I think we’re past the point where I need to explain how big of a basketball fan I am. That should be a given by now if you’ve read some of my stuff from the past. But I do want to explain how far it actually goes. From ages 3 until 8 my loving parents allowed me to keep a Little Tikes basketball hoop set up in the living room of our apartment. When we moved to a bigger house when I was 8, they let me devote a whole room to that same hoop. I am, and always have been consumed by basketball. My dad had me shooting baskets and catching stuffed basketballs before I could even walk. On a home video of my 3rd birthday party, my parents pull me aside and make me tell them the starting lineups of a few teams in the NBA. Even though I clearly watched a ton of hoops before I started pre-school, the game furthest back that I can actually recall sitting down and watching as it happened occurred when I was six years old. It was Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Coincidentally, this was the last game Michael Jordan ever played in a Chicago Bulls uniform. It’s only appropriate that a basketball fan like me would remember basketball’s greatest legend play in his final meaningful game. And since today is MJ’s 50th birthday, I thought to myself, “Hey, why don’t I go retro and put together a running diary of this landmark game in NBA history?” So that is exactly what I did. Buckle yourself in, we’re going on a wild ride back to 1998!
The pre-game introductions starts with Bob Costas describing Game 5 as if it were a dramatic play. I love and miss the NBA on NBC with a passion, but one thing I will give ABC credit for is nailing their pre-game NBA Finals intro. Costas takes the drama theme even further as they show a number of players arriving at the Delta Center for the game, by calling them the cast of characters. Yes, Dennis Rodman is certainly a “character.” We enter the arena and Bob Costas spouts off a bunch of scenarios surrounding this series. He tells us that no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win an NBA Finals, but six teams have done that in earlier rounds, including 3 teams who went on to win an NBA Championship. He concludes by telling us that if Utah wins this game, then they would have the edge in the series since very few teams have ever won a Game 7 on the road. Essentially, what Bob Costas is telling us is that he has no effing idea what is going to happen.
Costas (well-respected as a sportscaster, but absolutely horrendous as a play-by-play guy for the NBA) is joined by Doug Collins (overqualified for the job) and Isiah Thomas, (even more terrible than Costas) who makes his splash in the pre-game show when he butchers Jordan’s, Pippen’s and Kukoc’s stats from Game 5. Here is what Isiah tells us, word for word:
“Now it took Kukoc 11 field goes… Kukoc made 11 field goals on 42… ugh… on 13 shots… Pippen and Jordan took 42 field goals to combine for 11 field goal attempts. I think for the big three, they gonna have to play well tonight, and all of them gonna have to big effort here Bob.”
Yes, I’m aware that is a grammatical disaster. I’m just quoting the man.
Ahmad Rashad and Jim Gray give us the pre-game injury report and we find out that Scottie Pippen is suffering from a back injury and received all different sorts of treatment before the game. Ron Harper has the flu, Howard Eisley has Vertigo, and now I’m Googling the symptoms to Vertigo.
One more thing to keep in mind, in 1998 my Dad and I were huge Bulls fans and oddly enough, my Mom was a semi-insane Jazz fan. My Dad and I watched the game in our living room, and my Mom watched about 15 feet away in our dining room. Tense times in the Giuliano household.
11:40- Pippen scores the first basket of the game on a dunk and aggravates his already injured back. This sets the scene for Michael Jordan having to shoot 35 times.
11:00- Bob Costas tells us that Luc Longley “has contributed little offensively, and been abused defensively by Malone.” Ladies and gentlemen, Luc Longley!
10:45- After Jim Gray tells us pre-game that Karl Malone was going to attack the basket early and often, Malone’s first shot is a fadeaway. Apparently he didn’t get the updated scouting report. I bet Jim Gray didn’t expect to be interviewing LeBron James twelve years later when he decided to take his talents to South Beach. This is probably because LeBron James was 13 years old at the time of this game.
8:49- Costas says he doesn’t want to compare Pippen’s back injury to Jordan’s flu game, but he does anyways. Pippen goes on to do everything he possibly can to make him look like a fool for making the comparison.
7:50- Jordan hits a turnaround jumper over John Stockton for his first score of the game. Bulls are up 10-8. After seeing how Stockton acknowledged that nobody would be able to distinguish him as a member of the Dream Team on NBA TV’s The Dream Team special, I can’t help but think he would also be able to acknowledge that guarding Jordan in the post might be a little bit of a tall order for him.
7:00- Scottie Pippen connects on a jump hook and falls hard to the court afterwards. He can barely run back down the court. His gait is very similar to Mike Miller’s.
My DVD fast forwards to about 3 minutes left in 1st quarter and Chicago up 18-14. Jordan is in the game with Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Bill Wennington and someone named Scott Burrell. I don’t know this for sure, but I have to imagine that as long as Jordan is on the court with this group, he is going to be shooting the ball approximately 97% of the time.
2:20- Jeff Hornacek hits a transition 3 and the roof comes off at Delta Center. It still holds true to a degree, but Utah used to have an absolutely insane home crowd. The OKC/Utah comparisons definitely are warranted. And by the way, when is the next time an NBA player is going to have the nickname “Horny”?
0:15- A great sequence to bring the 1st quarter to an end: A Karl Malone runner followed by a Jordan jumper over Bryon Russell (foreshadowing!!!), topped off by another Malone runner plus the foul to put Utah up 25-22 at the end of the quarter. This great play by the incredibly muscular Malone leads to Doug Collins saying “See Bob, that’s what I’m talking about being aggressive… Isiah. Taking the ball to the basket.” Not only does Doug Collins have to do his best to pull Isiah out of his comatose state, but he also has to deal with Bob Costas calling the game like he’s a radio announcer. Collins is doing his best 2007 LeBron James impression in this three-man announce booth.
The 2nd quarter starts with much less than a bang. On the court to kick things off are Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Jud Buechler, Bill Wennington, Ron Harper, Scott Burrell, Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, Antoine Carr, Greg Foster and Chris Morris. Let me quickly recap the happenings of that horrible 3 minute stretch of basketball… Two horrible Greg Foster turnovers, a few Kukoc heavy possessions for Chicago, and a 30 footer from Howard Eisley that was waved off because of a shot clock violation, even though it clearly wasn’t.
DVD fast forwards to 5:52 left in 2nd quarter and Utah leads 34-33. Ahmad Rashad tells us it’s uncertain if Pippen will return. So much for Flu Game part II.
5:40- With Jordan at the free throw line, Bob Costas, oozing with informational nuggets, tells us that Jordan hasn’t missed a game since returning from baseball. In the Bulls six title seasons Jordan missed a total of 6 games. Taking it a step further, aside from the ’85-’86 season where Jordan broke his ankle, and the ’94-’95 season where he played in the final 17 games of the season after returning from retirement, Jordan missed only 7 games in his entire career. That’s absolutely crazy. The man was a workhorse.
3:50- Malone scores in the paint with Rodman guarding him, and good lord is Karl Malone jacked. I get the body comparisons to LeBron to a degree, but nobody in the NBA right now has bigger arms that Karl Malone did. He’s got 18 for the game. At the other end, Jordan answers with a 3 bringing his point total to 19. Game’s tied, 39-39.
3:15- Not to be outdone by MJ, Karl Malone hits a fadeaway jumper over Rodman to bring his total up to 20 for the game. Bob Costas is talking like he has a fuzzy feeling in his stomach.
For some odd reason, my DVD decides to fast forward through the remaining 2 minutes of the 1st half. Going into the 3rd quarter Utah leads 49-45.
11:40- Karl Malone blows by Luc Longley for an easy lay in. Longley’s feet move slower than the water level rises in the Great Salt Lake. Not to be outdone, Adam Keefe gets burned by Toni Kukoc on the other end. RIP to the era where guys like Luc Longley and Adam Keefe are starters in an NBA Finals game.
The DVD fast forwards a bit to half way through the 3rd quarter. Utah is leading 54-51.We see a clip of Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman getting tangled up 3 times, and both falling over 3 straight times. Later in the summer of 1998, Dennis Rodman would team with Hollywood Hulk Hogan to face Karl Malone and Diamond Dallas Page at WCW’s Bash at the Beach pay-per-view.
4:10- Jerry Sloan calls on Antoine Carr to enter the game. Carr sprints over to the scorer’s tables, rips off his warm up jacket and throws it as hard as he could to the ground. He looks like an overexcited mid-card wrestler who is about to enter the Royal Rumble.
1:30- Isiah Thomas tells us that Luc Longley needs to get involved in the Chicago offense. Apparently the Knicks didn’t get ahold of the commentary from this game before they hired Isiah as President of Basketball Operations AND Head Coach.
3rd quarter ends with a badly missed Luc Longley jumper, then an Adam Keefe layup over Longley with one tenth of a second left. Longley doesn’t play at all in the 4th quarter. Utah leads 66-61.
11:10- Jordan hits a jumper over Shandon Anderson which leads Bob Costas to exclaim, “He’s still Michael Jordan.” I think Costas was the only one who was confused about this concept.
10:30- Dennis Rodman hits a 20 foot jumper and gives an exaggerated shrug afterwards. Shades of MJ in 1992. Bulls trail 68-67.
9:40- Chris Morris scores on a nice baseline reverse lay-up. Chicago calls timeout and the Delta Center blasts “Are you ready for this?” I miss the days where arena’s played music like this instead of LMFAO and Pitbull.
9:16- We see a close-up of Jud Buechler during a timeout after Isiah calls him the X-Factor for the Bulls right now. The amount of shoulder and chest hair Buechler has makes it easy for me to identify with him. I’m looking for a Jud Buechler jersey on eBay right now.
7:27- Jordan is attacking the basket relentlessly. On top of the 35 shots he took in this game, Jordan would also take 15 free throws. 45 points on 35 shots isn’t terribly efficient, but look at the offensive weapons Jordan had alongside him this game. A hobbled Pippen and Toni Kukoc were his next best options. And keep in mind; this was the 103rd game of the season for the Bulls, and the 304th game that a 35 year old Jordan had played since November 1995. He was running on empty.
5:45- NBC shows the stat line for Dennis Rodman on the night: 6 points, 7 rebounds, 4 fouls, 1 exaggerated Jordanesque shrug, 12 piercings, 3 different colors in his hair, roughly 30 tattoos, and 1 future appearance on Celebrity Mole (which he would win). In retrospect, it’s really surprising that Dennis Rodman isn’t the NBA player that changed his name to Metta World Peace. Buechler update: There are no jersey’s on eBay (I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised), but there are a decent amount of autographed basketball cards listed for cheap prices. I’m tempted.
3:00- After a missed three, Jordan intercepts a long outlet pass from Hornacek to Russell. One thing that gets lost in the shuffle when talking about MJ is not only what a great defender he was, but also his sense of the moment. We know about the game winning shots, but MJ had a knack for making more plays late in games other than just scoring. More on this in a second.
2:30- After a Karl Malone wing jumper, the Jazz lead 83-79. Jordan has 37, Malone has 31.
1:10- Stockton misses a three pointer late in the shot clock, and Jordan collects his first and only rebound of the game. Jordan also had just one assist. Not exactly filling the stat sheet, but he did what he had to do for Chicago to get the win. Oops, spoiler alert.
0:42- Hard to believe it, but this is the first real mention of John Stockton so far, perhaps the greatest pure point guard of all-time. After two MJ free throws, Stockton buries a three from the right wing and the Delta Center erupts. Also, as this was happening at the time, my mom just went nuts from the dining room and I likely started crying. I can’t say this for sure, but she probably laughed at me if I did cry. She was obsessed with the Utah Jazz. She had no idea her heart was about to be ripped out by one Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
0:37- After a timeout, Chicago scores quickly after MJ blows by Bryon Russell and finishes the lay up over Antoine Carr. At the time, every Utah Jazz fan within the Delta Center was fearfully chanting “Let’s Go Jazz!” Now, if there are any reading this, they are probably cringing knowing what is about to happen next.
0:30- You might as well just watch how it unfolds.
On one hand, it is fitting for the consensus “Greatest player of all-time” to end his final game with 45 points and a game winning dagger on the road. On the other hand, and forgive me for bringing this up, this 45 point performance isn’t nearly as impressive as LeBron James’s overall brilliance in the NBA Finals last year, or the stretch he’s in the midst of right now. But that’s another discussion for another time.
Happy Birthday, MJ.