During Jordan’s final playoff run with the Bulls in 1998, Chicago faced the New Jersey Nets in the first round. Before the series, His Airness publicly declared that the Bulls would have to “fall asleep” for the Nets to win a single game, and that brashness almost backfired on him.
Michael Jordan: Bulls would have to fall asleep to lose game to Nets
The No. 1-seeded Bulls faced the eighth-seeded Nets in the first round of the 1998 playoffs. Jordan and Co. were heavily favored to win the series in three games, and the 10-time scoring champion had no doubt in his mind that his group would come out on top.
Before Game 1, Jordan told the media that the Bulls would have to fall asleep for the Nets to win a single game in the series. New Jersey went 43-39 during the 1997-98 regular season, while Chicago won 62 games.
Jordan won the 1997-98 regular-season MVP and was basically in God-mode all year. However, he nearly looked like a fool in the Nets series.
Bulls almost lost Game 1 to Nets
The Bulls didn’t look like a championship-caliber team in Game 1 against the Nets. They got outscored 27-14 in the fourth quarter by New Jersey and seemed to be in serious danger. The game went into overtime, and the United Center crowd was nervous.
Fortunately for Bulls fans, Jordan scored five of the team’s seven points in overtime to seal the win for Chicago. He finished with 39 points but only shot 11-of-27 from the field. Nets guard Kendall Gill wasn’t aware of Jordan’s sleeping comments before Game 1, but he told Tom Haberstroh in May 2020 that the Bulls almost slipped up.
“I wasn’t aware Michael said that,” Gill said. “Well, they were napping in Game 1. We were a very good sparring partner. We got them ready for the fight because they thought they were just going to come in there and walk all over us.”
The Bulls only won Game 2 by five points. However, Jordan destroyed the Nets in Game 3 by going off for 38 points while shooting 16-of-22 overall. Chicago wound up sweeping New Jersey, but the series was much more competitive than pundits thought.
After getting past the Nets, Jordan and the Bulls defeated the Charlotte Hornets in five games and the Indiana Pacers in seven games to reach the NBA Finals. Chicago then would have to beat a familiar foe to win championship No. 6 and complete a second three-peat.
Michael Jordan faced Jazz for second year in a row
The Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in the 1997 Finals for their fifth championship. The two teams met again in 1998, with the Jazz having home-court advantage. Jordan dropped 33 points in Game 1, but Utah won in overtime, 88-85. For only the second time in his career, Black Jesus trailed a series in the Finals.
The good vibes for the Jazz didn’t last long, though. The Bulls won Games 2-4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Chicago was all set to win title No. 6 at home in Game 5, but Utah upset them to force a Game 6 back at the Delta Center.
June 14, 1998, was Jordan’s final game with the Bulls. He scored 45 points and hit the game-winning jump shot over Bryon Russell with 5.0 seconds left in regulation to clinch his sixth title and sixth Finals MVP. His playoffs ended on a magical note after they began a little uneven following his taunt of the Nets almost not coming to fruition.