The 1997-98 campaign was the final season of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, and Utah Jazz legend John Stockton was shocked by it. Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson both stepped away from basketball during the summer of 1998, while Scottie Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets via a sign-and-trade deal.
Everyone in Chicago knew the Bulls would be broken up after the 1997-98 season following Jerry Krause‘s comments at the beginning of the year. However, Stockton didn’t believe it.
John Stockton after ’98 Finals: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen will be back
Jordan and Pippen defeated Stockton in the 1998 Finals. After the series, the Jazz point guard expressed to the media how he was tired of hearing that the Bulls superstars wouldn’t be back in 1998-99, via Chicago Sports historian Jack M Silverstein.
“He’s not quitting,” Stockton said about Jordan. “He’ll be back, and Scottie will be back and Phil Jackson will be back. I’m tired of hearing all of that. As long as he decides to play, you have to wonder if there’s any reason for the rest of us to play. It’s not a matter of being disheartened, but you know that as long as he’s breathing, he will not let his team lose.”
To the delight of Jazz fans, Stockton was wrong. Jordan and Jackson retired following the Bulls’ sixth title, and Krause traded Pippen to the Rockets. With the Bulls finally out of the picture, Stockton and Karl Malone had their best chance to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, the duo never got back to the Finals after 1998.
Despite Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen being off the Bulls, John Stockton and Karl Malone still couldn’t win it all
The Jazz went 37-13 in 1998-99, which was a shortened season due to a lockout. With Jordan and Pippen no longer on the Bulls, Utah had a terrific shot of winning the championship.
Unfortunately, Stockton and Malone didn’t even get out of the Western Conference. The Jazz lost to the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the 1999 playoffs in six games. Malone and Stockton’s final season as teammates was in 2002-03. Utah lost to the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the 2003 postseason, and Malone signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency during the summer.
Jordan came out of retirement for the second time in 2001 to play for the Washington Wizards. His Airness averaged 21.2 points in two seasons with Washington, but he missed the playoffs both years. As for Pippen, he only lasted one year in Houston before getting traded to the Blazers in the summer of 1999.
Stockton is one of the few basketball legends to play his entire career with one team. The NBA’s all-time leader in assists never left the Jazz, finishing his journey where it started. He may have never won a title thanks to Jordan and Pippen, but he did capture two gold medals in the Olympics, including one with MJ and Pip.
MJ, Pip and Stock won gold medal in 1992
Jordan, Pippen, and Stockton were teammates on the 1992 USA Basketball team, which was nicknamed the Dream Team. Team USA easily won the gold medal in Barcelona behind the stellar play of their NBA superstars.
Jordan and Pippen appeared in all eight Olympic games, while Stockton played in four. Every player from the Dream Team except for Christian Laettner is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Bulls won six championships in the ’90s behind Jordan and Pippen. Meanwhile, Stockton is one of the best players in NBA history to have never won a ring. If Jordan and Pippen didn’t exist, the Jazz might have won at least one title during the Stockton-Malone era.
RELATED: Michael Jordan Wouldn’t Have Come Out of Retirement in 1995 if Bulls Traded Scottie Pippen to Seattle for Shawn Kemp: ‘I Could Have Played With Shawn, but I Wouldn’t Have Been as Comfortable as I Was With Scottie’