Michael Jordan‘s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98 was documented for the world to see in The Last Dance docuseries. Fans got a behind-the-scenes look at much turmoil Jordan and his teammates dealt with in their quest to win their sixth championship in eight years.
Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was at the root of what made the tension of Jordan’s last season in Chicago so severe. At various points during the 1997-98 campaign, it looked like the Bulls wouldn’t overcome all the drama Krause stirred up, but Jordan never doubted his team’s resiliency.
Michael Jordan was always confident Bulls could win title in ’98
In April 1998, Jordan told ESPN that he was confident the Bulls could win the championship despite Krause being a pest behind the scenes. Chicago’s architect not only said that organizations, as a whole, win championships, but he also told the media that Phil Jackson wouldn’t return in 1998-99 even if the Bulls went 82-0 and won the title.
“But forget Krause and next year and all that. Can we win it again this year? Yes. I feel really good about it,” Jordan said. “Look at what we’ve done with injuries and the other things we’ve been through. Look at how we’re playing now that Luc Longley is out, our big stabilizer in the middle. We’re not missing a beat. Defensively we’re quick, we’re moving the ball. It’s a championship team that can do what we’re doing — maintaining the edge with a key player out, winning on the road. I don’t see why we can’t win our sixth title.”
Jordan and the Bulls were rolling when he talked to ESPN in April. However, the beginning of the season was rough for His Airness and Co.
Michael Jordan and Bulls started 8-7 in 1997-98
The Bulls began the 1997-98 season with a record of 8-7. Scottie Pippen was out after he underwent surgery on his toe. The All-Star small forward decided to have his surgery during the season instead of the summer of ’97 as his way of thumbing his nose at Krause for not extending his contract. He signed a seven-year, $18 million contract in 1991 that was set to expire after the 1997-98 season.
Dennis Rodman also lacked energy and wasn’t being a force on the boards. With Pippen out and Rodman struggling out of the gate, Jordan had to shoulder the load. However, another big distraction plagued the team when Pippen requested a trade and vowed not to come off the injured list until he was traded.
In The Last Dance, Jordan said Pippen was acting selfishly with his trade demand. While the swingman rehabbed his injury and tried to get traded, Jordan and his teammates started to get on track. Chicago won eight games in a row in December and began to look like a contender again.
Pippen made his return to the Bulls lineup on January 10, 1998. As expected, Chicago didn’t trade the do-it-all wing, and Pippen rejoined Jordan and Rodman in the starting lineup. In April, the Bulls won 13 straight games to finish the season at 62-20 despite Jordan and Pippen hating Krause and Rodman taking a vacation to Las Vegas.
Once the 1998 playoffs started, Jordan had one thing on his mind, and that was to win the Larry O’Brien trophy for the sixth time. Despite being tired mentally and physically, the five-time MVP wasn’t going to let anything stop him.
Bulls beat Jazz for sixth title
Jordan and the Bulls faced the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the ’98 playoffs. They won the series in three games to advance to the second round.
The Charlotte Hornets were Chicago’s opponent in the second round. Jordan, who is now the majority governor of the Hornets, led the Bulls to a series win in five games, setting up a clash with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Bulls-Pacers series was undoubtedly epic. It went seven games, only the second seven-game series Jordan played in during the dynasty years. Chicago won Game 7 at home and geared up for a rematch with the Utah Jazz in the Finals.
Utah lost to the Bulls in the 1997 Finals. In ’98, the Jazz had home-court advantage and felt good about their chances. However, Jordan once again ripped their hearts out and led Chicago to its sixth title by hitting the game-winning shot in Game 6 at the Delta Center.
Despite having a rocky relationship with Krause, Jordan finished his Bulls career a perfect 6-0 in the Finals. It just goes to show how special of a player he was.