Michael Jordan’s Competitiveness Was Misunderstood Says Bulls’ Scott Burrell

Michael Jordan, at right, doused with Champagne by teammate Dennis Rodman in 1998

Getty Michael Jordan, at right, doused with Champagne by teammate Dennis Rodman in 1998

Sunday is the day!

The Last Dance, ESPN’s documentary that profiles the Chicago Bulls‘ 1997-98 Championship season hits televisions and quenches the thirst of basketball fans looking for NBA action in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic which temporary placed the current NBA season on hold.

The documentary chronicles the Bulls’ last season of their epic dynasty that headlined the NBA throughout the 1990s.

Guided by head coach, Phil Jackson and headlined by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the Bulls finished the 97-98 season with a 62–20 record.

The Bulls’ ample supporting cast included Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr and Luc Longley.

The Bulls went 15-6 in the NBA Playoffs. The Bulls swept the Kendall Gill, Sam Cassell, Jayson Williams-led New Jersey Nets in the first round. In round two, the Bulls beat the Anthony Mason, Glen Rice-led Charlotte Hornets 4-1 and in the Eastern Conference Finals, Chicago beat Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers 4-3 to advance to the NBA Finals.

The Bulls met the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. The Bulls went toe-to-toe with Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek’s team and got the victory in six games.

That series was magical.

Michael Jordan hit a game-winner against Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals which sealed the deal for the Bulls. Jordan’s shot against the Jazz turned a one-point deficit into a one-point win for the Bulls who after the ’98 Finals did not return to the postseason again until 2005.

Bob Costas called that game via the NBA on NBC and he remembers it vividly. “It was such a classic jump shot,” Bob Costas told me.

“And he held the form as if he were posing for a statue, that would be number one.”

Costas tells me that the sequence in Game 6 was what stood out most.

“They were down three and they called timeout with I don’t know, about 30 seconds to go something like that,” he recounted.

“And he went in for a layup uncontested they didn’t want to foul him so that cut it to one. And he scored quickly, like in the space of 4 seconds so they still had time because the game clock overlapped the shot clock. And the play he made that people forget about before the shot, he snuck in behind Rodman, Rodman was guarding Malone and Malone didn’t see Jordan along the baseline, and Jordan slapped at it and stole it. And that’s what set it up. Otherwise Utah was going for the basket that would’ve given them the 3-point lead again. Instead Jordan came down with the ball down one and made the shot that won it.”


Another storyline to pay attention to during Last Dance is Michael Jordan’s relationship with Scott Burrell. In one preview scene, Jordan was seen giving Scott Burrell a hard time and even quetioning Burrell’s defensive effort.

9 Oct 1997: Forward Scott Burrell of the Chicago Bulls drives the ball down the court during a preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Hawks won the game 84-83.

Ahead of the documentary Jordan told The Athletic he isn’t sure how viewers will interpret he and Burrell’s dynamic.

“When you see the footage of [me riding with Scott Burrell], you’re going to think that I’m a horrible guy,” said Jordan.

“But you have to realize that the reason why I was treating him like that is because I needed him to be tough in the playoffs and we’re facing the Indiana’s and Miami’s and New York’s in the Eastern Conference.”

Burrell and I go back to his days playing for the New Jersey Nets. I covered him during my days as a 12 year-old radio host. He will appear on Saturday’s edition of the Scoop B Radio Podcast.

While on the show, Burrell discussed his dynamic with MJ. “I don’t think people will know the truth of it until they see the documentary,” Burrell told me on the Scoop B Radio Podcast which releases Saturday morning at 7 AM ET on all streaming platforms.

“They might think he’s competitive, they don’t know to what extent of how competitive he is until they see this movie. It’s at another level and I take it as a way to motivate the people to get better and that’s the way I took it as. People might think its belittling or too hard on people, I took it as a way to learn from the best. Learn from the best team in the NBA and learn from the best coaching staff in the NBA, and I had to do my part to great and help that team win.”

Ahead of Saturday’s Scoop B Radio Podcast release, Burrell told me that he admired MJ and his work ethic to the fullest.

Million Dollar Question: What do you admire Mr. Burrell? “A couple of things,” he told me.

“One is how hard he works. He’s in the weight room EVERY morning. He competes in practice. Never takes a day off. Those are things I learned day one. He’s never satisfied being where he is. He always wanted to get better every day on the court and wanted you to get better every day to make his job easier to make us a team better to be prepared for any situation.”