Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals
|Date||June 14, 1998|
|City||Salt Lake City, Utah|
Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals took place on June 14, 1998 between the visiting Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz at the Delta Center, now known as EnergySolutions Arena, in Salt Lake City. The Bulls won 87–86, winning their sixth NBA championship in eight years. Game 6 was the final game with the Bulls for Michael Jordan and coach Phil Jackson (both would retire from the NBA, then eventually return). This game earned the highest TV ratings of an NBA game of all time. Noted highlights of this game included controversial shot clock calls involving Bulls player Ron Harper and Jazz player Howard Eisley. Michael Jordan hit a jump shot with 5.6 seconds left in the game to put the Bulls on top 87–86. Chicago then held on to win after John Stockton missed a 3 point field goal attempt.
The Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls finished the season tied for the best record in the NBA at 62-20. The Jazz swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, and the Bulls beat the Indiana Pacers 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up a rematch of the prior year's NBA Finals, which the Bulls had won in 6 games. The Jazz swept the season series against the Bulls 2–0, giving them the tiebreaker for home-court advantage throughout the NBA Playoffs.
In the mostly tight finals series, the Jazz had won Game 1, while the Bulls had won Games 2-4. At the United Center in Game 5, Michael Jordan airballed an off-balance, catch-and-shoot 3 at the buzzer, allowing the Jazz to stave off elimination with an 83-81 victory and return to Utah for Game 6, and a potential Game 7. None of the previous 5 Finals appearances for the Bulls had gone to a Game 7.
Scottie Pippen scored the opening basket on a slam dunk that aggravated a back injury, causing him pain and difficulty moving throughout the game. Pippen was limited to 8 points on 4–7 shooting in 26 minutes played. Michael Jordan took 35 of the Bulls' 67 shots, leading the team in scoring and minutes played with 45 points in 44 minutes. Karl Malone led the Jazz in both categories with 31 points in 43 minutes.
In the first half of the game, while the Jazz led 28-24 with just under 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Jazz guard Howard Eisley saved a pass that almost sent the ball out of bounds. As the shot clock was running down, Jazz forward/center Antoine Carr passed the ball a long distance to Shandon Anderson, but the ball flew over Anderson's hands. Eisley caught the ball and hit a 3, but referee Dick Bavetta ruled that Eisley released the ball after the shot clock expired. Replays showed that the ball had left Eisley's hands with a second left on the shot clock. (This game took place 4 years before the NBA instituted instant replay to review calls.) Calling the game for NBC, Bob Costas narrated a replay of Eisley's shot: "See if the ball isn't out of his hand. One second...it's on the way, and they missed the call." In the second half, Bulls guard Ron Harper made a jump shot as the shot clock went off that tied it at 79; at the NBC play-by-play, Costas announced that Harper released the ball on time, but commentator Isiah Thomas, narrating a replay of Harper's shot, considered it to be "a tough call."
Although the Jazz held a 49-45 lead at halftime and a 66-61 lead after 3 quarters, they let them slip away in the fourth. John Stockton hit a 3 with 41.9 seconds left to give the Jazz an 86–83 lead. Michael Jordan scored a layup on the following possession to cut the lead to one. With 18.9 seconds left and the Jazz in possession, Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone in the low post and dribbled to the frontcourt. Bryon Russell guarded Jordan as time wound down. Jordan drove inside the 3-point line, executed a quick cross-over — possibly pushing off Russell, but the officials did not call a foul - and hit a 20-footer to give the Bulls an 87–86 lead with 5.2 seconds left. Neil Funk made the call for the Bulls' radio network.
|“||Malone...stripped by Michael, to the floor, stolen by MJ! Michael the steal! 16 seconds left, Bulls down one...Michael against Russell, 12 seconds...11...10. Jordan, Jordan, a drive, hangs...fires...SCORES! HE SCORES! The Bulls lead 87-86 with five and two-tenths left, and now they're one stop away! Oh my goodness...oh, my goodness!||”|
Bob Costas, calling the game on television for NBC, had this call.
|“||Jordan with 43. Malone is doubled. They swat at him and steal it! Here comes Chicago. 17 seconds. 17 seconds, from Game 7, or from championship #6. Jordan, open, CHICAGO WITH THE LEAD! Timeout Utah, 5.2 seconds left. Michael Jordan, running on fumes, with 45 points.||”|
Then as the replays of Jordan's shot were being shown, Costas added.
|“||That may have been, who knows what will unfold over the next several months, but that may have been the last shot Michael Jordan will ever take in the NBA.||”|
Utah called timeout to set up the final play of the game. John Stockton took the inbounds pass, pulled up and launched a 3 that rattled out, and the Bulls celebrated. It was mentioned by Costas that Ron Harper may have blocked the ball with his fingertips. Antoine Carr was open under the basket during the shot, but the rebound went just out of his reach. The final score of the game was Jordan's final shot as a Bull and his 25th game-winning shot for Chicago.
In the United States, the NBC network broadcast this and all other 1998 NBA Finals games live under the NBA on NBC series. The game registered a 22.3 Nielsen rating with a 38 share and attracted 72 million viewers and became the highest rated game in the history of the NBA. The previous record was a 21.2 rating and 37 share for Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons.
Michael Jordan's game-winner to put the Bulls up 87–86 with 5.2 seconds left is remembered as one of the greatest plays in NBA history. In 2010, John Hollinger of ESPN ranked Michael Jordan's last shot as a Bull fourth among 50 best single-game performances. The shot was recreated for the 2006 television ad "Second Generation".
The officiating of this game continues to be discussed to this day. In 2008, Tim Buckley of the Utah newspaper Deseret News wrote in a profile of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan that the calls involving Howard Eisley and Ron Harper "to this day continue to be discussed and debated by disgruntled Jazz faithful." AskMen.com ranked the no-call on Michael Jordan's last shot of this game sixth on a top-ten list of bad referee calls, although most agree it only looks to be a potential pushoff in slow motion replay. Bryon Russell, remarked in 2009: "Whether he pushed off or not, he was making that shot."
In 2009, Jordan mentioned Russell in his Hall of Fame induction speech, recalling an interaction they had during Jordan's first retirement in 1994: "[A]t this time, I had no thoughts of coming back and playing the game of basketball. Bryon Russell came over to me and said, 'Why did you quit? You know I could guard you.' ... From this day forward, if I ever see [Russell] in shorts, I'm coming at him." In response, Russell challenged Jordan to a game of one-on-one for charity. Such a match-up has not yet taken place, though the Utah Flash of the NBA Development League did stage a halftime game between Russell and a Jordan look-alike. The Flash offered refunds to fans who expected Jordan actually to appear.
After Michael Jordan retired, interest in the NBA declined, especially after the 1998–99 NBA lockout. Commenting on how the 1999 NBA Finals had the lowest TV ratings for a Finals series since 1981, Eric Boehlert wrote in Salon.com: "Viewers stayed away because the season had been strike-shortened; Michael Jordan had just retired; the Spurs and the Knicks lacked marketable superstars." Although the Western Conference champions Los Angeles Lakers would have won the championship with a victory but instead lost to the Indiana Pacers, Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals had only half as many viewers as Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. However, Game 5 of the 2001 Finals, when the Los Angeles Lakers won their second consecutive championship under former Bulls coach Phil Jackson, had the highest ratings of a championship-winning game on the network since Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. NBC's broadcast rights to NBA games expired after the 2002 NBA Finals, when the Lakers won their third consecutive championship under former Bulls coach Phil Jackson. The 2003 NBA Finals had even worse ratings (9.8 million), and only 11.5 million watched the 2005 Finals; the San Antonio Spurs won both years.
References in popular culture
Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals was referenced in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "The Magical Place", which aired on January 7, 2014. In the episode, Agent Phil Coulson is being interrogated by the Centipede Group, the series' main antagonist. After being asked what he remembers after being stabbed by Loki in The Avengers, he mentions that "I saw Jordan hit that game winner over Russell in the 1998 Finals."
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