1998 NBA Finals. Game 6. Michael Jordan’s final time to don the red and black Bulls uniform. Phil Jackson‘s last time on the Chicago bench. The game was historic for many reasons. Interestingly, all that history combined to make history that night in Utah as Game 6 was the most-watched game in NBA history.
1998 NBA Finals Game 6 had all the ingredients
Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals featured everything you could ask for in a drama. The star of the show was the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, in his final swan song with the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan’s pending departure was the direct result of an earlier act in the play, when the supporting actor, head coach Phil Jackson, was informed it would be his final season guiding the Bulls. Those two, along with the rest of the supporting cast, including Scottie Pippen, had successfully navigated the NBA regular season and the first couple of rounds of the playoffs, and held a 3-2 advantage over the antagonists, the Utah Jazz and its main villains Karl Malone and John Stockton.
To add even more intrigue, the Bulls and Jazz had a history. It would be a momentous enough occasion just to compete in the NBA Finals. However, this was a rematch from the previous season when the Bulls dispatched the Jazz 4-2 in a hard-fought series.
1998 NBA Finals Game 6 witnessed by record number of viewers
With this being the final appearances of Jordan and Jackson, combined with so much at stake, the sports world watched the entire series in record numbers. In fact, Game 5 of the NBA Finals briefly held the record for most-watched game in NBA history with an incredible 30.5 million viewers tuned in to see if Jordan and the Bulls could close out the series in five.
The Jazz played the villainous role of spoilers beautifully holding the defending champion Bulls at bay for at least one more time, winning in a close contest 83-81. That victory provided hope for the Jazz fans, but for most sports fans, it was delaying the inevitable—one final coronation for the GOAT.
Jordan delivered in the Game 6 contest scoring a game-high 45 points, and delivered in the ratings in historic fashion, with a record-setting 35.9 million fans tuning in to watch the Bulls capture the title one last time as Jordan and Jackson victoriously rode off into the sunset together. In addition, the 1998 Finals was the most-watched series ever with an average of 29 million viewers per contest.
Jordan is the GOAT in viewers watching
While the older Jordan-aged audience thought The Last Dance documentary answered any questions about who is the GOAT, many of the younger crowd still think it’s a matter of debate between Jordan and LeBron James. When it comes to television ratings, there is no doubt who is the GOAT.
The 1998 Finals had two of the three most-viewed games in league history. Sandwiched in between Games 5 and 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals is LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers taking on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
In that contest, 31.02 million viewers tuned in and watched as James scored 27 points and led the Cavaliers to a 93-89 victory over the Warriors to win Cleveland’s first NBA title in the organization’s history. In addition to the big audience numbers for Game 7, the series was also the second-most watched with an average of 20.3 million viewers.
All viewing numbers courtesy of Forbes.