“The Last Dance”


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CHICAGO – 1998: The 1997-98 NBA Chicago Bulls pose for a team portrait in Chicago, IL. Front row (left to right): Randy Brown, Ron Harper, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Jud Buechler, Steve Kerr. Second row: , Rusty LaRue, Dickey Simpkins, Toni Kukoc, Joe Klein, Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, Scott Burrell, Keith Booth. Back Row: Chip Schaefer (Trainer), Frank Hamblen (Asst Coach), Bill Cartwright (Asst. Coach), Head coach Phil Jackson, Jimmy Rodgers (Asst. Coach) , and Tex Winter (Asst. Coach), John Ligmanowski (Equip Manager). NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 1998 (Photo by Bill Smith/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

Malu Ing, Writer

The Chicago Bulls was the most popular sports team in the 90’s and had the best professional sports player of all time Michael Jordan. Coming into the 1997-98 NBA season, the Chicago Bulls had won five championships in the previous seven years. As they sought their second three-peat, the future of the dynasty was in doubt. The General Manager of the Chicago Bulls Jerry Krouse made it very clear that the Head Coach of the team Phil Jackson was not going to be re-hired after the 97-98 season was over, no matter the outcome. Being Coach Phil Jackson knew that this was his final year with the team he named the season  “The Last Dance”.

Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls from 1984- 1998 but took some time off through those years playing a total of 13 seasons with the Bulls in his career. His right hand man was Scottie Pippen who played alongside Michael Jordan in their championship runs. Dennis Rodman was their forward/center who played a key role in their journey for a second three peat. The mastermind behind all of it was Head Coach Phil Jackson. The series documentary “The Last Dance” wasn’t just about that final season they played together. It was about the whole Chicago Bulls organization from the management to the players. Who they were, how they got there, and what it was like playing  for that team. 

When Michael Jordan got drafted to the Bulls out of the University of  North Carolina he automatically made an impact and changed the culture of basketball in Chicago. They quickly realized that he was a special talent and that they needed to build a team around him if they wanted to be successful. In the late 80’s the top tier teams were Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers. Who were the best players to ever touch a basketball at the time and what separated Bird and Magic from Michael was the fact that Michael didn’t win a NBA championship yet. 

In 1988 the league was set on making Michael the face of the NBA and that the script was for him to win a championship and take off from there. But there was a small team from Detroit called the Detroit Pistons who was then known as “The Bad Boys” named for their physicality and aggressive play style. This team was the only thing in the way of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. They were the hump that they were going to have to get over in order to be the top team in the NBA. They faced each other three times in a row in the 1988, 1989 and 1990 playoffs, but the Pistons were the unanimous winner in all three meetings. After the 1990 lost Michel Jordan and the rest of the team was determined to beat the Pistons and get rid of them once and for all. The next season the Chicago Bulls swept the Pistons in the 7 game series leading them to the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers and ending the season with it’s first NBA championship.

The following season the team completed a back-to-back finals appearance where they faced the Portland Trail Blazers. After Clyde Drexler, the star of the Trail blazers was being compared to Michael Jordan, Jordan took offense to that as he thought at that time there was nobody close to how good he was. Which sparked a fire in Michael as they ended up beating the Blazers 4-2 in the seven games series, and winning their second championship in a row.

Going for the first three peat in NBA history in the 1992-1993 season Jordan was on a mission. He always wanted to leave no doubt that he was the best, and winning three in a row would seal the deal of him being the best basketball player ever. Facing up against the Phoenix Suns, Jordan had another reason to beat the Suns. Charles Barkley the Suns best player was named MVP for the 1992-1993 season. Michael thought that he was more deserving of that award then Barkley so he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t going to get a title with it. The Bulls went on to beat the Suns 4 games to 2 and capped off the first three peat in NBA history.

With Michael and the Bulls on a roll a turn of events took place. As Michael’s father, James Jordan went missing in the summer of 1993 and three weeks later was found in a river dead. As Michael’s father was by his side from day one and was his best friend it took a piece from Michael. On October 6, 1993 Michael Jordan announced his retirement from basketball. With Michael Jordan off the team that upcoming 1994-95 NBA season was up for grabs, and the biggest question was how the Chicago Bulls was going to perform without the best basketball player to ever play the game. With Scottie Pippen in the driver seat now they played better than most expected. They finished with a 47-35 regular season record and 5th in their conference, losing in the second round of the NBA playoffs to the Orlando Magic. That shut up many critics that thought that the only reason the Bulls had success was because of Michael Jordan and they showed them then and there that they were a solid team without him. With all that going in the NBA, Michael decided to rack the basketball and pick up the bat and went on to play baseball. Which was his childhood sport and his dad’s favorite sport. He played for the Birmingham Barons, the Chicago White Sox AA minor league team. 

In 1995 the MLB was on strike that year and had replacement games but Michael didn’t want to participate in it. One day he decides to go out for lunch with former teammate BJ Armstrong and after they finish eating BJ needed to go to practice and told Michael to come with him and say what’s up to the guys. That day he came back to the gym. He ended up playing BJ in a full one on one game in the gym. It started to become more common for him to show up and play with the Bulls. On March 18, 1995 Michael Jordan officially was a part of the Bulls again after he publicly came out saying the words “I’m back”. 

It was an emotional time for Michael Jordan because it was his first time playing basketball without his father being around him. It was a disappointing return for Michael and the Bulls as they ended up losing to the Orlando Magic 4 games to 2 once again in the eastern conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs. After the season was over Michael spent the whole offseason getting back into basketball shape in sights of winning another NBA championship. 

The 1995- 96 season was a statement year for Michael and the Bulls, as they wanted to remind the basketball world that they were still the best and the team to beat. That year they picked up Dennis Rodman, one of the best rebounders and defensive players to ever play. Arguably one of the best teams ever, as they had a 72-10 regular season record which was the best regular season record of all time. They met the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA finals who had one of the best defensive players ever in Gary Payton. They ended up beating the Sonics 4 games to 2 in the seven game series. They won the series on June 15, it was Fathers Day. An emotional Michael Jordan was on the floor crying as he just won his first championship without his Father being in attendance.

The next year they went for back to back championships. Meeting the Utah Jazz. Once again as Michael always does, he finds something to drive him and fire him up for the series. This time it was Karl Malone winning 1996-97 MVP. The series is tied 2-2, and the night before game 5 Michael gets hungry in his hotel room. With almost every place closed they find one pizza place still open. So they ordered a pizza for Michael, and when the pizza came there were five guys at the door delivering one pizza and everyone was suspicious of what just happened. Michael was the only one to eat it, nobody else took a bite. 3 o’clock the next morning Michael is throwing up left and right, curled up in a ball shaking. Although being sick he ends up playing in the game, he finishes the game with 38 points playing 44 out of 48 minutes and the win, in what is now known as “The Flu Game”. In game 6 with a last second shot by Steve Kerr they ended up winning the finals, making it 5 out of the last seven years. 

The 1997-98 season. The infamous “Last Dance”. The Bulls were going for their second three peat in 8 years. They ended up facing the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, who had one of the best shooters in NBA history in Reggie Miller, and they were coached by Larry Bird. In game seven they find a way to win and head back to the NBA Finals. They matched up against the Utah Jazz again, who was a better team then they were a year before. Coming into that series the Bulls have beat every other team in the league that season besides the Utah Jazz. Going into game 6 of the seven game series the Bulls were up 3 games to 2. In this game Scottie Pippen had pain in his lower back. Coming in and out of the game and in and out of the locker room. In the second half Pippen plays, doing all he can to help the team. 43 seconds left in the game the Bulls down three Jordan scores with 37 seconds left cutting the lead down to one point. They go down the other side for defense and Jordan ends up stealing the ball from Malone. Jordan goes back down the left side of the court, waits a bit, then goes right, crosses over at the top of the key, shoots it and makes it, giving the Bulls a 87 to 86 lead with 5 seconds left in the game. One of the best sequences in NBA history and capped off with what is called “The Shot”. Michael finished the game with 45 points. They end up winning the game for championship number 6 and second three-peat. 

After the 98 season Phil Jackson was replaced, Michael Jordan retired, Scottie Pippen was traded, Dennis Rodman was released, Steve Kerr was traded, and the Bulls began to rebuild. What the team showed was you could do it all if you really put your mind to it. Use every tool you can to it’s best ability and have that win at all cost mindset, you can accomplish greatness. That’s what this team showed. Through all the ups and downs if you put your all  into it, you will be successful. The 90’s Chicago Bulls went down as one of the most successful, greatest, and winningest teams in all of sports.