Before the 1997-98 NBA season that culminated with a sixth NBA title for the Chicago Bulls, it was clear that the dynasty would be coming to an end. As chronicled in the Last Dance, general manager Jerry Krause was dead set on turning over the Bulls roster to build his own champion and get the credit he thought he deserved.
Krause signed Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson to a one-year deal before the season making ’97-’98 his last year in Chicago. Bulls star Michael Jordan made it clear he would play for one coach and one coach only – Jackson.
So, the story goes that Jordan retired and the bulk of the Bulls roster was either traded or left in free agency. The only real holdovers were Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper. That team went 13-37 in a lockout-shortened season, finished dead last in the Eastern Conference, and missed the playoffs.
What if the Bulls could have stayed together in ’98-’99? Jackson stayed as coach, Jordan didn’t retire, and Scottie Pippen wasn’t traded. Could the Bulls have won a fourth straight?
The concern, of course, was the aging roster. Jordan was 35, but he still managed to play 41.5 minutes per game during the previous season’s playoffs. Pippen had missed nearly three months of the ’97-’98 season after foot surgery and he had to deal with serious back pain during the NBA Finals. Dennis Rodman was 37 and didn’t have much left in the tank.
Still, one could only imagine a Bulls-Spurs final where Rodman matched up on San Antonio’s Tim Duncan. The Spurs would have had no answer for Jordan or Pippen, for that matter. Chicago would have had a difficult time with the Spurs frontcourt of Duncan and David Robinson.
In the end, it was the New York Knicks, the eighth seed, which would win the Eastern Conference. The Knicks had an aging Patrick Ewing, but they were no match for the Spurs, which won the NBA Finals series in five games.
Imagine a Bulls roster with a relatively healthy Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, et.al. Jordan had a way of willing his body to do amazing things. Of course, the doubters would have told Jordan there was no way his team of aging stars could have won a fourth straight title. And that is exactly why he and the Bulls would have pulled off the four-peat.