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‘Last Dance’ stirs great memories

Jazz spoiled, at least temporarily, Chicago’s celebration

“The Last Dance,” ESPN’s documentary series about the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 season, tonight airs the third and fourth episodes, with six more parts broadcast over the next month.

In the 1997-98 NBA Finals, the Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in six games with Michael Jordan hitting the famous “Last Shot” at the Delta Center in Utah.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Games 3, 4 and 5 in Chicago and Game 6 in Utah.

As the title implies, “Last Dance” chronicles what everyone knew was going to be the final series of the Bulls’ dynasty.

After the teams split the first two games in Utah, the Bulls won the next two games in Chicago (Game 3 by 42 points) to take a commanding 3-1 lead.

Game 5 was on a Friday night, and the city of Chicago was preparing for an epic weekend of celebrations and parades. Before the game, tanks and armored personal carriers lined the streets around the United Center.

Chicago transplants and Jordan fans flew in from all around the country for the “Final Game.”

In a time prior to Stubhub and cell phones, my friend and I walked around the stadium for hours in search of tickets. None were to be found from anyone.

Luckily, we stopped in a nearby barber shop where one of the barbers said he had two to sell.

We didn’t believe him, but he said he would walk us into the game, and we wouldn’t have to pay until we got to our seats.

I don’t know who this gentleman was, but he knew every security guard inside and outside the arena, and true to his word, he sat us in row 10 underneath the basket.

The Bulls’ greatness and the star power of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman overshadowed the brilliance of the Jazz, led by Karl Malone and John Stockton, two of the greatest players of all time.

The Jazz had lost to the Bulls in The Finals the previous year in six games and had won 126 regular season games in two years.

In Game 5, down 3-1, the Jazz refused to let Jordan and the Bulls cruise to their sixth championship and ruined the planned celebration.

Malone scored 39 points and completely dominated Rodman (2 points, 3 rebounds) and the rest of the Bulls.

At one point, in the fourth quarter, Malone went up for a dunk with Rodman and two other Bulls hanging on him, and after he scored, all the Bulls fell to the floor right in front of me.

Pippen was laboring with a bad back the entire game (he shot 2-16 for six points). Jordan and Toni Kukoc kept the Bulls in the game, and MJ had the ball, down two with a second to go, and as the ball left his hand for a game-winning 3-pointer, the United Center crowd expected an epic ending.

In an instant, the entire arena went silent when the shot missed, and the Jazz won 83-81, forcing the teams to return to Utah for Game 6.

I will finish the story on this page as the “Last Dance” concludes in three weeks.

Kaufman is an Altoona native, attorney and traveling sports fan. He hosts a Monday night radio show called “Ira on Sports,” that can be heard on FM95.9 and FM106.9 in West Palm Beach, Florida and is available on Sound Cloud and iTunes under Ira on Sports. He can be found on Twitter@iraonsports.

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