Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls faced Karl Malone, John Stockton, and the Utah Jazz in back-to-back NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. The Bulls won both times in six games, with Jordan taking home Finals MVP.
MJ was good friends with Malone and Stockton since all three guys played on the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team. However, that didn’t stop the Bulls legend from tormenting the Jazz and preventing Malone and Stockton from winning a championship.
It wasn’t Karl Malone or John Stockton, though, who got under Michael Jordan’s skin the most. That title went to Bryon Russell, who not only got embarrassed by Jordan on national television twice but was also destroyed by His Airness in a room full of basketball legends.
Michael Jordan hit two game-winners over Bryon Russell in the Finals
Michael Jordan hit not one but two game-winners over Bryon Russell in the NBA Finals. Just like every defender in the NBA, Russell was no match for the Bulls icon.
In Game 1 of the 1997 Finals at the United Center, Jordan hit the game-winning buzzer-beater over Russell to give the Bulls the 84-82 win. The Hall of Famer finished with 31 points on 13-of-27 shooting from the field.
Of course, Jordan’s most iconic shot came in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals in Utah. After stealing the ball from Karl Malone with 18 seconds left in regulation, the five-time MVP crossed over Russell and hit the game-winning jumper with 5.6 seconds remaining.
John Stockton missed a 3-pointer on the Jazz’s next possession, and the Bulls won their sixth championship in eight years.
Many Jazz fans felt bad for Bryon Russell since it seemed like Michael Jordan kept picking on him. However, the Utah guard only had himself to blame.
Bryon Russell talked smack to Michael Jordan
During the 1993-94 NBA season, Michael Jordan played baseball for the Birmingham Barons, the Double AA team of the Chicago White Sox. When the Jazz came into town to take on the Bulls, they used Chicago’s facility to practice.
One day, Jordan ran into Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Bryon Russell. While MJ was catching up with Malone and Stockton, Russell began to talk trash to him and stated he could guard him.
Jordan didn’t know he would eventually come back to the NBA, but the North Carolina grad had Russell on his hit list just in case. When MJ returned to the Bulls, he couldn’t wait to face Russell and the Jazz.
Michael Jordan had his way against Bryon Russell whenever the Bulls and Jazz faced each other. After the six-time Finals MVP retired for good in 2003, Russell thought his days of getting bullied were over, but they weren’t.
MJ poked fun at the former Jazz guard during his Hall of Fame speech
When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, Michael Jordan had the entire crowd buzzing when he told the Bryon Russell story. John Stockton and Jerry Sloan were in attendance and had smiles on their faces the whole time.
Fortunately for Russell, he wasn’t at the ceremony where his name was slandered in front of some of the best players in NBA history.
“When I first met Bryon Russell, I was working out for baseball, and they (the Jazz) came down for a workout, and I came over to say hello to John (Stockton) and Karl (Malone),” Jordan said. “And Bryon Russell came over to me and said, ‘You know what, man, why’d you quit? You know I could guard you. If I ever see you in a pair of shorts…’
“So, when I did decide to come back, and we played Utah, I’m at the center circle, and Bryon Russell is standing next to me, and I look over and say, ‘You remember this conversation you made in 1994 about how you said you could guard me?’ Well, you about to get your chance.”
Michael Jordan is such a competitor that he got the best of Bryon Russell even after both guys were done playing in the NBA.