HomeTelevisionTwenty-Years Later, The Legacy of Michael Jordan’s Last Shot

Twenty-Years Later, The Legacy of Michael Jordan’s Last Shot

On June 14th, 1998; the zenith of sports and ‘90s pop culture reached its pinnacle when Michael Jordan completed the ultimate “Cinderella Story,” hoisting one last game-winning shot heard around the world, which capped off the most dominant, transcendent, and awe-inspiring career in the history of modern professional sports.

Harkening back to twenty-years ago, it’s nearly impossible to find the words or put into perspective the pop culture phenomenon known as “Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.” In my honest opinion, the best modern comparison to surmise the universal love and admiration for Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls would be the current Marvel Studios franchise in terms of their longevity and track record of mesmerizing global audiences with a plethora of box office smash hits over the last decade.

“Air Jordan,” those words summon images of a mythological athlete who defied the laws of gravity; refused to ever let odds stop him from achieving his championship dreams; competed with an unmatched internal fire that was worthy of the “Human Torch;” forever changed men’s fashion through his signature sneakers, commercials, and clothing line; significantly increased the lucrative financial opportunities for athletic endorsements; and never settled for anything less than maximum effort on the basketball court, which captured the imagination of millions of people across the entire world.

Perhaps best of all, the realities of his all-time elite athletic abilities and accomplishments – I mean, the encompassing results of maximizing every crucial skill and intangible needed to succeed in the NBA (driving to the basket, shooting from both the midrange area and beyond the arc, passing, rebounding, defending, adapting his scoring approach over the course of his career, remaining calm and confident in tough situations, and leading his team to break all-time NBA win totals and two sets of three-peat championships) actually surpassed the myth of his legend.

For young ‘90s kids like myself who were learning how to dribble and defend in youth basketball leagues in the late ‘90s, we anxiously awaited and went in droves to see him star in the cross-generational blockbuster Space Jam in theaters back in November 1996. And when we watched him perform on the actual stage – the basketball court – those crucial moments of athletic inspiration where we discovered our favorite teams and players, we watched the Chicago Bulls win 72 games and top it off with a comeback championship victory on Father’s Day (nearly three-years after his father’s passing); score 50 points against defensive juggernauts like the New York Knicks in 1997 (“The Con Game”); overcome the realities of dealing with a stomach virus in the all-time gutsy classic “The Flu Game;” and conclude his storybook run with the Chicago Bulls by hitting a game-winning shot that even topped a Disney style happy ending, and defeated what many consider to be the greatest basketball team (The 1997-98 Utah Jazz) to never win an NBA championship two-years in a row.

In Michael Jordan’s own words, “Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” In my eyes, that quote strikes the same chord as Stan Lee’s iconic, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

How does all of this relate to my own story? Being a ‘90s kid to my core, truth be told, my childhood somewhat resembled the likes of Full House and Family Matters. I grew up around a lot of people in a household where the door was always revolving with people running in and out and had two grandparents and parents, an aunt, and two cousins who were captivated by Michael Jordan and watched every possible game whether it was broadcast locally against the Knicks and Nets, or nationally televised on NBC and TNT. My grandfather had a collection of recorded video tapes of Bulls games that he saved and we used to them watch together, which ranks near the top of my all-time favorite memories that we shared.


About two-years ago, my grandfather tragically passed away and reflecting back on this moment where Michael Jordan won his last championship as a Chicago Bull is a sacred memory that I will forever appreciate and hold onto for the rest of my life. Having the ability to witness Michael Jordan play basketball truly brought my whole family together. My grandmother still speaks about those moments where we all bonded over Michael Jordan and the Bulls till this very day. Around this timeframe, I frequently wore both my black and red Chicago Bulls jerseys/shorts to school and my mom even had my brother and I professionally photographed in our Jordan jerseys, which is one of my favorite pictures featuring the two of us together.

Unfortunately, I missed the accolades of Michael Jordan’s first three-peat as I was way too young to watch back then. However, the second championship run of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls became my first real introduction to sports. They were the first team and Jordan was the first athlete that I ever idolized and rooted for as a die-hard loyal fan, and like millions of others, made the NBA my favorite sports league in the entire world.

And it wasn’t just Jordan, I loved watching Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper, Toni Kukoč, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and Luc Longley and knew their numbers and positions by heart. I made the Bulls comparison to Marvel earlier and these guys were real-life superheroes in my eyes. During a game within the 1996-98 run, I have a solid image in my head where I was amazed by someone in the Chicago crowd who held up a poster of Michael Jordan drawn as Clark Kent and he was wearing the business suit and holding the collars of his shirt open with the Superman “S” on his chest. Man, that perfectly summed up Michael Jordan’s basketball wizardry in my eyes. I also had copies of “Michael Jordan’s Playground” and “Come Fly With Me,” which I used to frequently watch and reenact in my house. Specifically, I used to imitate the moment where he adjusted his body motion in mid-air against the Los Angeles Lakers for what Marv Albert historically called, “A spectacular move by Michael Jordan!”

Even some of my earliest discoveries of reading and writing were heavily influenced by Michael Jordan through Sports Illustrated for Kids. My mom renewed my subscription every year from the late ‘90s to the early 2000s. Michael Jordan was always featured in those magazines and I collected several of my favorite MJ basketball cards and even hung up a poster of Jordan dunking from 1997/1998 in my room. I also had a small framed poster of Jordan alongside Bugs Bunny and Marvin the Martian, pre-Space Jam, in my room. Back in 1997/1998, I even remember when my teacher assigned my class our first biography based book report. Without question, there was nobody else that I wanted to learn from and write about more so than Michael Jordan. So I rented a Michael Jordan biography from my school library and never gave it back, I wound up reading it from front to back multiple times.

As it pertains to the 1997-1998 NBA season, there was so much focus and attention on Michael Jordan’s impending retirement and the breakup of the Chicago Bulls. Their entire season was the equivalent of the world’s greatest band embarking on their final farewell tour. The thought of ending this miraculous run seemed clinically insane but Chicago Bulls management and ownership caused their own self-inflicted demise.

Even as kids, it seemed like most of us knew that we had to appreciate Michael Jordan’s prime while he still played in the NBA so I watched a lot of his games that season. Understandably so, after two incredibly long seasons, this Bulls team was older and experienced a myriad of injuries, including Michael Jordan who played the entire season with a broken ring finger and without Scottie Pippen for noteworthy durations. Yet, Jordan managed to lead his team to 62 wins and earned another regular-season MVP. Being apart of this “Unforgettabulls” journey during their last few years together, I witnessed an infinite amount of well-executed plays and brilliant teamwork, jaw dropping clutch shots, and ridiculous displays of athleticism that forever stuck with me.


As a kid in elementary school, nearly everyone in my class was glued to the 1997-1998 NBA Finals and it was the hottest topic of discussion since the Bulls – Jazz rivalry was the most noteworthy and exciting rivalry of its time. I was shocked when some of my friends picked the Jazz to win and I said to them, “Listen, Michael Jordan will not lose.”

Reflecting back on Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals, I sat in my grandparents living room and about eight of us watched the game altogether and I could still feel the high stress and tension in that room even all these years later. The broadcasters (Bob Costas, Isiah Thomas, and Doug Collins) kept hammering home the point that this could be Michael Jordan’s last performance in the NBA and most importantly, the Bulls wanted to avoid game 7. Also, the Jazz played this game with every single ounce of passion and aggression needed to keep themselves alive and I even remember my grandfather saying the Bulls might actually lose this series. I refused to believe in such a notion and said, “No way!” Scottie Pippen was also inactive for most of the game, which scared the hell out of me. The burden truly fell on Jordan’s shoulders to carry the Chicago Bulls to one-last victory and championship. And while it wasn’t Jordan’s greatest statistical performance, it was the gutsiest and greatest performance of his entire career since the Jazz would not lose and their home crowd was extremely red hot like very few teams have ever had in NBA history.

Do yourselves a favor once this story is finished and watch the video below. With only one-minute left in regulation, the game was tied 83-83 and the Bulls could barely generate any offense outside of Jordan who just scored two crucial free throws. The Bulls were understandably gassed and the Jazz had all of the momentum, especially as John Stockton responded with a clutch three-pointer. Again, there were some doubts being spoken out loud amongst my family about the Bulls potentially losing this game, which was breaking my young heart. The Bulls took a timeout and once play resumed, Jordan hit this Flash-esque layup within mere seconds that kept the Bulls alive and tied the game. It happened so quickly that I actually thought he dunked, which I remember jumping up and cheering for. My family was like, “How the hell did he score that quickly?” I wanted to say, “Hey guys, we’re talking about Michael Jordan.”

What makes this game so picture perfect for Michael Jordan is how the last minute of regulation personifies the most crucial intangibles and aspects of his basketball arsenal. He snatched the hearts and momentum away from the Jazz and their Salt Lake City crowd, and it proves how one player in the game of basketball could make the biggest difference when it matters most. No other professional team sport could match that type of individual significance since the NBA is a star-driven league.

The Jazz quickly inbounded the ball, dribbled it up the court, and Stockton passed it to Karl Malone who we all know was “The Mailman.” Talk about having all of the hometown odds in your favor, Malone is one of the all-time greatest scorers and power forwards in NBA history. Yet, without a moment’s pause or hesitation, Jordan read the play and stole the ball from Malone! “What?!!?!” I remember either my aunt or grandmother screaming, “Holy shit! He stole the fucking ball!” Pardon the language, we’re all from Staten Island. Everyone who was over my grandparents house was going absolutely berserk and Michael Jordan had the basketball in his hands and was dribilling it up the court with the clock winding down and a chance to take the lead and win the game.

In hindsight, it might be easy to say that I knew he was going to score but I truly knew in my heart to hearts that he would seize the ultimate opportunity of opportunities. This was Michael Jeffrey Jordan – 6’6” from North Carolina, the MVP of the NBA, and shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls! For goodness sake, I grew up watching Space Jam, The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield, and Air Bud. This was the 1990s! Miracles happened in sports and Michael Jordan was the king of clutch!!! My heart is actually beating fast when reflecting back on this moment. Cue in a lot of “OMGs!,” “Is he going to do it again?” “Jordan has the basketball!,” and “He’s going to take the shot! He’s going to take the shot!”

With eights-seconds left on the clock, Michael Jordan crossed up Bryon Russell and took a jumpshot that myself, alongside millions of viewers across the world, will never ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER forget until my last breath!!! Once that basketball swished through the hoop, dude, we went off like a nuclear bomb of excitement! Man, I just cannot even describe or comprehend the volume of screams and jubilation that I unleashed (we all unleashed), and how happy I felt that Jordan hit the ultimate shot of all shots! I swear, in my head, I was like, “He actually made the ending of Space Jam happen in real life!” Cue in the mind of a ‘90s kid right there!

Reflecting back on this game, the deafening silence of the Utah crowd and traumatizing look of shock among the Jazz players, they were finished and even though Stockton had a great look at the basket with his three-point attempt, he unfortunately missed and this series was OVER! Jordan jumped in the air and waved both of his hands, six fingers raised altogether, to signify his SIXTH NBA CHAMPIONSHIP! Beyond the all-time historic clutchness and career-defining essence of that moment, it was truly one of the most fun and inspirational experiences that I ever had watching sports. Yes, it broke my heart that Michael Jordan would likely never suit up for the Chicago Bulls again but he was going to end his majestic basketball career by hitting the greatest game-winning shot of all-time for his sixth NBA Championship.

Some might say his last shot was an offensive foul on Bryon Russell to which I say, the amount of venom it took to initiate three consecutive brilliant plays with only 45 seconds left on the clock, to score 45 points (his former number) with an exhausted and depleted Bulls team, and to end off his monumental career with another three-peat championship run, man, I’m still sitting in here in complete amazement reflecting back on his DaVinci esque brilliance as a basketball savant. And yes, Michael Jordan eventually suited up for the Washington Wizards nearly four-years later, which in hindsight included some unreal accomplishments since he was in the 38-40 age range and averaging over 20 points per game. However, Michael Jordan’s career will forever be defined by his Herculean strength and athleticism, venomous ability to score and defend in the clutchest of situations, a perfect NBA Finals record, and thousands of otherworldly statistical accomplishments that he achieved in a Chicago Bulls uniform during a time where the game’s physicality and toughness were at their all-time highest.

The lyrics, “I believe I can fly,” truly define the aura of Michael Jordan in the 1990s and even for a kid like myself who didn’t have the best health or circumstances growing up, he truly made me believe in something greater; we could maximize who we are and defy societal expectations or even the worst situations through sheer willpower and relentless determination.

All these years later, I still watch countless highlight videos and classic Michael Jordan games on YouTube and NBA TV and there was such an otherworldly balance of virtuosity, aggression, and beauty reflected in his playing that strikes the same emotional chords as if I was listening to my all-time favorite albums like Alice In Chains’ Dirt, Temple of the Dog’s self-titled LP, and Metallica’s Ride The Lightning. I’m beyond grateful to have grown up in a decade where sports and pop culture produced so many transcendent legends like Michael Jordan and I will forever reflect back on June 14, 1998 with the same long-term admiration people showcase for DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa” or van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Thank you for inspiring me to believe that I could truly fly, influencing me to overcome some difficult odds, and to strive for something greater through my writing and music, Michael Jordan.

Anthony Toto
Anthony Totohttps://pathbrite.com/AnthonyMToto/profile
Anthony Toto is a senior writer and social media manager for The Pop Break. Works in the music industry and interviews prominent artists, bands, and musicians. Longtime guitarist, Rutgers Graduate, and wholeheartedly believes in the ethereal power of music.

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