You probably know by now, “The Last Dance” was the title of the playbook Phil Jackson gave to his players before the season began. We knew the team was not coming back, and this was it. Everyone in the NBA knew this was their last chance to beat them.
That’s what makes repeating titles so tricky. You always get everyone’s best effort. The champion rarely gets to take a night off. That mentality is best described with the story of Scott Burell. He was a small forward who played on the ‘97/’98 Bulls and would continuously pick MJ to play 1-on-1 in practice. Everyone thought it was ridiculous, but Burell almost got MJ once. He arrived within a point, so he asked to play MJ again.
“I’m sure you do want to play again. You want to tell your grandkids that you beat Michael Jordan. What the hell am I going to tell my grandkids? That I beat Scott Burrell?”
This is a microcosm of what the 97/98 Bulls had to go through every night. Yet, the team wanted to stay together. Maybe it was a way to motivate themselves; it was their “us against the world” that included their own GM and owner. So when it was done, and they won no.6, their celebration was relatively calm. There was a sense of relief. Still, MJ had to let everyone know.
“Y’all say whatever you want. They can’t win until we quit.”
They didn’t quit; they were made to stop. Would MJ, Scottie, Toni, and Dennis have enough in the tank to go all the way in 99? Who knows. But when you watch the documentary, and Jerry Krause doesn’t get a lot of love, remember one thing. He may have done them a favor in making a decision most champions aren’t ready to make. Quit when you’re on top.