Warriors

Michael Jordan, Bulls' 'maddening' finale unlike Warriors dynasty's end

Michael Jordan, Bulls' 'maddening' finale unlike Warriors dynasty's end

"It's maddening."

That was the beginning of Michael Jordan's final thoughts on the ESPN 10-part documentary "The Last Dance," the chronicling of the 1997-98 Bulls season, Jordan's last in Chicago. The six-time NBA champion was asked what it's like to live with the fact that those Bulls never got a chance to win their seventh title after owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause elected to blow up the championship core and rebuild the team.

"It's maddening," Jordan said. "Because I felt like we could have won seven. I really believe that. We may not have, but man, just not to be able to try, that's something that, you know, I just can't accept. For whatever reason, I just can't accept it."

The Warriors' dynasty, built by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Steve Kerr, and solidified by Kevin Durant has drawn numerous comparisons to the winning machine built around Jordan in Chicago. They've been compared, contrasted, dissected and analyzed until everyone is blue in the face.

The Bulls won six titles in eight years, completing two three-peats. The Warriors won three titles and went to five straight NBA Finals. Both go on the Mount Rushmore of sports dynasties.

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But while Jordan, the greatest player in NBA history, is left wanting more, wondering what else those Bulls could have accomplished, the Warriors' dynasty, as it was constructed, came to a fitting conclusion.

With the exhaustion of five straight NBA Finals trips, the weight of expectations and serious injuries to Durant and Thompson weighing them down, the invincible Warriors were knocked off their title perch, falling to the Toronto Raptors in six games. A few weeks later, Durant bolted the Bay Area for the glamor of Brooklyn, signing with the Nets and closing the book on the best collection of talent the NBA has ever seen.

Kerr, who won three titles alongside Jordan as a player and was a member of "The Last Dance" Bulls, implored his team to enjoy what likely was their final ride together.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team," Kerr told NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson in December. "Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize -- fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

While filled with what-ifs in regard to Durant's ruptured Achilles, last season always felt like the end of the Warriors' dynasty one way or another. Durant was set to be a free agent, and it never really seemed like returning was in the cards. However the 2019 NBA Finals ended, that likely was going to be it for that group. There was a finality in it. And to go down swinging, clawing tooth and nail despite missing devastating blows to their team, showed championship mettle that helped define the dynasty even as it collapsed.

There's a tranquility in a definitive end. The Warriors could soak in all they accomplished, revel in what they built. Curry, Thompson and Green could focus on a pseudo-rebuild and Durant could leave a Bay Area legend, having won two titles and knowing a third would have been theirs had he not ruptured his Achilles.

There was no peace for Jordan's Bulls. Their end was not one brought by exhaustion, expectations or injuries. It was ego that played the final song for "The Last Dance" Bulls. The division between Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and general manager Jerry Krause had become a chasm that couldn't be traversed. Krause's claim that Jackson wouldn't return even if he went 82-0 sent them to their respective corners, preparing for an end that didn't have to come.

Even Reinsdorf, who asked Jackson to return on a one-year after the 1998 title, was a victim of thinking he's the smartest man in the room.

"After the sixth championship things were beyond our control," Reinsdorf said in the finale of "The Last Dance." "At that point it would've been suicidal, at that point in their careers, to bring back [Scottie] Pippen, Steve Kerr, 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."

There was no punitive luxury tax in the NBA back then. Reinsdorf could have paid to keep the team together to see if seven was achievable or if the miles and fights finally would catch up to them. Pippen almost certainly wouldn't have returned on a one-year contract -- he was awaiting a huge payday -- but Jordan believes he could have talked everyone into it.

"If you ask all the guys who won in '98, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, blah blah blah, we give you a one-year contract to try for a seventh, you think they would have signed them? Yes, they would have signed them," Jordan said. "Would I have 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 have had to do some convincing, but if Phil was gonna be there, Dennis [Rodman] was gonna be there, if M.J. was gonna be there, to win our seventh? Pip is not gonna miss out on that."

The look in Jordan's eyes as he wonders what could have been is haunting. The unanswerable question that eats at him 22 years later. Something six titles, six Finals MVPs, five NBA MVPs and the GOAT title can't give him.

Was seven possible? He'll never know.

The Warriors faced a brutal end to a historic run. But it was just that -- the end.

[RELATED: 'The Last Dance' opened window into heart, soul of Kerr]

Pleasure, in sports and in life is, fleeting. Happiness comes. Champagne is popped. Elation hits. Then, it's on to the next day, the next year. Before you've blinked, years have passed and things are different.

Those years have left Jordan, Reinsdorf and everyone but Jackson (Zen as always) with the unknown eating at them. Jordan always was driven by what's next, not what has been. This was the next he was never able to try and achieve.

We'll always remember the shot over Bryon Russell to win the 1998 NBA Finals. But we now also know it wasn't enough and that image of Jordan, staring out his window pondering the end that didn't have to be.

There is no unknown for the Warriors that changed the game of basketball. Their ending was brought about by two catastrophic injuries, unprecedented exhaustion and a historic performance from Kawhi Leonard and even that almost wasn't enough. It wasn't a storybook ending, but it was fitting of their dynastic greatness. 

The final image of that Warriors dynasty will be Curry, Kerr and the rest of the Warriors staring at the Oracle Arena jumbotron with 0.9 seconds left in Game 6, knowing their tank was on empty and the run was over. A look of exhaustion but also of pride in the fight they showed and what they had built.

No what-ifs or could have beens. Just peace.

Damian Lillard matches Steph Curry in impressive 3-point shooting stat

Damian Lillard matches Steph Curry in impressive 3-point shooting stat

There has been an abundance of comparisons between Steph Curry and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard as of late, most of which are prisoner-of-the-moment takes based in ignorance.

Yes, Lillard has been absolutely incredible during the NBA restart in leading the Trail Blazers to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

No, he has not surpassed Curry as the best point guard in the game.

That said, Lillard arguably is closing the gap. And now, he has done something that no player other than Curry has accomplished in NBA history.

Lillard ended the regular season Thursday having shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range on 10.1 3-point attempts per game, becoming just the second player in league history to post that kind of efficiency on such high volume. Curry, of course, is the other, and he has done it twice.

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In his unanimous MVP season in 2015-16, Curry shot a ridiculous 45.4 percent from long distance on 11.2 3-point attempts per game. Then, in 2018-19, he made 43.7 percent of his 11.7 3-point attempts per contest.

And he just barely missed accomplishing the feat a third time.

In 2016-17, Curry shot 41.1 percent from 3-point land, but didn't attempt enough 3s to qualify.

He literally was one attempt short.

[RELATED: Steph, Dame deserve better than these ridiculous debates]

So, technically, Lillard will only have to do it once more to match Curry. 

That is, unless Curry reminds everyone next season why he's the greatest shooter in NBA history.

Damian Lillard, Oakland native, gets Twitter shoutout from Raiders

Damian Lillard, Oakland native, gets Twitter shoutout from Raiders

The Portland Trail Blazers outlasted the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night to earn a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament.

Shortly thereafter, the Las Vegas Raiders showed Oakland native Damian Lillard some love on Twitter.

The shoutout was much deserved, as Dame averaged 51.3 points and 9.0 assists over the Blazers' final three seeding games, while shooting better than 56 percent overall and nearly 49 percent from deep (on 14.3 attempts).

Those numbers never will seem real.

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Although Lillard let it be known years back that he was not happy with the Raiders for leaving Oakland, he still roots for the Silver and Black.

[RELATED: Bill Simmons wonders if Dame is better than Steph right now]

Dame -- who went to Oakland High School his junior and senior years -- also made it clear last November he did not support the Warriors moving from Oakland to San Francisco.

The five-time NBA All-Star will be back in action Saturday at 11:30 a.m. PT, as the No. 8 seed Blazers face off against the No. 9 seed Memphis Grizzlies.

If the Blazers win, they advance to the first round of the playoffs to take on Los Angeles Lakers. If the Grizzlies win, then Memphis and Portland will do battle again on Sunday to determine who will play the Lakers.

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