After watching ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance,’ those that think any NBA player stacks up to Michael Jordan, were proven wrong. Spectacular basketball skills do weigh into the greatest of all time (GOAT) debate, but the legend that was Michael Jordan, including his hunger for being competitive is what puts him over the top.
Something that would have undeniably put Jordan as the GOAT, regardless of Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or Wilt Chamberlain’s achievements is if he would have returned for the 1998-1999 season, and won a fourth-straight and seventh total NBA title.
Would Jordan have won his seventh title, and would that Bulls team have won their fourth-straight? That question is a bit complicated. Relationships were in critical condition, contracts were expiring, MJ was gasping for air, and other teams were developing into dynasties themselves.
Jerry Reinsdorf admitted at the very end of the documentary that he and the team’s management wanted Phil Jackson back, contrary to Jerry Krause’s wishes, but wouldn’t be able to bring Jordan, Kerr, and Pippen back because they’ve become too much to afford. Jordan watched the video of Reinsdorf live and vowed that Kerr and Pippen would have come back for less money on one-year deals if he would have asked them. Jordan also said if Phil would have come back, they would have as well.
It’s easy to believe that Kerr would return, but it’s harder to make that prediction with Pippen because his relationship with the organization was so damaged. Everyone knows about his less than ideal contract, and everyone knows at this stage in his career, getting paid was years overdue.
Speaking of Pippen’s relationship with management, Phil’s relationship with Krause was poor as well. If Phil would have returned, against Krause’s wishes, would that have caused even more discontent between he and Krause that was quite obviously power-hungry? Jackson didn’t like the idea of that.
When thinking about that next season for the Bulls, even if everyone came back including Pippen and Jackson, the ’98-’99 season was a lockout year and only 50 games were played. They also had to fit those 50 games into a condensed amount of time. At that time, Jordan was 34 years old, Pippen was 32, Rodman was 36, Ron Harper was 34, Kerr was 32, and Toni Kukoc was knocking on 30’s doorstep. For a team that was visibly exhausted after their last playoff run, do you think a condensed 50-game season where a lot of games were played over a short period time would have warranted another title run?
In addition to the lockout season, they had young up-coming teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs to worry about, on top of the Utah Jazz. The Spurs had a young Tim Duncan, an established David Robinson, and a talented supporting cast that swept through the NBA playoffs. They swept the Lakers and the Trail Blazers en route to an NBA title, defeating the New York Knicks in five games. Would the Bulls have been able to defeat that team?
I must say the ride would have been fun to watch, but it’s better that Jackson and Co. walked away when they did. If communication were better between the Bulls front office, Jackson, and Jordan, I think the group would have come back for one real last dance. But leaving on a good note helped solidify Jordan’s legacy, and I don’t think he’d be able to top that the year after. The Bulls were great, but the competition in the West was heating up rapidly. The next generation of greats were shaping up, and that would have been too much for the Bulls.