June 14, 1998, is a date Chicago Bulls fans will never forget. It’s the day Michael Jordan played his final game with the team and won his sixth championship by beating the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.
During the Jordan era, the Bulls never played in a Game 7 in the Finals. Had they lost Game 6 of the ’98 Finals to the Jazz, they would have been underdogs in Game 7 since Jordan was tired and Scottie Pippen had a bad back.
The Bulls trailed the Jazz by three points in Game 6 with 41.0 seconds remaining. It appeared there would be a Game 7. However, Jordan put on his Superman cape and delivered three straight incredible plays to shock Utah and capture his sixth and final title.
Michael Jordan scored four points and recorded one steal to close Game 6
Jazz point guard John Stockton hit a 3-pointer with 41.0 seconds left in regulation to give the Jazz a 86-83 lead. It looked like Utah was on its way to win Game 6 and force a Game 7.
However, Jordan had other ideas. With 37.0 seconds remaining, he made a layup to make the score 86-85. The Bulls legend then recorded arguably the biggest steal in NBA history, as he stole the ball from Karl Malone at the 18-second mark. Phil Jackson decided not to call a timeout so that the Jazz couldn’t set their defense and let his best player control the show.
With 5.0 seconds left, Jordan hit a jumper over Bryon Russell to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead. The Jazz crowd was in utter shock, as they had just watched their team blow a three-point lead in the blink of an eye. However, Utah had one final shot to force a Game 7.
Stockton got a clean look at a 3-pointer, but it didn’t go in. Jordan jumped in the air after the final buzzer sounded and held up six fingers. And in classic MJ fashion, the five-time MVP knew the Bulls would win despite the odds looking bleak.
Michael Jordan told Phil Jackson Bulls would win despite trailing
Despite the Bulls losing, Jordan told Jackson in a late timeout that they would win Game 6. Once the Zen Master heard His Airness speak up, he knew MJ would deliver the goods.
“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,” Jackson said after Game 6.
Four months after winning his sixth ring, Jordan’s For the Love of The Game book came out. In the novel, the 10-time scoring champion wrote that he never had any doubts the Bulls would win Game 6 despite Pippen’s back injury and his own lack of energy.
“My whole thought process was always, ‘We’re going to win the game.’ It didn’t matter whether we were down 4 points or 24 points,” Jordan wrote. “I always felt things would work out.”
Jordan’s positive attitude and knack to live in the moment helped him become the great player he was. Until the final buzzer sounded, he always felt he had a chance to win the game no matter what the score was or how his team was playing.
Scottie Pippen deserves major credit for playing Game 6
Pippen hurt his back in Game 5 of the Finals and tweaked it on a dunk for the game’s first points in Game 6. He could barely run up and down the floor, ending both the first and second quarter in the trainer’s room receiving treatment. He returned for the second half but played only 26 minutes.
“I was hurting pretty bad,” Pippen said after Game 6. “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.”
Jordan told Pippen the Bulls were better off with him on the court, even if he was a decoy. The All-Star small forward gutted it out and finished with eight points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals while shooting 4-of-7 from the field. Toni Kukoc told reporters postgame that Pippen shouldn’t have played but that “his heart is much bigger than his back problem.”
Jordan is arguably the greatest player in NBA history, but he even said in the Last Dance docuseries that he doesn’t win six championships without Pippen. The Arkansas native deserves major credit for playing in Game 6 and helping the Bulls complete their second three-peat.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.