There are many wonderful things about The Last Dance, ESPN’s 10-part retrospective on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ 1998 season. Chief among them is the opportunity to relive some of the watershed moments of that dynasty and how they became one of the most dominant teams of all-time.
For instance, over at ESPN on Friday, Zach Lowe broke down one of the Bulls’ last major hurdles as they were en route to their sixth and final championship in 1998. Before Chicago had to face the Utah Jazz for a second straight year in the Finals, they first had to get through a feisty Indiana Pacers team, and according some players involved, it was one of their biggest tests during their time together.
The Bulls had only been forced into a Game 7 once before, a challenge they’d met and overcome against the Knicks previously, but this time, the Reggie-Miller-led Pacers had every confidence that they could topple the reigning champs. And if you ask Steve Kerr, he and the Bulls were no longer feeling invincible toward the end of their run together.
“That was the scariest game we ever faced,” Kerr said.
As part of the piece, Lowe talked to many of the players involved, and their memory for the specifics of each part of the game more than 20 years after the fact is by itself astonishing and well worth the read. It’s also worth it for just another glimpse into Jordan’s leadership and confidence, which never wavered, despite head coach Phil Jackson’s insistence that the team embrace the idea that losing this game was a possibility.
Jordan’s now infamous response to that has been well-documented:
At practice the day before Game 7, Phil Jackson counseled his players to find strength in vulnerability. “He said the important thing is to not fear losing,” said Steve Kerr, a backup guard. “Embrace the idea you could lose. Face that. But before he could get started, Michael just said, ‘F— that, Phil. We’re not losing.’ We put our hands in the middle, said ‘1-2-3, Bulls!’ and went home.”
Spoiler alert, but the Bulls would go onto win that game and, later, their sixth title. But as the Pacers raced out to a 20-7 lead to open, it’s a good reminder of just how tenuous the situation really was, and Lowe’s retrospective gives you an excellent sense of the chaos that ensued throughout the game, not to mention how many different things would have to go the Bulls’ way in order for them to win. The Bulls’ dominance seems inevitable in hindsight, but looking back, it was anything but.