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On This Date in Sports June 14, 1998: Last Shot

The Chicago Bulls win their sixth NBA Championship, beating the Utah Jazz with an 87-86 win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. With everyone expecting the team to be broken up in the off-season, there is a finality to the title. Once again, it is Michael Jordan leading the way, scoring a game-high 45 points, including the game-winning shot with 4.5 seconds left in his final game with the Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls were the unquestioned rulers of the NBA in the 1990s, as they won three straight championships from 1991-1993 and another three in a row from 1996-1998 after Michael Jordan returned from a flirtation with baseball. However, even as the Bulls were completing under fine season under Coach Phil Jackson, with a record of 62-20, the end was near. General Manager Jerry Krause openly stated that he would break the team apart and focus on the future, not wanting the Bulls to go into a long stretch of losing if the team got too old. The Bulls' road to the NBA Finals began with a three-game sweep of the New Jersey Nets, while they beat the Charlotte Hornets in five. The Eastern Conference Finals would be a struggle for the Bulls, as the Indiana Pacers pushed them to a seventh game, which Chicago won 88-83. It was just the second time the Bulls played in Game 7 in their dynasty years.

In the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz, coached by Jerry Sloan, looked forward to a second crack at the Bulls all year. The Jazz finished with the same exact record as the Bulls, finishing 62-20, and had home court, thanks to winning both matchups in the regular season. The Jazz faced a test right away, as they needed five games to shake off a challenge from the Houston Rockets. They then beat the San Antonio Spurs in five games, in Tim Duncan’s playoff debut, and swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

The NBA Finals rematch between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz was heavily anticipated. Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone were locked in a verbal feud that eventually led to them facing off in a professional wrestling ring. The opener at the Delta Center was good as advertised as the Jazz beat the Bulls 88-85 in overtime, with John Stockton leading the way with 24 points and eight assists. The Bulls, though, managed to steal Game 2 by a score of 93-88 as Michael Jordan had a game-high 37 points. Things got especially ugly for Utah in Game 3 as the series shifted to the United Center, as they scored the fewest points in an NBA game since the inception of the shot clock, losing 96-54. The Jazz played a little better in Game 4 but lost again 86-82, allowing Chicago to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. 

Facing elimination in Game 5, Karl Malone, who struggled all series, came alive in Game 5, scoring a game-high 30 points with nine boards as the Jazz won 83-81 to keep their faint hope alive. The series returned to Utah for Game 6, where Karl Malone, after struggling in the first four games, continued the momentum built off his fine Game 5, scoring 31 points with 11 rebounds and seven assists. Michael Jordan, meanwhile, was unstoppable, scoring 45 points. The game was close throughout, as John Stockton gave Utah an 86-83 lead with a three-pointer with 41.9 seconds left. Jordan cut the lead on the next possession. With time winding down, Malone was stripped of the ball, allowing the Bulls to set up a winning shot with 17 seconds left. Naturally, Michael Jordan got the ball and made a 20-foot jumper over Byron Russell to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead with 5.2 left. Stockton tossed up a prayer on the other end that missed as the Bulls won their sixth championship in eight years.

The following off-season would be rough for the NBA as the league as it endured its first labor stoppage, wiping out nearly half of the 1999 season. When the smoke cleared, the Bulls were indeed broken up, with Scottie Pippen landing with the Houston Rockets while Dennis Rodman hooked on with the Los Angeles Lakers. Phil Jackson meanwhile took a year sabbatical and eventually went on to coach the Lakers to three straight titles with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. While Michael Jordan retired again, making his game-winner over Byron Russell the final shot of his career as a Chicago Bull, wrapping up his career perfectly. However, after working in the Washington Wizards front office, Jordan attempted a comeback three years later and played two unspectacular years before retiring for good in 2003.