WGN News Now’s Larry Hawley takes a look back at the 25th anniversary of the Bulls’ last NBA championship in this edition of “Channel 9 Was There” – a tribute to 75 years of WGN-TV.
CHICAGO – If the course of an 82-game regular season and four rounds of playoffs were “The Last Dance,” then the final note was heard 25 years ago on Wednesday.
It was in perfect tune, crafted by a skilled conductor, and executed by one of the greatest to ever create a symphony of basketball excellence. The moment was the fitting way to exit the floor, both figuratively at the Delta Center and more broadly into basketball lore.
“The Last Dance” of “The Last Dance” is now 25 years old as of Wednesday – and memories of the last of the Bulls’ championships of the 1990s remain strong as it reaches its silver anniversary.
That was June 14, 1998 – a true moment in time in Chicago sports.
It was the conclusion of a long and somewhat draining season for the Bulls, one in which the chatter about who would return next year dominated the talk in the present. Head coach Phil Jackson had dubbed the campaign “The Last Dance,” and despite injuries along with occasional strife, the Bulls went 62-10 in the regular season.
They beat the Nets and Hornets in the first two rounds with relative ease but were pushed to the limit by the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Trailing in the fourth quarter of Game 7 at the United Center, the Bulls rallied to outlast Indiana to advance to the NBA Finals to face the Jazz for a second-straight year.
After a Game 1 loss, the Bulls won three straight and had hoped to end the series in Game 5 in Chicago. But the Jazz had enough to take the series back to Salt Lake City, where a raucous Delta Center awaited the Bulls on on a June Sunday night two days later.
With Scottie Pippen hampered by a bad back and Utah playing well, the Bulls found themselves trailing by five heading into the fourth quarter. Even after the visitors pulled even, John Stockton’s three-pointer with 41 seconds left put the Jazz up by three points as they looked to force a Game 7.
But as he always did, Michael Jordan had a response, producing a closing act to remember.
The five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and unquestioned leader of the Bulls’ 1990s dynasty would score 16 fourth quarter points, but was at his best in the final moments.
After Stockton’s three-pointer, Jordan drove inside and got the Bulls back within a point moments later. With 21 seconds left, Jordan swiped the ball from Karl Malone from the opposite basketball and took the ball to the other end.
Jordan waited on the wing as the clock ticked under ten seconds, made his move toward the basket on Bryon Russell, then pulled up.
With his hand holding in the air at the top of his shot, Jordan sank the jumper to give the Bulls the lead along with the last two of his game-high 45 points. Stockton’s desperation heave in the final seconds was well off the mark and the players in red swarmed onto the floor as the buzzer sounded.
Bulls 87. Jazz 86. Championship No. 6.
It completed the second of two “three-peats” for the Bulls in the 1990s as Jordan was once again named the NBA Finals MVP, doing so for a sixth time. It cemented that era’s Bulls teams as arguably the best not only in the history of Chicago and one of the greatest in professional team sports worldwide.
Just as it had in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, and 1997, celebrations broke out all around the city as the champagne sprayed at the Delta Center. Cigars were in the mouths of many Bulls as they held the sixth Larry O’Brien trophy won by the team in a little under a decade.
Of course, this was called “The Last Dance,” so this joyous moment had a sense of finality as well.
Just as advertised, this was the last game of the Bulls’ 1990s dynasty as Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Jackson, and others would depart at season’s end. It plunged the team into a major rebuild and a now 25-year championship drought, with the last Finals game in team history being played that evening.
ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary brought this season to light for a new generation of fans just discovering the dominance of that team – along with the significance of that night 25 years ago.
While the demise of the dynasty might have seen off-key for many who look at the whole picture of this Bulls era, there was no greater tune from this incredible team than the moment they stepped off the dance floor with the championship trophy in hand.
For those who lived it, the joyous music from “The Last Dance” is an easy tune to remember.