Jerry Reinsdorf gets real as to why ’98 Bulls had to break up
In even more The Last Dance docuseries fallout, Jerry Reinsdorf doubled down as to why the Michael Jordan-led 1997-98 Chicago Bulls couldn’t have won a seventh title had they stayed together another season. The owner/chairman explained why at length during a recent interview with Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.
“We were fortunate to beat Indiana. And we were fortunate to beat Utah. Michael had to absolutely go above and beyond the pale. He almost willed us to win those games,” said Reinsdorf. “Scottie Pippen had a back injury and was going to have surgery. And Dennis Rodman had gotten to the point where nobody could stand to have him around anymore.
“We couldn’t have kept the team together. Even if we had, their skills had eroded. So my only objection to the series was it really should have given a clear impression that it was over, that it was done and it was time.”
Reinsdorf has been stern in saying the Bulls wouldn’t have been able to keep that streak going, but he’s never been as candid in saying actually why the team would not succeed. Obviously, much of this is fallout from The Last Dance.
The owner noted role players had seen their market value skyrocket to a point where it wouldn’t make sense to keep them. While Jordan fought back to say his teammates would have signed a one-year deal, it’s hard to fathom role players being willing to pass on a raise for the sake of more hardware.
However, this makes it entirely different. Pippen had already missed the start of that 1997-98 season by not having his back issue taken care of during the 1996-97 offseason. He only played 44 games in 1997-98 and while he led the league in games played in a lockout-shortened season in 1998-99 as a member of the Houston Rockets, his scoring prowess had gone downhill by then, down to 14.5 points per game after averaging 19.1 in his last year of the second three-peat.
Rodman’s antics, whether it was the unpredictable hair, the sudden escapades, or the constant off-court news he’d make, had already worn heavy on a Bulls team that already had plenty of pressure to repeat as champions.
Couple that with a tired Jordan and role players that would be lucky to perform as well as they did in those narrow stretches, and Reinsdorf saw the writing on the wall — the Bulls were done as the NBA’s top team, one way or another. Without that, The Last Dance series would likely not be as interesting.