Season Review: 1997-98
Six championships in eight seasons. A repeat three-peat, if you will. The Chicago Bulls knew it wouldn’t be easy, but they also knew that if they could do it, their place in the pantheon of the NBA’s greatest teams would be assured.
The Bulls opened the season with All-Star Scottie Pippen on the injured list after undergoing surgery on the sore foot he had hobbled upon for much of the previous season. Pippen missed the first 35 games, but Toni Kukoc filled in and Chicago was 24-11 when Pippen returned.
The resurgent Indiana Pacers, a veteran team led by rookie coach Larry Bird, overtook Chicago and held a half-game lead at the All-Star break. But Chicago won 25 of its next 29 and captured the Eastern Conference with a 62-20 mark as Michael Jordan captured his 10th scoring title (28.7 ppg) and fifth MVP trophy and Dennis Rodman earned his seventh rebounding crown (15.0 rpg).
The Pacers, led by Reggie Miller (19.5 ppg) and Rik Smits (16.7 ppg), crossed the finish line with the second-beat mark in the East, earning Coach of the Year honors for Bird. In the Atlantic Division, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway helped the Miami Heat finish atop the mix.
Out West, meanwhile, the Utah Jazz overcame the loss of John Stockton for the first 18 games of the season following knee surgery and rode the broad shoulders of Karl Malone (27.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg) to a 62-20 record. Utah earned the home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by virtue of having won both regular-season matchups against Chicago.
But the Jazz had stiff competition in the West.
The Los Angeles Lakers, with exciting talent like Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones and the tantalizing Kobe Bryant, finished atop the Pacific Division at 61-21.
The Seattle SuperSonics also were 61-21 as they slotted Vin Baker into Shawn Kemp’s spot without missing a beat as Gary Payton orchestrated another outstanding season.
San Antonio, with Rookie of the Year Tim Duncan forming a remarkable Twin Towers with David Robinson, stayed on Utah’s heels throughout the season and finished at 56-26.
The Bulls eased past New Jersey and Charlotte in the first two rounds and outlasted the stubborn Pacers in seven games to clinch a Finals berth. That set up a rematch against the Jazz, who struggled past the veteran Houston Rockets in five games in the first round before whipping San Antonio and sweeping the Lakers in the West finals.
The Jazz went into The Finals riding high and with the benefit of nine days rest, while the Bulls were coming off a hard-fought series against Indiana. What’s more, Rodman was nursing a thumb injury. Many thought the Bulls were beginning to look their age and were ripe to be knocked off, but Jordan, for one, wasn’t buying it.
The Bulls gained a split of the first two games of The Finals in Salt Lake City, then they smothered the Jazz 98-54 in Game 3, holding Utah to the fewest points in any game — regular season or playoffs — since the advent of the 24-second shot clock.
While many who earlier had written off Chicago were now leaving Utah for dead, the Jazz sent the series back to Salt Lake City by splitting the next two games in Chicago.
Game 6 proved to be another magical moment for the Michael Jordan memory book. With Pippen suffering from a back injury and barely able to hobble up the floor, Jordan knew he had to carry the team. And that’s exactly what he did, scoring a series-high 45 points and making the steal and game-winning jump shot with 5.2 seconds left that gave the Bulls an 87-86 victory and their repeat three-peat.
Eastern Conference first round
Chicago defeated New Jersey (3-0)
New York defeated Miami (3-2)
Indiana defeated Cleveland (3-1)
Charlotte defeated Atlanta (3-1)
Western Conference first round
Utah defeated Houston (3-2)
Seattle defeated Minnesota (3-2)
L.A. Lakers defeated Portland (3-1)
San Antonio defeated Phoenix (3-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Chicago defeated Charlotte (4-1)
Indiana defeated New York (4-1)
Western Conference semifinals
Utah defeated San Antonio (4-1)
L.A. Lakers defeated Seattle (4-1)
Eastern Conference finals
Chicago defeated Indiana (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Utah defeated L.A. Lakers (4-0)
Chicago defeated Utah (4-2)
Points — Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls (28.7)
Assists — Rod Strickland, Washington Wizards (10.5)
Rebounds — Dennis Rodman, Chicago Bulls (15.0)
Steals — Mookie Blaylock, Atlanta Hawks (2.6)
Blocks — Marcus Camby, Toronto Raptors (3.7)
FG % — Shaquille O’Neal, L.A. Lakers (58.4)
FT % — Chris Mullin, Indiana Pacers (93.9)
3PT % — Dale Ellis, Seattle SuperSonics (46.4)
Most Valuable Player — Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Rookie of the Year — Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Defensive Player of the Year — Dikembe Mutombo, Atlanta Hawks
Most Improved Player — Alan Henderson, Atlanta Haws
Sixth Man of the Year — Danny Manning, Phoenix Suns
Coach of the Year — Larry Bird, Indiana Pacers
All-Star Game MVP — Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
NBA Finals MVP — Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls