Widely regarded as arguably the greatest basketball shot ever made, Michael Jordan’s “The Last Shot” during Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals is a thing of beauty. While MJ is being glorified whenever it plays on documentaries and media platforms such as YouTube, some of us couldn’t help but wonder how hard it is to be Bryon Russell, the man on the other end of the timeless NBA highlight.
His Airness rips Bryon
When the historic NBA Finals moment occurred, Jordan was still with the Chicago Bulls, and Russell was with the Utah Jazz. It was MJ’s final game as a Bull - he joined the Washington Wizards when he made his second NBA comeback in 2001. It’s safe to say nobody expected it, but destiny fooled around a bit with MJ and Russell as they became teammates in Washington the following season.
As expected, Jordan bullied Russell over the controversial yet undeniably epic shot in Utah in 1998. Former Wizards center Brendan Haywood happened to witness it once and vividly recalled “His Airness” telling Russell, “That’s why they call you the human highlight reel. Not because you have any highlights of your own but because you are in all of mine.”
Jordan and Russell were teammates for only one season. And evidently, it was a very short period of time for the pair to be able to bury the hatchet and move on. In fact, during his Hall of Fame speech in 2009, MJ ripped Russell once again.
Bryon hits back
This time, Jordan’s comments did not go unnoticed. Shortly after that speech, Russell clapped back and issued a serious and detailed “1-on-1” game challenge for MJ.
“I’ll play his ass right now,” Russell said via Yahoo Sports in 2009. “This is a call-out for him to come play me. He can come out here in his private jet and come play. He’s got millions of dollars. He can pay for the jet. He can meet me at the Recreation Center in Calabasas. We can have Mark Jackson do the commentating. We can have Mitch Richmond do the officiating. We can put it on TV and see if Michael’s still got it. I keep my basketball shorts on.”
Russell even directed Jordan to get his phone number from a mutual friend if he decided he was up for the challenge.
MJ chickened out?
As taunting as Russell’s challenge was, it became apparent that it wasn’t enough to get Jordan’s competitive juices flowing. Four years later, TMZ Sports reported that Russell claimed MJ “chickened out” from his challenge, quoting the former Jazz guard saying, “there’s no ‘Jordan rules’ when you play 1-on-1.”
The report stated that Russell said the six-time NBA champion did not give any specific reason why but “just didn’t wanna do it.”
Who would've won in 2009 and in 2013? We'll never know. (My money is on MJ) However, one thing we can be sure about is that Russell was never in MJ’s realm.