Using Michael Jordan Only to ‘Crown’ 3X Nba Champ, Phil Jackson Once Unveiled Failed Intentions Behind ’98 Finals

Published 10/13/2023, 2:27 PM EDT

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In Basketball’s Hall of Fame, the mention of Michael Jordan spells out unprecedented success. But even he had to overcome several challenges during his attempt to win a sixth NBA Championship in 1998. 42 seconds. It merely took that to change the history of basketball. The Bulls were fighting against all odds with the Utah Jazz leading 86-83 in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals and a potential Game 7 on the horizon. Pippen, Harper, and Kukoc faced injuries, illnesses, and exhaustion.

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Even though Head Coach Phil Jackson’s strategy went astray, the unquenchable spirit of MJ sealed his place in history. In fact, the legendary coach would reveal that he wanted to use Mike as a “decoy” in the last play. Of course, we all know what happened.

Michael Jordan hits the iconic shot in 1998

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The clock was running down, tension was building and so was the prospect of defeat. The legendary Michael Jordan was once again a man for the moment, creating one of the most famous moments in the NBA. It was at this point that Jordan’s tenacity came through with only 41.9 seconds remaining on the game clock.

In his own words, “My whole thought process was always, ‘We’re going to win the game.‘”

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After all, this was the fabled ‘Last Dance’; Mike’s final season with Head Coach Phil Jackson at the helm. It was a now-or-never moment unlike anything we’ve witnessed before or since.

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And win it they did, thanks to a mesmerizing display of skill and resilience. With 10 seconds left, Mike would hit “the shot”. A 20-foot mid-range jumper after crossing Byron Russell would give the Chicago Bulls the edge they needed.

On June 14, 1998, MJ won his sixth championship ring and his sixth Finals MVP making him an icon among superstar athletes forevermore. However, it required a certain play to go wrong first.

Hidden beneath the aura of Michael Jordan’s heroics in the dying moments lies a story yet untold in the pages of history. A turn of events that failed to materialize according to 13x NBA champion Phil Jackson’s plan.

Phil Jackson’s Unsuccessful Decoy

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Seconds ticked off on the clock as coach Phil Jackson drew up a play that would give 3x NBA champion Toni Kukoc an opportunity to be the night’s hero- but Utah’s stubborn defense wouldn’t have it.

As much as I wanted Michael to have that crowning glory,” Jackson even said in an ESPN piece, “I figured it was a wonderful time to use him as a decoy.” Even more surprisingly, Jordan, the ultimate competitor, didn’t care about not taking the last shot. Phil Jackson’s idea of using Mike’s gravity was a good one. But it seems that fate had planned for the ball to end up in Jordan’s hands.

When the ball inbounded with the hands of 6’6” Ron Harper, its path was blocked in his line of sight, as the towering 7’2” Greg Ostertag obstructed his vision. The result? Instead of Kukoc, a last-second pass to Jordan.

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The final contribution from Michael Jordan to that game established his legend with a whopping 45 points. Ironically, the world had no idea that the moment would be the end of a dynasty and the end of an era, determining how much success was required to be defined as basketball greatness.

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Written by:

Abhinav Tomar

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Abhinav Singh Tomar is an NBA author at EssentiallySports. He translates his love for the game into captivating coverage. A true hoop enthusiast and a fan of all sports, he brings the court to life with his insightful writing skills.
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Edited by:

Aakash Nair

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