By Ron Griffitts
In June 1998, the Utah Jazz (62-20) coached by Jerry Sloan advanced past the Houston Rockets (3-2), San Antonio Spurs (4-1), and the Los Angeles Lakers (4-0) to meet the Chicago Bulls (62-20) coached by Phil Jackson who got past the New Jersey Nets (3-0), Charlotte Hornets (4-1) and the Larry Bird-coached Indiana Pacers in a hard fought seven-game series (4-3).
The Jazz were led by Karl Malone (27.0 ppg, 3.9 apg, 10.3 rpg), Jeff Hornacek (14.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) and John Stockton (12.0 ppg, 8.5 apg) while the defending champion Bulls were paced by Michael Jordan (28.7 ppg, 3.5 apg. 5.8 rpg), Scottie Pippen (19.3 ppg, 5.8 apg, 5.8 rpg), Dennis Rodman (15.0 rpg), Toni Kukoc (13.3 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Luc Longley (11.4 ppg).
Phil Jackson who advocated the practice of meditation was brilliant at getting diverse personalities to jell together as a team. Rodman was content to just rebound, Ron Harper a former all-star for Cleveland was a defensive specialist and Toni Kukoc was all-star from Europe. And most of all Scottie Pippen who would have been the leading scorer on most NBA teams had to play second fiddle to Micheal Jordan.
Even though the teams had identical records the series opened in Salt Lake City, and in contrast to the previous year the Jazz won game one. In a close game that was tied after regulation 79-79 John Stockton scored seven of the Jazz nine overtime points to propel them to an 88-85 win
Stockton led Utah with 24 points while Karl Malone had 21 points and 14 rebounds. Michael Jordan had 33 and Scottie Pippen 21 points for the Bulls.
Still in Utah the Bulls regrouped to tie the series with a 93-88 win behind Jordan’s 37 points with 13 coming in the fourth quarter to even the series at one game apiece. Pippen had 21 while Jeff Hornacek led the Jazz with 20 points.
The teams switched to Chicago where the Bulls dominated the Jazz 96-54 to go up 2-1 in the series. Jordan had 24 and Karl Malone had 22 to pace their respective teams.
Game four was another close game as behind Jordan’s 11 fourth quarter points the Bulls eked out an 86-82 victory with Jordan finishing with 34 points and Karl Malone contributing 21 for the Jazz. Jordan’s 11 points was in contrast to only two for Karl Malone in the fourth quarter.
Malone responded in game six with 38 points including eight in the fourth quarter and in a close game the Jazz outscored the Bulls 29-19 in the third quarter to earn an 83-81 win and bring the series to 3-2 in favor of Chicago. Jordan had 28 and Toni Kukoc 30 for the Bulls and the teams head back to Utah for game six.
In a game for the ages, the sixth game was close throughout with Utah leading after a three pointer by John Stockton on a pass from Karl Malone to make it 86-83 Utah. Chicago quickly went down the floor and Michael Jordan scored inside to make it 86-85. Utah went down the floor and got the ball in to Karl Malone but Jordan came up behind him and knocked the ball away and the Bulls go down the floor with Jordan canning a jump shot from the top of the key with 5.2 seconds and the final score is 87-86 Bulls.
The Bulls won their sixth NBA championship in eight years and Michael Jordan got his sixth finals MVP award but it would be his last finals’ appearance as he retired again — this time for three years — before playing two years with the Washington Wizards in 2002 and 2003.
He finished his last finals’ game with 45 points including the last four in the game and fifteen in the fourth quarter. The six out of eight titles was the best since Bill Russell and Boston in the 1960’s. When Jordan left the floor at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City one of the greatest post-season performers left the playoff stage.
At age 39, Michael Jordan retired after the 2002-2003 season with a lifetime scoring average of 30.1 ppg, 10 NBA scoring titles and five MVP awards.
Statistics for this article were from basketball-reference.com and YouTube.
Ron Griffitts a contributing columnist for The Daily Advocate.