The 1997-98 Golden State Warriors’ season will be remembered for an ugly practice incident on December 1st, 1997, when the team’s leading star, Latrell Sprewell, choked head coach P.J. Carlesimo. After the incident, Sprewell famously said “I wasn’t choking P.J. that hard. I mean, he could breathe.”
A few months later, with the 1996 and 1997 NBA champions in town, the Warriors did their best to put all of the controversies behind them and entirely focus on the game against Jordan & Co.
The future 1997-98 Central Division champions with a 62-20 record were already steaming by that point of the season – at the time of their arrival in Oakland, they held a respectable 33-13 record.
However, the Warriors, regardless of their 8-35 record at the moment, weren’t impressed, and they started to add pressure from early on in the game. The starting backcourt of Brian Shaw and Bimbo Coles didn’t have any of Jordan’s athleticism and charisma, but what they did have was plenty of experience in how to deal defensively with Mr. Jordan and make him look more human at certain times.
That night, they were up to the task, and so was 2nd year pro Tony Delk. But also, each time MJ went around the Warriors perimeter defense, there were 2-3 pairs of hands waiting for him in the lane, with the specific task of stopping him at all cost. At the time, the Warriors frontcourt unit consisted of respectable shot-blockers/alternators: C Erick Dampier, PF Donyell Marshall, and PF/C Adonal Foyle.
Numbers don’t lie – on that particular night, MJ played a total of 41 minutes and scored just 14 points, to go along with 8 boards, 3 dimes and 3 steals. But what particularly stands out is the fact that MJ made only 2-17 field goal attempts (Jordan’s career-low with the Bulls, both in the regular season and the play-offs) and made the majority of his points by hitting 10-11 of his attempts from behind the charity stripe!
But to Jordan’s delight, Scottie Pippen managed to overcome his scoring slump and scored 22 points (even though he shot just 8-23 from the field), Luc Longley added 16 points, and Dennis Rodman pulled off a game-high 22 boards for the Bulls, who managed to pull off an 87-80 away victory in Oakland.
Two nights later, on February 1st, 1998, in Los Angeles, it was the Lakers led by Shaquille O’Neal, who presented the Bulls an actual championship character test. They blew the Bulls out of the Great Western Forum with a 112-87 trashing. Overall, it was the Bulls’ second-largest loss of the 1997-98 season – the first one came on January 7th, 1998 in Miami when the Heat beat the Pippen-less Bulls by 27-points margin (99-72).
After posting a 62-20 regular-season record, the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen went on to win their third consecutive NBA championship title, the 6th one since 1991.