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Rubbing elbows with NBA royalty

The entire world thought Michael Jordan was going to win Game 5 and the 1998 NBA Finals in Chicago on Friday night, but my friends and I were cautious and booked seats on one of the only Saturday flights from Chicago to Salt Lake City.

When we arrived at Midway airport on Saturday morning after Friday’s devastating loss, Chicago fans waiting at the ticketing counter were offering me hundreds of dollars over face value just for my airplane ticket.

Arriving in Utah that afternoon, we learned there was a WNBA home game that night, so we went to the arena to scout out the seating arrangements (i.e. is AA, row 1 or row 27).

During halftime, I went to a concession stand to get a hot dog and standing next to me were the Bulls’ Ron Harper and Scott Burrell, and we spent five minutes talking about the upcoming Game 6.

The Jazz never play on Sunday afternoons because of the LDS Sabbath restrictions, but NBC insisted on a late afternoon start so thousands of Jazz fans had to sell their tickets.

As mentioned before, there were only a couple of flights out from Chicago so there were very few Bulls fans — the recipe for a buyers market.

I literally had my pick of any ticket so I bought two tickets for my friends that were dead center in the second row (behind David Hasselhoff) and I sat dead center on the other side a few rows up (Leonardo DiCaprio was a few seats to my right).

The Delta Center is a compact bowl-shaped arena with only one level of suites, and that night it was the loudest arena I have ever been in — before or since.

Scottie Pippen had difficulty just running up and down the court because of an injured back (he only scored eight points in 25 minutes) and Dennis Rodman spent most of the game yelling at the Jazz fans.

Considering the circumstances, this was MJ’s greatest game ever as he scored 45 of the Bulls’ 87 points and was playing “out of this world” defense.

Everyone remembers his final shot, but down three with 30 seconds to go, Jordan flew past the entire Jazz team for a layup and then seconds later stole the ball from Karl Malone as the Jazz center was going in for what would have been the clinching dunk.

A Sports Illustrated reporter was sitting next to me most of the game, but at the start of the fourth quarter he moved under the basket, admitting that “You still might get the better shot, Ira.”

My “Last Shot” picture is perfect as it captures the ball leaving Jordan’s hands and the crowd, including Jerry Krause behind the Bulls bench, holding their breath (you can actually see me in the SI cover picture taking the picture).

After the game, we went to the Bulls hotel and as the team bus stopped in front of the hotel, Jordan emerged from the escape hatch on the top of the bus with the trophy in one hand smoking a cigar.

We went to the main bar/restaurant in town where NBA royalty were talking about the game. I was washing my hands in the rest room next to late commissioner, David Stern, and he asked where I was from. When I said Altoona, he instantaneously replied, “Johnny Moore, Doug West and Mike Iuzzolino.”

Since then, I have been to many championship games for many different sports, so this Game 6 was not my “Last Dance.”

But it was most certainly my most memorable dance.

Kaufman is an Altoona native, attorney and traveling sports fan. He hosts a radio show called “Ira on Sports” in West Palm Beach and is available on Sound Cloud and iTunes under Ira on Sports.

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