Rozner: Time has not diminished memories of Chicago Bulls, Jordan

 
 
Updated 6/4/2018 1:07 PM
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  • Bulls Michael Jordan jumps for joy, as the Bulls win their sixth championship against the Utah Jazz in Utah.

    Bulls Michael Jordan jumps for joy, as the Bulls win their sixth championship against the Utah Jazz in Utah. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Watching Michael Jordan play the fourth quarter of Game 6 in Utah felt like something other than a basketball game.

On the night of June 14, 1998, the Delta Center was more like a movie set, with the greatest superhero of all time biding his time, waiting for an opportunity put on his cape and rescue the good guys.

Understanding the historical significance, that the team was about to break up and that Jordan was expected to retire, this columnist moved from an obstructed view down low to about 30 rows up and a press seat in the middle of the bowl, so as not to miss the cinematic conclusion.

In true Cecil B. DeMille fashion, Jordan did not disappoint, providing the perfect final scene of The Greatest Sports Show on Earth.

With Scottie Pippen playing only 26 minutes (8 points) and suffering with a bad back, it was once again left to the 35-year-old Jordan, who was on fumes.

With 41 seconds left and down 3, Jordan took Bryon Russell off the dribble for the layup, a huge and largely forgotten play, reminiscent of the Game 6 layup down 4 with 38 seconds left against Phoenix in 1993.

At the other end and down 1, Karl Malone received the ball in the post with Dennis Rodman on his back, but Jordan left his man and stripped Malone from behind under the bucket.

Twenty-one seconds left.

Jordan calmly brought the ball up and took a breather outside, killing clock.

This was it. This was the final act everyone wanted. Jordan with the ball and a chance to win it.

He broke right and took Russell again toward the free-throw line. Russell wasn't going to get beat again to the bucket and overplayed the drive. Jordan hit the brakes and Russell flew by -- Tom Cruise in "Top Gun," with a little help from Jordan's left hand -- leaving Jordan alone at the top of the key.

Nothing but net. Pose. Dagger. Bulls lead, 5.2 remaining. Utah timeout.

With Ron Harper getting a fingertip on the ball, John Stockton from behind the arc missed the final shot off the front of the rim. The ball caromed off the backboard.

And it was over.

For Jordan: six NBA Finals, six trophies, six MVPs.

Next week will mark 20 years, and time has diminished nothing about it, the Beatles of basketball breaking up after a platinum double album of three-peats and solid-gold hits from start to finish.

And it was Jordan's ability to reinvent so many times, the constant evolution, which marked the passage of time.

There was the 1985 Jordan who played above the rim but couldn't hit an open 12-footer, the one Dave Corzine insisted must learn to shoot or he would never survive in an NBA when physical contact was still a part of the game.

There was the 1987 Jordan who learned to be a deadly shooter, with everything still hard off the dribble.

In 1989, there was M.J. the point guard with 15 triple-doubles.

By 1990, he was as good a catch-and-shoot, clutch performer as there was in the game.

By the 1991 Finals, he was feeding a wide-open John Paxson to win their first title.

By the 1993 Finals, he was the perfect player, a six-time NBA All-Defensive first teamer who could get to the bucket when the Bulls needed easy points, who could create any shot off the dribble or above defenders.

By the second three-peat, the Bulls had become a team of specialists with no post presence, so Jordan became their dominant post player, creating his own looks by elevating above defenders, no possible way to defend his fadeaway jumper down low.

This also offered uncontested layups for the likes of Rodman and Luc Longley.

At the very end and exhausted, he found a floor move in the low post, a 6-foot-6 Jordan beating the trees with a new version of himself when he didn't have the energy to elevate.

And that night, after the Bulls took out the Jazz in Salt Lake City for trophy No. 6, Jordan offered an admission and perhaps some clues.

"I'm getting at my limit physically and at my limit mentally," Jordan said. "I'm maxing out on my basketball education. I'm not sure how much more there is to learn about the game, but I still feel the need to absorb more."

It turns out he needed more basketball, but Chicago will always remember Game 6 and the shot that buried Utah as the perfect ending.

For the perfect player.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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