Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan thought March 8, 1998, would be his final game at Madison Square Garden. Since Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said Phil Jackson wouldn’t return as head coach in 1998-99, Jordan and the rest of his teammates treated the 1997-98 campaign as their farewell tour in Chicago.
Madison Square Garden was Jordan’s favorite arena to play in. He went into the March 1998 game with the assumption that it would be his final time playing against the New York Knicks in the Big Apple. The Bulls superstar was already motivated to put on a show, but he became even more pumped up after he saw Hall of Famer Earl Monroe in the stands next to Spike Lee.
Michael Jordan: Seeing Earl Monroe next to Spike Lee pumped me up
During an interview with Rick Telander of ESPN in 1998, Jordan spoke about how his adrenaline went up after he saw Monroe in the Madison Square Garden crowd on March 8.
“When I’m playing at the Garden, I try not to gaze into the crowd,” Jordan said. “But I can see certain people, like Spike Lee, of course. But the last game, you know who I saw? Earl the Pearl Monroe. Now that was a big pump. He’s sitting by Spike, and he sees some of the trash-talking I was doing with Spike, and he starts laughing because he understands. A big pump.”
It’s easy to understand why Jordan got pumped up to please the Garden crowd after seeing Monroe. After all, the Pearl is one of the best players in NBA history. He made four All-Star teams during his career and won the 1973 championship with the Knicks.
MJ wore his first signature shoe, the Jordan 1s, against the Knicks on March 8, 1998. Not only did he engage in some trash-talking with Lee, but he also torched New York on the court.
Michael Jordan scored 42 points on 33 shots
Jordan played 43 minutes against the Knicks. He scored 42 points while shooting 17-of-33 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free-throw line. The Bulls won by a final score of 102-89 to improve to 45-16.
The Madison Square Garden crowd gave Jordan a standing ovation before the game started since they thought it was his final contest in New York. Monroe and Lee had excellent seats for Jordan’s spectacular show and likely enjoyed the game even though their beloved Knicks lost by 13.
Led by Jordan, the Bulls finished the 1997-98 season with 62 wins. Black Jesus won his fifth MVP and 10th scoring title and led Chicago to the Finals for the sixth time in eight years. The Utah Jazz, who lost to the Bulls in the 1997 Finals, were Jordan’s opponent again in the 1998 Finals, and even though Karl Malone and Co. had home-court advantage, they had zero answers for Superman.
Bulls beat Jazz for sixth title
Jordan made sure to cap off his final season with the Bulls in legendary fashion. He not only averaged 33.5 points in the ’98 Finals against the Jazz, but he also scored 45 points in Game 6 and hit the game-winning shot with 5.0 seconds left in regulation during his final game in a Chicago uniform.
The Knicks and Jazz had talented rosters that could have won championships in the ’90s. However, Jordan and the Bulls were too good and prevented Malone, John Stockton, and Patrick Ewing from reaching the promised land.
Jordan’s final game at Madison Square Garden was on March 9, 2003. He scored 39 points as a member of the Washington Wizards. Even though Washington lost, Jordan proved that he would always deliver at the Garden no matter how old he was.