ESPN's “The Last Dance” documentary did a great job detailing the final year of the Chicago Bulls' dynasty of the ‘90s, through the lens of Michael Jordan. Though Jordan was still playing at an all-time level, leading the Bulls to a sixth championship in the 1997-98 season, he was essentially forced into retirement by the front office’s desire to begin a rebuild.
The documentary ended with a brief explanation of how that rebuild began: “Phil Jackson was replaced. Michael Jordan went back into retirement. Scottie Pippen was traded. Dennis Rodman was released. Steve Kerr was traded.”
Jordan was the most tenured player on that team, so it made sense that while he walked away from the game, many of his teammates continued to play for as long as there was a team that would have them. Jordan still had basketball in his future too, as he returned three years later as a member of the Washington Wizards. With many of his "Last Dance” teammates still in the NBA, Jordan had a chance to take the court with them again, this time as opponents.
As detailed in the documetary, playing against Jordan didn’t go so well for former Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong in the 1998 playoffs as a member of the Hornets. But as far as we know, none of MJ’s '98 teammates made Armstrong's mistake of taunting him during the legend's two seasons in the nation’s capital.
From 2001-03, Jordan didn't seem particulary motivated to show up him '98 title teammates. He went 5-6 against them while averaging just 19 points in those games, two below his 21-point average during his time in Washington. Most of that damage came in games against Toni Kukoc, where Jordan averaged 26 points in four games -- those were actually the only games against his former teammates that he eclipsed 20 points. And against coach Jackson, he had a 1-3 record, though he did fare better with over 23 points per game in the three games he played significant minutes.
Below is a brief summary of how all those games went, sorted chronologically by his first matchup against each player.
November 1, 2001
Up first was Toni Kukoc, who had played another season and a half with the Bulls before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, then to the Atlanta Hawks, and lastly to the Milwaukee Bucks. “The Last Dance” focused on Kukoc for an episode about how Jordan and Pippen made his life miserable during the 1992 Olympics. They resented general manager Jerry Krause’s affinity for Kukoc, and set out to make a statement.
That statement game was Jordan’s first competitive matchup opposite Kukoc, but his first NBA game against Kukoc came in just his second game out of retirement. Jordan dropped 31 points on Kukoc and the Atlanta Hawks, leading the Wizards to a 98-88 win. Kukoc scored just 8 points in 27 minutes off the bench. The two would take the floor against each other three more times over the next two years, splitting their four matchups 2-2.
Nov. 1, 2001 in ATL (Wizards beat Hawks 98-88): Jordan: 31 Pts (13-30 FG), 6 Reb, 6 Ast, 40 minutes; Kukoc: 8 Pts (3-6 FG), 2 Reb, 1 Ast, 27 minutes off the bench
Dec. 19, 2001 in DC (Wizards beat Hawks 103-76): Jordan: 23 Pts (11-19 FG), 4 Reb, 6 Ast, 27 minutes; Kukoc: 19 Pts (8-16 FG), 8 Reb, 5 Ast, 34 minutes
Jan. 30, 2003 in MIL (Bucks won 97-90): Jordan: 24 Pts (11-24 FG), 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 39 minutes; Kukoc: 5 Pts (1-6 FG), 1 Reb, 1 Ast, 19 minutes
March 7, 2003 in DC (Bucks won 85-82): Jordan: 27 Pts (11-24 FG), 9 Reb, 3 Ast, 43 minutes; Kukoc: 2 Pts (1-6 FG), 4 Reb, 3 Ast, 22 minutes off the bench
December 1, 2001
One month later, Jordan took the floor against Jud Buechler’s Orlando Magic. Buechler wasn’t discussed much in the documentary, but he was a part of the ‘97-98 Bulls’ regular rotation. Buechler played in 74 games that season and 16 games in the playoffs.
He remained a member of the Bulls for the 1998-99 season, but was released midway through the year. After two years with the Pistons, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns and then to the Orlando Magic. Jordan scored 15 points in their first matchup, but shot just 6-of-19 in his 33 minutes on the floor. Buechler played 27 minutes off the bench for Orlando but was held scoreless. Tracy McGrady was the star of the game, scoring 26 points in a 96-87 win for the Magic.
Dec. 1, 2001 in DC (Magic beat Wizards 96-87): Jordan: 15 Pts (6-19 FG), 7 Reb, 7 Ast, 33 minutes; Buechler: 0 Pts (0-3 FG), 4 Reb, 2 Ast, 27 minutes off bench
Dec. 21, 2001 in ORL (Wizards won 93-75): Jordan: 12 Pts (3-16 FG), 6 Reb, 8 Ast, 34 minutes; Buechler: 4 Pts (2-7 FG), 6 Reb, 0 Ast, 25 minutes off bench
February 12, 2002
As he mentioned in the documentary, Jackson took a sabbatical from coaching for a year after the final Bulls championship. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said he offered Jackson the opportunity to return for a year, but Jackson didn’t think that would be fair to Krause.
Jackson returned in 1999-00 to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, and picked up where he left off by leading them to a three-peat beginning that year. Jordan’s first game against his old coach was decent, but not good enough to get a win against the eventual champs. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-20 shooting in 41 minutes. A young Kobe Bryant notched his third-career triple-double that game, posting 23 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists.
Feb. 12, 2002 in LA (Lakers won 103-94): Jordan: 22 Pts (8-20 FG), 5 Reb, 6 Ast, 41 minutes; Kobe Bryant: 23 Pts (9-20 FG), 11 Reb, 15 Ast
April 2, 2002 in DC (Lakers won 113-93): Jordan: 2 Pts (1-5 FG), 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 12 minutes off bench; Shaquille O’Neal: 22 Pts (7-18 FG), 18 Reb
Nov. 8, 2002 in DC (Wizards won 100-99): Jordan: 25 Pts (9-14 FG), 3 Reb, 3 Ast, 30 minutes off bench; Jerry Stackhouse: 29 Pts (9-23 FG), 6 Reb, game-winning dunk at buzzer after Robert Horry made a 3-pointer to put the Lakers up
March 28, 2003 in LA (Lakers won 108-94): Jordan: 23 Pts (10-20 FG), 0 Reb, 4 Ast, 41 minutes; Bryant: 55 Pts (15-29 FG)
March 21, 2002
A rookie at the time, Rusty LaRue didn’t play a role on the Bulls’ championship team, only seeing action in 14 regular season games and none in the postseason. He was even waived that season before being brought back a couple weeks later. He would spend another year and a half with the Bulls before brief stints with the Jazz and Warriors.
During his time in Utah, Jordan and the Wizards visited and were sent home with a 94-79 loss. Jordan had just 11 points in that game on 4-of-12 shooting. LaRue got nine minutes off the bench and made one of his five field goal attempts.
March 21, 2002 in UTAH (Jazz beat Wizards 94-79): Jordan: 11 Pts (4-12 FG), 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 22 minutes off bench; LaRue: 2 Pts (1-5 FG), 2 Reb, 3 Ast, 9 minutes off bench
December 10, 2002
Pippen had been traded to the Houston Rockets for the lockout shortened 1998-99 season, but after that year he was moved to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he would spend four fruitful years before joining the Bulls for one last brief stint.
Playing in the Western Conference didn’t afford the Bulls’ best players many opportunities to play against each other, but they did share the floor one last time in Jordan’s final season. Each player scored 14 points, but Pippen’s Trail Blazers were a much better team and walked away with the 98-79 win.
Dec. 10, 2002 in DC (Trail Blazers won 98-79): Jordan: 14 Pts (6-10 FG), 5 Reb, 1 Ast in 29 minutes; Pippen: 14 Pts (6-7 FG), 7 Reb, 5 Ast in 27 minutes
December 21, 2002
A few weeks after taking on Pippen, Jordan took the floor against Steve Kerr’s San Antonio Spurs. Kerr had been traded to the Spurs for the 1998-99 season, notching the rare four-peat as the Spurs went on to win the NBA title that year. He played in San Antonio for two more years before being traded to Portland, who traded him back to the Spurs a year later.
By the time Jordan and the Wizards visited Kerr’s Spurs, he wasn’t playing much and went scoreless in seven minutes off the bench. Jordan, however, was notching a lot of time for someone who was approaching 40 years old, playing 41 minutes in a 16-point effort. The Spurs won 92-81.
Dec. 21, 2002 in SA (Spurs beat Wizards 92-81): Jordan: 16 Pts (8-20 FG), 5 Reb, 3 Ast, 41 minutes; Kerr: 0 Pts (0-1 FG), 0 Reb, 1 Ast, 7 minutes off bench
Dec. 31, 2002 in DC (Wizards beat Spurs 105-103): Jordan: 17 Pts (7-15 FG), 7 Reb, 3 Ast, 35 minutes; Kerr: 5 Pts (2-5 FG), 1 Reb, 3 Ast, 14 minutes off bench
January 27, 2003
Randy Brown, like Buechler, didn’t get much air time during “The Last Dance” but was a regular part of the team’s rotation. He played in 71 games that regular season, including six starts, and he played 14 games in the playoffs. He was actually a regular starter for the Bulls the next two years before joining the Celtics for a year and a half and then being traded to the Suns.
His Suns visited the Wizards in 2003, but Brown barely played. He went scoreless in 4 minutes off the bench. Jordan scored an efficient 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 38 minutes, as the Wizards won 98-93.
Jan. 27, 2003 in DC (Wizards beat Suns 98-93): Jordan: 19 Pts (9-14 FG), 7 Reb, 1 Ast, 38 minutes; Brown: 0 Pts (0-0 FG), 0 Reb, 1 Ast, 4 minutes off bench
There are some notable names names not mentioned above that didn't get a chance to play against Jordan as a Wizard. They either played their last NBA games before Jordan returned, or the matchups never took fruition once he did.
These are the players, along with their final seasons and teams.
1998-99: Keith Booth’s last season, with Bulls
1999-00: Joe Kleine’s last season, with Trail Blazers
1999-00: Dennis Rodman’s last season, with Mavericks
1999-00: Bill Wennington’s last season, with Kings
2000-01: Scott Burrell’s last season, with Hornets
2000-01: Ron Harper’s last season, with Lakers
2000-01: Luc Longley’s last season, with Knicks
2001-02: Dickey Simpkins’ last season, with Hawks
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