The 1998 NBA Finals was the championship round of the 1998 playoffs of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the conclusion of the 1997–98 NBA season. The Eastern Conference champion Chicago Bulls played against the Western Conference champion Utah Jazz, with the Jazz holding home-court advantage with the first 2 games in Salt Lake City. In a repeat of the previous year's Finals, the Bulls won the series 4 games to 2 for their third consecutive NBA title and their sixth in eight seasons. Michael Jordan was voted the NBA Finals MVP of the series (he also had won the award the last five times the Bulls won the Finals: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, and 1997). This would be his sixth NBA championship and sixth Finals MVP award in six full basketball seasons. Until 2014, it was the last consecutive Finals rematch between two teams.
The 1998 Finals garnered the highest Nielsen TV ratings in NBA history at 18.7, and even surpassed the Nielsen ratings for the 1998 World Series, marking the first time the NBA had a higher rating in its championship round than of Major League Baseball's championship round.
The 1998 NBA season documentary "Unforgettabulls" was the first of five narrated by Will Lyman through NBA Entertainment, which recaps the entire Bulls' season. Rick Telander narrates on the opening credits. Marv Albert narrates the timeline of Michael Jordan's career with the Bulls.
The series marked the first time since 1989 that the same two teams met in the Finals in consecutive years. The Jazz earned the league's best record by virtue of sweeping the two-game regular season series with the Bulls despite both teams finishing at 62 wins. In the playoffs, the Jazz were pushed to the brink by the Houston Rockets before winning Game 5 in Utah, and then overcame Rookie of the Year Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs 4–1. They then swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Bulls swept the New Jersey Nets and then took out the Charlotte Hornets in five, but it took seven games to overcome the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Utah Jazz won both games in the regular season series:
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame‡
Bulls win the series 4–2.
Unlike the 1997 Finals, the Jazz and Bulls entered this series as equals. The Jazz had won both regular season meetings with the Bulls, and many analysts predicted a hard-fought seven-game series. The two teams entered the Finals on completely different notes; the Jazz had swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and would have a total of ten days rest before the Finals began. The Bulls, meanwhile, needed all seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and had just two days rest before having to travel to Utah. Predictions of a Jazz championship were strengthened with their 88–85 Game 1 victory in overtime in Utah, with Scottie Pippen just missing a 3 pointer at the buzzer. True to form, the Bulls tied the series in Game 2 while putting together a huge fourth-quarter run to silence the Delta Center and holding on to win 93–88, finally securing their first victory against Utah all season. Karl Malone shot very poorly in the first two games of the series with some misses including one layup in Game 2 that hit the underside of the rim.
The finals moved to Chicago with control of the series at stake in Game 3. Though anticipation was high, no one could have expected the blow-out seen in Game 3. In a 96–54 loss, the Jazz set the record for the lowest points scored in Finals history, as well as the lowest number of points scored in any NBA game (since eclipsed by a score of 49 from the Bulls on April 10, 1999) since the inception of the shot clock. Also, every player on the Bulls roster scored.
The Jazz pulled themselves together in Game 4 in a better, though vain attempt to tie the series.
The Jazz' early series-lead seemed like a distant memory, a false indication of a tough series as they entered Game 5 down 3–1. Chicago fans prepared for the last game they would host with the Jordan-led Bulls of the 1990s. But any notions of a championship on the home floor died when Michael Jordan missed a 3 pointer at the buzzer, preserving Utah's 83–81 victory after they almost blew a 7-point lead in the last 2 minutes. Karl Malone had his best game of the series, scoring 39 points. Antoine Carr made all 5 of his field goal attempts, mainly on 20-foot jumpers in the second half. With the series shifting back to Utah with a 3–2 Bulls lead, the promise of another Chicago championship wasn't so certain.
As they arrived at the Delta Center for Game 6, things didn't look good for the Bulls. Scottie Pippen, whose back was already injured going into the game, aggravated his injury when he dunked the opening basket of the game. He scored only 8 points the whole game. To keep pace with Utah, the Bulls were forced to rely almost entirely on Jordan, who scored 23 points in the first half. Emotions ran high at the Delta Center when the Jazz suffered a critical shot clock violation in the second quarter. Referee Dick Bavetta ruled that Howard Eisley did not get a successful 3-point shot off in time, although TV replays showed that the ball was out of Eisley's hands just before the shot clock hit zero. Later in the fourth quarter, Michael Jordan tied the game with only a minute left. The Jazz received some relief as John Stockton hit a 3 with 41.9 seconds left to give Utah an 86–83 lead and sent the Delta Center into a frenzy.
After Jordan made a layup to make it 86–85, the Bulls needed to stop the Jazz from scoring again. When John Stockton passed the ball to Karl Malone, Jordan stole the ball away and dribbled down the court. Guarding him was Bryon Russell, one of the Jazz's best defenders. With 10 seconds remaining, Jordan started to dribble right, then crossed over to his left. Jordan hit the 20-foot jumper to give the Bulls an 87–86 lead with 5.2 seconds left. After a time-out, Stockton missed a game-winning 3-pointer, giving the Bulls their sixth NBA title in 8 years. Jordan, who scored 45 points, and whose game-winning shot has been immortalized around the world, was once again named Finals MVP.Chicago Bulls
The Finals were televised in the United States by NBC, with Bob Costas on play-by-play and Doug Collins and Isiah Thomas serving as color analysts. Hannah Storm hosted the pre-game show, assisted by Bill Walton, John Salley and Peter Vescey, and Ahmad Rashad and Jim Gray reported from the sidelines. This was the first time since NBC took over the broadcasting rights to the NBA Finals in 1991 that Marv Albert was not the play by play commentator. He was fired from NBC on September 25, 1997 for sodomizing a woman.
Jordan... open... Chicago with the lead!! Timeout, Utah; 5.2 seconds left; Michael Jordan running on fumes with 45 points.
11... 10... Jordan... Jordan, a drive! Hangs, fires, SCORES!! He scores! The Bulls lead 87–86 with five and two-tenths left, and now they are one stop away! Oh my goodness!
Stockton... Harper's on him. Behind the screens! Harper got a piece of it, it comes off... (time expires) The Chicago Bulls have won their 6th NBA championship, and it's their second three-peat.
To date, the series remains the last Finals appearances for both the Bulls and Jazz. After the season, the Bulls dynasty broke up. Without its key personnel, the Bulls missed the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 1999 season, winning just 13 of 50 games. The Bulls would not make the postseason again until 2005, win a playoff series until 2007, and earn the Eastern Conference top seed until 2011. The city of Chicago would not see another championship until Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. Like the Bulls, the White Sox are owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, whose 2005 World Series championship is his seventh overall. The United Center would not host another championship series until the National Hockey League's Chicago Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
Phil Jackson declined an offer from the team president to coach another season. He would come back as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999, winning five NBA titles in two separate stints with the team before retiring in 2011. This would give Jackson 11 NBA Titles, the most for a coach in the history of the four major American sports leagues. Ron Harper followed Jackson to the Lakers and won championships during his final two seasons, in 2000 and 2001.
In January 1999, Michael Jordan announced his retirement for the second time; he would come out of retirement for the second and final time in 2001 with the Washington Wizards and played two seasons with the team. Scottie Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets during the offseason and played his last season (2003–04) with the Bulls. Rodman, released by the Bulls in the offseason, signed with the Lakers mid-season, playing only 23 games before being released. In January 1999, the Bulls re-signed Steve Kerr and traded him to the San Antonio Spurs, where he would win two more championships in 1999 and 2003, his last year in the NBA. Luc Longley also retired in 2001.
The Jazz would continue to make the postseason until 2003, John Stockton's last season, and next made the Western Conference Finals in 2007 but lost in five games to the San Antonio Spurs. For the next three seasons, the Jazz made the postseason but each time was eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers (2008 conference semifinals, 2009 first round, 2010 conference semifinals). Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan resigned in February 2011.
Antoine Carr and Chris Morris became free agents after the Finals, signed with other teams, and retired by 2000. Jeff Hornacek retired in 2000 after two more seasons with Utah. After five more seasons with the Jazz, Karl Malone spent his final season of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Lakers lost the 2004 NBA Finals.
The 2005–06 postseason saw the retirement or departure from the NBA of these former members of the 1998 Finals teams: Howard Eisley, Greg Ostertag, Shandon Anderson, Bryon Russell, and Toni Kukoč. Eisley remained with the Jazz the next two seasons and ended his career with the Denver Nuggets. In July 2006, the Nuggets traded Eisley to the Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls later waived Eisley before the 2006–07 season. Ostertag retired in 2006 after having played all but one season since the 1998 Finals with the Jazz; he played for the Sacramento Kings in 2004-05. In his second season with the team and final season of his career, Anderson won an NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2006. Like Eisley, Russell played his final NBA season with the Denver Nuggets in 2005–06; Russell played three years afterward with teams in the American Basketball Association and International Basketball League.