Throughout Michael Jordan‘s final campaign with the Chicago Bulls in the 1997-98 season, there was much chatter that it would be last year. There was a strong belief that Jordan would retire for the last time even after winning what would be his sixth NBA championship and third straight. However, there was another element that could have made things quite interesting had Jordan chosen to continue playing at least another season.
Michael Jordan’s final season with Bulls
Before the start of the 1997-98 season, there was much uncertainty around Jordan‘s future with the franchise.
General manager Jerry Krause had made it clear that it was head coach Phil Jackson’s final season. That put doubt around Jordan’s availability beyond the campaign as he voiced that he wouldn’t play for another coach moving forward.
That had made the entire matter that much intriguing given that the Bulls put forth another highly successful season. Chicago finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference at 62-20 mark that led was capitalized by capturing their third straight NBA title and sixth championship in the decade.
Jordan did wind up retiring after the season, but things could have taken an interesting twist had he decided to continue his tenure in Chicago.
Michael Jordan’s cigar cutting finger injury
Following leading the Bulls to their sixth NBA title, Jordan’s headed into an uncertain offseason.
Things had taken a tough turn during that process as he had suffered a bad cut to his right index finger after an accident with a cigar cutter. That is something that Krause detailed in his unreleased memoir that he believes Jordan could have put the franchise in a tight spot. (H/T K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports)
To his everlasting credit, at the end of his time with the Bulls he could have really screwed the franchise big time and he didn’t. In the summer after winning the last championship he’d cut his index finger of his shooting hand very badly with a cigar cutter. It was seriously questionable if he could regain enough movement in the finger to be himself again as a shooter. He could have easily put us in an extremely tough situation by saying he wanted to play and force us to sign him to the biggest contract in team sports history. It would then have been easy to go on the disabled list with the finger injury and spend the rest of that strike-shortened season picking up checks every two weeks and not playing at all. But Michael being Michael, once he signed a contract, he gave you a thousand percent effort and would not think of stiffing you.
There hadn’t been any public clarity about whether Jordan would return for another season. The dynamic of the situation could be quite interesting as it was the strike-shortened campaign that could have put the Bulls in a rough spot.
The direction of the franchise was changing with Jackson out of the picture, which Jordan’s return would have commanded another lucrative deal north of $30 million annually.
Michael Jordan decided retire before finger injury
Although wasn’t much in the way of the public knowledge of which way Jordan was leaning entirely, the finger had drawn enough concern from Krause.
That doubt was erased as the star guard chose to retire in January 1999 before the start of the following year. That was doubled up with Jordan voicing after his decision to step away from the game that he had already made well ahead of the injury taking place, according to Frank Isola of The New York Daily News.
Hopefully, it doesn’t alter my golf game,” said Jordan, who suffered the injury while vacationing in the Bahamas. “But my decision was made before this happened, and from what doctors have told me, that even if I chose to play, I wouldn’t be able to play for two months. But that never had any factors in terms of my decision.
Although things didn’t wind up heading that route, it does beg the question about what could have been had Jordan stay on the path to continue his career.