After defeating the Jazz in six games in the NBA Finals in 1998 to win their sixth championship in eight years, the Bulls chose to rebuild instead of bringing back an aging core for another run at a title.
That sent Jordan into his second retirement on top, but it's not a path he wanted, as Jordan explained in the 10th and final episode of "The Last Dance" on ESPN on Sunday night.
"It was maddening, because I felt like we could’ve won seven," Jordan said of leaving the game on such a high note as the Bulls chose not to defend their title. "I really believe that. We may not have, but man, just not to be able to try, that’s something I just can’t accept. For whatever reason, I just can’t accept it."
In "The Last Dance," Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf shared his viewpoint on why the dynasty dissolved, explaining that it'd be "suicidal" to bring an aging veteran core back on market value contracts in 1998-'99. Jordan and fellow co-star Scottie Pippen were among those who were set to be free agents.
Reinsdorf offered coach Phil Jackson the opportunity to come back, but Jackson wanted no part of coaching a rebuilding team. Jackson also had a contentious relationship with general manager Jerry Krause. Jordan had emphasized all along that he wouldn't play for any coach besides Jackson.
"Now after the sixth championship, things were beyond our control," Reinsdorf said in the documentary. "Because it would’ve been suicidal at that point in their careers to bring back Pippen, Steve Kerr, (Dennis) Rodman, Ron Harper. Their market value individually was going to be too high. They weren’t going to be worth the money they were going to get in the market. So when we realized that we were going to have to go into a rebuild, I went to Phil and offered him the opportunity to come back next year. But he said, ‘I don’t want to go through a rebuild. I don’t want to coach a bad team.’ That was the end. It just came to an end on its own. If Michael had been healthy and wanted to come back, I don’t doubt that Krause could’ve rebuilt another championship team in a couple years. But it wasn’t going to happen instantly.”
Jordan has never had a conversation with Reinsdorf about why those Bulls broke up, he said in the documentary. The filmmakers played Reinsdorf's explanation to Jordan on a tablet, but Jordan wasn't buying it.
"In ’98, Krause already said at the beginning of the season that Phil could go 82-0 and he was never going to be the coach," Jordan said. "When Phil said it was the ‘last dance,’ it was the last dance. We knew they weren’t going to keep the team (together). Now they could have nixed all of it at the beginning of (1997-’98). Why say that statement at the beginning of ’98? If you asked all the guys that won in ’98 – Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, blah blah blah. ‘We’re giving you a one-year contract to try for the seventh.’ You think they would have signed? Yes, they would’ve signed. Would I had signed for one year? Yes, I would have signed for one year. I’d been signing one-year contracts up to that. Would Phil have done it? Yes. Now Pip? You would’ve had to do some convincing. But if Phil was going to be there, if Dennis was going to be there, if MJ was going to be there to win our seventh? Pip is not going to miss out on that.
"In 1991-’92, I was young, full of energy, hungry. In ’98, winning six out of eight and yet being just as dominant as you were in ’91, that’s where the craftsmanship came in. I think ’98 was much better than any of the other years because of how I was able to use my mind as well as my body."
The Bulls went 119-341 (.259) while missing the playoffs in each of the next six seasons. They haven't won a championship since the breakup.