Michael Jordan and Larry Bird are close friends, so it wasn’t that surprising to see the Boston Celtics legend take not-so-subtle shots at Chicago Bulls management in 1998 for how they treated MJ and head coach Phil Jackson.
Bird, one of the greatest players in NBA history, was the head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Star Team in 1998. That’s the season Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said Jackson wouldn’t return the following season even if he went 82-0 and won his sixth championship.
Jordan said he would retire from the NBA several times if Jackson weren’t the Bulls’ head coach in 1998-99, but Krause said he wouldn’t change his mind. The GM’s line of thinking made no sense to Bird.
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird faced each other in the ’98 Eastern Conference Finals
The 1997-98 season was Bird’s first year as the Indiana Pacers head coach. He guided them to the Eastern Conference Finals, where Jordan and the Bulls awaited them.
Chicago won Games 1 and 2 at home. Many experts picked them to win the series easily, but Bird’s crew wouldn’t go down without a fight. Led by Reggie Miller, the Pacers protected home court by winning Games 3 and 4. Jordan and Co. responded in championship fashion by regaining momentum in Game 5 at the United Center and winning to take a 3-2 lead. The Bulls were set up to win Game 6 on the road and advance to the Finals.
However, the Pacers won Game 6, setting up a Game 7 back in Chicago. During the Bulls’ dynasty, Jordan only played in two Game 7s. That’s how dominant he and his teammates were throughout the ’90s.
The Bulls and Pacers played a classic Game 7 on May 31, 1998. At several points, it looked like Indiana would win. However, Chicago outscored its opponent 19-18 in the fourth quarter and won by a final score of 88-83.
Since he was a superstar on the Celtics during his playing days, Bird knew teams needed to treat their best players the right way, which is why he was puzzled the Bulls wouldn’t give Jordan what he wanted in 1998.
Larry Bird thought Bulls management should have bowed down to Michael Jordan
During an interview with NBC at the 1998 All-Star Game, Bird basically said the Bulls should bow down to Jordan and give him whatever he wants so he doesn’t retire. MJ’s frustration with Krause was because the latter said Jackson wouldn’t be the coach next season. The Bulls superstar made it clear he wouldn’t play for another coach.
“Michael Jordan is playing for my team, and he wants a certain individual to coach him, I think I would bow down and let him have him to keep it going,” Bird said. “These championships are hard to get, and if Michael leaves, it’ll be easier for everyone else.”
Krause made the Bulls’ 1997-98 season tumultuous by publicly saying Jackson wouldn’t be back in 1998-99. That made Jordan and his teammates angry and motivated them to finish the dynasty with a sixth title.
The Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in the ’98 Finals for their sixth championship in eight years. After the parade in Chicago, owner Jerry Reinsdorf told Jackson he’d earned the right to come back for another season, but the Zen Master chose not to return since he knew things would be awkward and murky with Krause.
Jordan retired in the summer of 1998, while Scottie Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets. The Bulls haven’t gotten back to the Finals since Jackson, Jordan, and Pippen left.
Larry Legend’s best quote about His Airness is renowned
On April 20, 1986, the Bulls faced the Celtics in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs. Boston won the game to take a 2-0 series lead, but Jordan stole the show and the headlines by scoring a whopping 63 points. It’s the most points ever scored in a postseason game.
In the postgame locker room, Bird was asked to talk about Jordan’s historical performance. He said, “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.” That quote is still one of the most legendary lines in sports history.
Bird finished his NBA career with three championships, two Finals MVPs, and three regular-season MVPs. Meanwhile, Jordan won six rings, six Finals MVPs, and five regular-season MVPs. Both guys are in the Hall of Fame and will never be forgotten.