With about 20 seconds left in the game, Michael Jordan swiped the ball from Karl Malone’s hands, dribbled up the court and met Bryon Russell at the Jazz’ three-point line. After a quick drive right and an ankle shattering crossover to his left, Jordan found himself rising up at the top of the key for a dynasty-clenching jump shot.
On June 14, 1998 the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship in eight seasons. Now almost 22 years later, NBA fans unexpectedly find themselves without any basketball to watch, and instead revisiting–or discovering–that same Jordan Bulls team on ESPN’s documentary series The Last Dance.
So in the spirit of celebrating that 1997–98 Chicago team, let's take a look at a few moments and stats that made up Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson’s last season together.
Jordan’s Championship Lows
In the six years that the Bulls won NBA Championships, the 1997–98 season featured Jordan’s lowest per-game numbers in points (28.7), assists (3.5), rebounds (5.8), steals (1.7) and blocks (0.5). Of course none of that mattered, as Jordan went on to capture the regular season, Finals and All-Star Game MVP awards, as well as his NBA-record 10th scoring title.
The '98 Bulls featured a duo on the NBA All-Defensive First Team for the fifth time in their six title years, as Pippen and Jordan captured their seventh and ninth selections, respectively. Chicago’s 99.8 defensive rating was ots best in that span, notably holding the Utah’s league-leading offense to 54 points in Game 3 of the Finals—the fewest playoff points scored by a team in the 24-second shot clock era.
The Most Prolific Playoff Scorer
Jordan appeared in the postseason in all 13 of his years as a Chicago Bull, scoring an NBA playoff record 33.45 points per game. However, 1998 would prove to be his last, as he failed to qualify during his second return to the NBA—this time as a member of the Wizards. For the second time in his career, Jordan retired with 5,987 total playoff points.
Dennis Rodman’s 15 rebounds per game in '98 put him in elite company. While his 1,201 total boards secured his seventh consecutive rebound title, The Worm also joined Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as one of only eight players to average more than 14 rebounds per game in seven different seasons. Rodman would hit that mark one last time in his final year, though he appeared in only 12 games.
While the high-flying Jordan rightfully earned the “His Airness” moniker early in his career and during the Bulls’ first three titles, his trademark move in the second three-peat was the midrange jump shot. Jordan made 671 shots between 8-feet away from the basket and inside the 3-point line in '98, according to ESPN. That number hasn’t been matched since the NBA started counting shot location stats in 1996–97.
The Bulls played a lot of basketball in their six title years and it took a toll on everyone but Jordan, who missed only six games total. Meanwhile, Steve Kerr and Luc Longley both missed time with knee injuries in '98, while Pippen spent the first 35 games recovering from foot surgery.
The first two episodes of The Last Dance revealed how underpaid Scottie Pippen was throughout his prime. Pippen’s five-year, $18 million contract extension aged quickly after he signed in 1991, as NBA viewership increased and the salary cap exploded over the next few seasons. His $2,775,000 in 1997–98 made him the sixth highest paid player on the team and 122nd in the NBA. Adjusting for inflation in 2020, that would be about $4.4 million in today’s league.
Everyone Was Watching
The 1998 NBA Finals remains the most-watched finals series in the league’s history. On average, the series sported a 18.7 TV rating and drew in 29 million viewers, while the championship-clinching Game 6 had a 22.3 rating and 35.6 million viewers—making it the most-watched NBA game ever.
Place Among Dynasties
Chicago became the fourth franchise to win six championships in eight years across the four North American major league sports. The 1959–66 Boston Celtics won eight in a row, while the Montreal Canadiens won six titles between 1953–60 and the New York Yankees won six in eight years on two separate occasions, between 1947–53 and 1936–43.
Jerry Krause’s Rebuild
Ultimately, the reason the 1997-98 season was the Jordan Bulls’ "last dance" was because Chicago general manager Jerry Krause decided the best way to handle his complicated relationship with the team was by building a new team. In 1999, Jordan, Pippen and head coach Phil Jackson were gone, and the Bulls followed six championships with six straight trips to the NBA draft lottery. The team went 93–280 between The Last Dance and Krause’s resignation on April 7, 2003.