ESPN’s 10-part documentary entitled ‘The Last Dance’ premiers on Sunday. Utah Jazz fans will undoubtedly see multiple replays of Michael Jordan pushing off on a helpless Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals — you’ve been warned.
I’ll never forget where I was when Michael Jordan forced his left hand into Bryon Russell’s right thigh. It might’ve not looked like much, but before I realized what had happened, Russell had lost his balance, leaving Mike with the space he needed to sink the Utah Jazz’s season …
For the second straight year, too — no Game 7, no hope and certainly no title for the Jazz.
At the time I was traveling back to Oklahoma with my mother and older sister. We’d spent a couple of weeks visiting family and friends in Spanish Fork, Utah before returning home for the rest of Summer vacation. Along with a host of other Jazz fans, we were crowded around a sports bar in the Salt Lake City airport — as the Jazz went, so too did the mood of the entire restaurant.
I was only eight years old, but nobody cared (not even mom) that I’d found a front-row spot at the bar — close enough to peek my head up over the countertop. For me, it’d be ten years until the Seattle Sonics would make their way to Oklahoma City as the Thunder. Because of it, I was obsessed with the Jazz. Heck, I’d wear two white wristbands to shoot hoops in the backyard …
Karl Malone always did, and he was my hero — if he wore them, I would, too.
In that moment, though, Karl’s fallibility came at me like two-ton pickup truck. Juxtaposed against it, His Airness needed a mere 31.9 seconds to put the Jazz in their rightful place. It all started with a Jordan layup to bring the Chicago Bulls within one. With just over 21 seconds left in the game and a chance to stretch the lead, M.J. stripped the ball from Malone in the post.
Then, the very dagger that would put Brutus’ to shame:
Come the final buzzer, Jordan shouted in triumph as he held six fingers high in the air. Everyone in attendance at the Delta Center could see them. I sure did. My JanSport carry-on felt heavier than before. Not knowing what to do, I put my head in my hands and wept without shame.
In June, it will have been 22 years since Jordan’s iconic “last shot” moment in Salt Lake City.
Since that time, as a franchise, the Jazz have undergone a number of major changes — some good, some not so good. Something that hasn’t changed, however, is the figurative groin-kick that immediately comes about every time ESPN feels the need to replay Jordan’s game-winner.
As luck would have it, this Sunday at 7 p.m. MST, the “Worldwide Leader In Sports” will debut its much-anticipated documentary: “The Last Dance.” During the 1997-1998 season, the Bulls were seeking their sixth-straight NBA title. The organization had made it public knowledge that coach Phil Jackson wouldn’t be back next season — Jordan made it clear he wouldn’t, either.
Watch if you must, Jazz fans, but you know how this gosh-forsaken song and dance ends. And just in case you don’t, spoiler alert: with an obvious, clear-as-day offensive foul on Jordan …
No ifs, ands or buts about it.