Ultimate competitors who have a killer instinct are never satisfied. They will always want more. The irritation of losing hurts more than the joy of winning.
That’s Michael Jordan.
There are the countless game-winning shots, the suffocating defense, and the will to win no matter what, but Jordan’s killer instinct goes beyond those factors.
During the six-year championship run, the Bulls went to two Game 7′s. Not once did it happen in the NBA Finals. The Bulls beat seven 60-win teams during the run. Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller were some of the superstars denied by Jordan’s killer instinct.
Episode’s 9 and 10 of The Last Dance showed how the infamous “flu game” was the result of food poisoning from pizza in Utah, and how despite how Jordan’s shots in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals constantly falling short in the fourth quarter, he made the last one when it mattered most. It was only fitting that his final sequence started with a defensive play, because that’s what separated Jordan.
After the 10th and final episode, you still got the sense that he wasn’t completely satisfied. He still wanted more. It was like six rings and two three-peats wasn’t enough.
“It’s maddening,” Jordan says on The Last Dance, about leaving at his peak. “I felt like we could have won seven. We may not have, but man, not to be able to try it, that’s something that I just can’t accept.”
Earlier in the 10-part series, a lot of blame was placed on Bulls general manager Jerry Krause for ending Chicago’s dynasty, but the final episode revealed there was more to it.
Owner Jerry Reinsdorf asked Phil Jackson to come back after the ’98 season, but Jackson declined. Krause came out before the season and said it would be Jackson’s final season, so a return would have more than likely caused another internal rift in the organization.
“I said well, I think I should just take a break,” Jackson said. “I don’t think it’s fair to Jerry, and I know it would be very difficult for him to accept that.”
Jordan wanted to run it back another year. He believed the Bulls had a chance to four-peat.
However, Reinsdorf noted the increased market value for the role players, Scottie Pippen’s fallout with the organization, and the very little cap space that the Bulls had. The team would have looked much different the next season.
“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 have rebuilt another championship team in a couple years. It wasn’t going to happen instantly.”
Jordan believes that all of the role players would have signed one-year contracts to return, even though Pippen would’ve taken some convincing.
“If Phil was going to be there, Dennis was going to be there, M.J. was going to be there to win our seventh [championship], Pippen is not going to miss out on that,” Jordan said.
Krause, who died in 2017, had an unfinished memoir that detailed the Bulls’ breakup. In the book, Krause denies the theory that he broke up the Bulls for egotistical reasons.
“During the last championship run in 1998, cracks in the foundation of the teams we’d built began to alarmingly show up at inopportune times," Krause said in the memoir. “To the adoring public, the age that was showing on Dennis Rodman, the lack of movement by Luc Longley, the slowdown in efficiency after playing over 100 games per year in two of the previous three seasons, was not apparent.”
Krause then discussed a meeting with the Bulls front-office in July 1998, where they decided Longley’s ankles and Rodman’s off-the-court behaviors weren’t sustainable parts of the future.
“OK. No center, no power forward, very little [cap space] to sign anybody of any quality to replace them. Who defends in the middle if Jordan and Pippen do come back? Who rebounds?” Krause said.
Pippen’s two major surgeries were also a concern. Krause seemed hesitant to pay him top dollar because the Bulls’ frontcourt would have suffered.
“Could we get Phil to coach without a proven center, power forward, probably Pippen, a basically new bench and crazy expectations that ‘in Michael we trust’ can win without help? Not a chance," Krause said.
“Put yourself in our shoes as we walk out of that room. 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?”