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There can be little argument as to who is the greatest player to ever grace the NBA. The legend of Michael Jackson is known to every basketball fan around the world, so when such an icon declares his impending retirement every play he makes on court is observed with reverence.
When such a play clinches a championship, the premium is even higher. On June 14th 1998, the Utah Jazz and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls were meeting at the Delta Center for game six of the 1998 NBA Finals.
With less than a minute left in the final quarter, the Bulls trailed the Jazz by 3 points. First Jordan scored two points on a drive and on the ensuing Jazz possession, he stole the ball from Karl Malone in Chicago’s defensive end.
He drove up the court, held off for a while, and as the clock ticked down into zero digits, he raced into the arc, shook off a jazz defender with a crossover and took a jump shot from 20 feet, giving the Bulls an 87-86 lead. That would be the last shot of his Chicago career.
Buildup and Events of the Play
Since taking a bow for the Bulls in 1984, Jordan had established himself as the main man for the Bulls. He had single-handedly led the Bulls to three championships between 1991 and 1993, ditched basketball to play baseball, returned in 1995 and won back to back championships in 96 and 97.
Throughout the 1997/98 season, there were speculations that Michael Jordan would retire at the end of the season. Coach Phil Jackson’s future was also in question owing to backroom tension with the team’s management. Despite the turmoil, the Bulls finished the regular season with a remarkable 62-20 record. They then beat the New Jersey Nets, the Charlotte Hornets and the Indiana Pacers respectively in the playoffs to set up the meeting with the Jazz.
Coming into game 6 of the 1998 final, the defending champions were leading the series 3-2. Winning this game would clinch the title for the Bulls. Having played his heart out over the first five games of the series, Jordan was understandably fatigued but he still put in an excellent shift.
With less than a minute to go, the Jazz and the Bulls were tied at 83-83. John Stockton then scored a 3-pointer to put the Jazz in the lead with 41.9 left on the clock. On the next possession Jordan scored a layup, cutting the lead to one. As the Jazz drove up the Bulls’ defensive end, Malone fumbled his dribble and Jordan was able to steal, immediately running up the court.
With less than ten seconds left, Jordan had the ball on the left, a few feet outside the Jazz’s three-point line. Bryon Russell guarded Jordan carefully but suddenly Michael drove forward with Russell in tow, crossed into three point line, and escaped the defender’s attentions with a skillful fake. Now in acres of space, he made a jumper from 20 yards putting the Bulls in the lead with 5.8 on the clock.
Aftermath of the Shot
The Bulls held on to complete their second three-peat. On January 13, 1999, Jordan ended his Bulls career by announcing his second retirement. He had another short playing stint with the Washington Wizards between 2001 and 2003, before retiring again. His lucrative Jordan Air shoe series with Nike have made him one of the richest sports personalities. Today, he is the majority shareholder of the Charlotte Hornets.