In the last episode of “The Last Dance” documentary, Michael Jordan said it was “maddening” the Chicago Bulls weren’t given another chance to defend their title after their final 1998 championship with him. The epic 10-part series that aired on ESPN focuses on that last playoff run and factors that led to the legendary team disbanding.
Jordan, now 57, expressed his frustration with Bulls management for not convincing head coach Phil Jackson and core members of the team to return for one more year. He believed the team was good enough to win a seventh ring despite a grueling stretch of three consecutive championship runs –– and six in eight years. Jordan said in the documentary that he was even willing to take a one-year deal to make it happen.
“Would I sign for one year? Yes, I would sign for one year,” Jordan said. “I had been signing one year up to that. Would Phil [Jackson] have done it? Yes. Now [Scottie Pippen], you would have had to do some convincing. But if Phil was going to be there. If Dennis [Rodman] was going to be there. If MJ was going to be there to win our seventh, Pip was not going to miss out on that.”
To begin the 1997-1998 season, late Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said he wasn’t going to bring back Jackson and faced questions about whether he was going to give new deals to aging players such as Pippen, Rodman and Luc Longley. In an unpublished excerpt from Krause released Sunday, he casted doubt on the Bulls team achieving similar success after their last title and instead opted to rebuild for the future.
“What would you do? Did we break up a dynasty or was the dynasty breaking up of age, natural attrition of NBA players with little time to recuperate and the salary-cap rules that govern the game?” Krause wrote.
Team owner Jerry Reinsdorf echoed Krause’s remarks in The Last Dance. “That was the end. It just came to an end on its own,” Reinsdorf said. “Had Michael been healthy and wanted to come back, I don’t doubt that Krause could’ve rebuilt a championship team in a couple years. But it wasn’t going to happen instantly.”
The next season was shortened due to a players’ lockout, Jordan retired, Pippen was traded, Longley went to Phoenix Suns, Rodman signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and Jackson took a year off. Other notable players from the core such as Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler signed elsewhere.
To Jordan, the Bulls missed out on a chance to be the first four-peat champions since the Boston Celtics did it in the 1960s.
“It’s maddening because I felt like we could have won seven,” Jordan said. “I really believe that. We may not have, but man, just not to be able to try, that’s just something that I can’t accept, for whatever reason. I just can’t accept it.”