”
RON HARPER: “If he wants to be on this team again, it’s up to him — to my man Scottie. And if he don’t want to be a Bull, I’m going to sit back and cheer for him anyway.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “I’ve enjoyed my career with Michael, and I feel I perform much better being on the court with him. … I hope me and Michael can stick together at least for a few more years. That’s all I can do.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “Tonight there are a lot of sympathetic feelings about this team and where they want us to go. But as time gets involved, some of the feelings may change. You never know. I think that’s the purpose of waiting until the end of the summer and making final decisions.”
SCOTTIE PIPPEN: “I know I’ve said some things in the past. If these guys want to come back and try again, I’ll be open minded to what’s going on.”
MICHAEL JORDAN: “We had to keep looking at the bigger picture, which is tonight. It’s the biggest picture we could think of. And sure, sometimes the bigger doesn’t look so clear, but you keep moving in the right direction, it’s going to clear itself up. And tonight it’s very very clear.”
Deep in the glow of victory, still in their jerseys and shorts, wearing their championship t-shirts and hats, basking in their sixth championship together in eight years, the old partners sat in the locker room, side by side.
“Can you believe it?” Jordan said. “Six. SIX.”
“Six,” Pippen said, smiling, dazed, exhaling cigar smoke. Two bottles of champagne sat between them.
“Six of ‘em,” Jordan said. Pippen hugged a well-wisher as Jordan bellowed, “Six of ‘em.” And then, dragging out his words in triumphant slur, “SIIIIIIX OF THEM.”
He smiled and chuckled.
“Y’all can say whatever you want,” Jordan told everyone and no one. “They can’t win until we quit.”
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, and author of How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls. He is the proprietor of the Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.
Jordan, Michael, and Mark Vancil (editor). For the Love of the Game: My Story. Oct. 27, 1998
Jackson, Phil, and Rick Telander. “Last Running of the Bulls” — ESPN The Magazine. July 13, 1998
Luhm, Steve. “Bryon Russell still asked about Jordan’s push, game-winner” — The Salt Lake Tribune. Feb. 8, 2014
Taylor, Phil. “Six Shooter” — Sports Illustrated. June 22, 1998
Bruce Blitz interview of Bryon Russell, via YouTube. 2012
Chris Mannix interview of John Stockton, via NESN.com. 2013
Dan Patrick interview of John Stockton, via NBCsports.com. 2014
ESPN interview of Bryon Russell, via Sports Illustrated. 2013
KTLA interview of Bryon Russell, via YouTube. 2009
Phil Jackson tweet, @philjackson11
NBC game broadcast, via YouTube
NBC coverage of the post-game interviews, via YouTube
WGN News coverage of the post-game press conference, via YouTube
Newspaper reporting via newspapers.com:
Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1998
Daily Citizen (Wisconsin), June 15, 1998
The Daily Herald (Illinois), June 15, 1998
The Daily Spectrum (Utah), June 15, 1998
Herald and Review (Illinois), June 15, 1998
Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1998
San Francisco Chronicle, June 15, 1998