After The Last Dance: An oral history of the 1998-99 Chicago Bulls

After The Last Dance: An oral history of the 1998-99 Chicago Bulls

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After The Last Dance: An oral history of the 1998-99 Chicago Bulls

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After winning six championships in eight seasons, the Chicago Bulls’ dynastic run came to an end in the summer of 1998. Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler and Luc Longley were replaced. Only six players from the previous season returned in 1998-99. After totaling 62 wins (the most in the NBA) and capturing their third-straight title, the Bulls won just 13 games (the third-fewest in the NBA) in 1998-99, joining the 1969-70 Boston Celtics as the only defending champions to miss the playoffs. 

HoopsHype talked to several players from that Bulls squad and three writers who covered the team to discuss that difficult season, what it was like trying to fill such big shoes, the end of the dynasty and more. This story begins right where “The Last Dance” ends.

Dickey Simpkins, Bulls forward from 1994-2000: “That offseason, we saw that the transformation was starting. For us returning veterans, we kind of had to embrace it. We had a new coach coming in from college basketball and we knew we’d have a lot of young guys. We knew the rebuild was starting. It was hard to fully process the sudden change from a championship-caliber team to a rebuilding team.” 

John Jackson, Bulls beat writer for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1994-1999: “[General manager] Jerry Krause was ready to break up the team at that point and [owner] Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t want to bring back the team because the Bulls’ payroll in 1997-98 was around $61.3 million and to bring the team back, it would’ve been at least $80 million. Winning championships was great for Reinsdorf, but considering the revenue they brought in in 1997-98, that wasn’t one of their more profitable years. The 1998-99 season was probably their most profitable year ever because the payroll was around $28.6 million and their revenue was roughly the same. So, Reinsdorf wasn’t opposed to breaking up the team either.”

Jud Buechler, Bulls forward from 1994-1998: If you’re a champion, you kind of feel like you’ve earned the right to come back and try to win another one. Until someone knocks you off the top, you try to keep going and win more. Looking back, it’s kind of disappointing that we didn’t get to keep going until someone knocked us off the top.”

Scott Burrell, Bulls forward from 1997-1998: “We all wanted new contracts. I mean, I’m sure people would’ve loved to stay in Chicago. Mr. Reinsdorf had a lot to do with the team breaking up as well. Everybody blames Jerry Krause, but the owner [played a big role]. Like, you would never see [George] Steinbrenner break up the Yankees if they won five of seven World Series. They would just find a couple guys to help reload; they’d never break it up.”

Sam Smith, columnist for the Chicago Tribune from 1987-2008: “This was actually the end; unlike last time. Last time, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were still around with Phil Jackson. In 1998-99, we were sure this was going to be a losing season.”

Rusty LaRue, Bulls guard from 1997-2000: “There were so many unknowns. We get into camp and there’s a whole new system, new players, a shortened camp, a coach who never coached in the NBA coming from the college setting. It was just a totally different feel altogether in regards to the day-to-day, what was expected and the competitiveness of the team.” 

Corey Benjamin, Bulls guard from 1998-2001: “They called us the Baby Bulls. We lost Michael, Scottie, Dennis, Phil, but we were still ‘the defending champions.’ I had always wanted to be a Bull and to be like Michael Jordan, so it was a dream come true when they drafted me.”

Kent McDill, Bulls beat writer for the Daily Herald from 1988-1999 (the only beat writer who covered all six titles): “Entering the year, there were no expectations. There was no reason to think the Bulls would be anything. Some people may have held out hope for a playoff bid. But, other than that, there were no expectations for that team at all.”

Kornel David, Bulls forward from 1998-2000: “Everybody knew that the big-name players had left, so the expectations were lower. It was more like people were wondering, ‘What is this team capable of doing?’” 

There was a lockout during the summer of 1998, pushing the start of the 1998-99 season back to February and shortening the campaign to just 50 games. 

Kent McDill: “The ingredients that went into the 1998-99 season were: decimating a championship team, getting rid of the head coach, losing the star players, starting four months late, playing 50 games, getting used to a new coach with absolutely no NBA experience and playing a majority of players who are extremely young. That’s the worst collection of ingredients I can imagine if you want anything resembling success.”

John Jackson: “For the players, it was tough – particularly since they were a young team. Once the season started, there was almost no time to practice. In a normal NBA season, there are very few days where you can have hard practices; in that 50-game season, there was almost no practice time.”

Corey Benjamin: “It made it hard. Training camp was really fast. We were running the triangle offense; I’m coming from college and they throw a 200-page book at us and tell us to learn it. We had to learn 200 pages in so little time. It was hard for us. We had back-to-backs every week and we were the defending champs, so we played on Christmas Day and were still on national television a lot.”

Due to the condensed schedule, the Bulls played 14 back-to-backs that season as well as two back-to-back-to-backs (three games in three days).

Kornel David: “There was a short preseason, a lot of back-to-backs and a new coach in Tim Floyd. Even though the system was similar (since we still played the triangle), a lot of guys were being asked to play a new role in that system and step up since MJ, Scottie and Dennis weren’t there to carry the load anymore. There was a lot of pressure. There were so many things that made that season very difficult.”

Sam Smith: “Tim Floyd was badly overmatched. He’d clearly set a goal to get an NBA head coaching job and had obviously worked Jerry Krause for years with that in mind, inviting him to practices, calling him. Krause didn’t have a lot of friends in basketball due to his nature and he tended to, understandably, gravitate to those who embraced him. Tim was like the Robert Redford character in the old movie ‘The Candidate’ where they scheme to get the job and the last scene is Redford asking, ‘What do we do now?’ Tim sought the glamor, fame and money of an NBA coach, but he really hated the NBA. It seemed obvious he’d never watched NBA games and even when he became coach, he was still talking about college games all the time. Krause’s theory was right in preparing for teenagers with the direct-to-pros era, so you want to get a college coach. He just got the wrong one.”

Dickey Simpkins: “Tim had one of the hardest jobs that a rookie NBA coach could ever have. He was coming in after a championship and taking over the best team in NBA history after they lost the best player in NBA history and the best coach in NBA history! It wasn’t fair for him to have to come in after that. That’s like someone trying to perform after Michael Jackson. But you’re an up-and-coming artist, so you do it because you want people to embrace you and recognize that you’re on the rise. But I felt for him having to follow a superstar act. I thought he did a very good job. Coach Floyd came in very humble; he didn’t come in with an ego.”

Chicago Bulls head coach Tim Floyd

John Jackson: “That was an impossible situation. I like Tim Floyd a lot. I got to talk to him away from the [basketball] setting a lot. He was a good coach, a sharp guy, and a really nice guy. But he was in an impossible spot, having to follow Phil Jackson. It would be bad enough to follow Phil if you had a roster of All-Stars. But following Phil when you have a young, talent-challenged team? Nobody would look good in that situation.”

Kent McDill: “Phil was such a strategist and I didn’t get the sense that Tim was. I’m still not entirely sure what Jerry saw in Tim that caused him to make that move – other than the fact that Tim was nice to Jerry and went fishing with him and that sort of thing (which mattered to Jerry a lot). Taking a college coach who had never coached in the NBA and giving him a team that represented a franchise that had one six titles in the previous eight years and decimating the roster the way it was, it was as close as you can get to a no-win situation. And it was made worse by the fact that Tim wasn’t prepared for the job. But it was a bad situation and I don’t know anybody who could’ve made it better. I don’t know that Phil could’ve even manufactured anything out of that team.”

Kornel David: “He had so much weight on his shoulders to produce somehow. He would always have a bunch of papers in his hand and he’d roll them up and bounce them against his head; he seemed nervous.”

Rusty LaRue: “I’m sure there were days when he wished he would’ve stayed where he was because it probably would’ve been easier.”

Kornel David: “I think it would’ve been better if he had just started with a team that had more young guys, less vets and less pressure – maybe in a different place. There were such big shoes to fill in Chicago; that put a lot of pressure on him.”

Corey Benjamin: “The only thing Tim could do is teach the young kids because he can’t tell Ron [Harper] what to do. Ron had been in the NBA for 13 years, so Ron is going to tell Tim what to do and how to do this or that. None of the veterans disrespected Tim or anything, but Tim was a rookie like us.”

Kent McDill: “Tim Floyd was very much involved in the nightlife in Chicago. There was a place in Chicago called The Lodge and it was very popular. If you were the sort to be out at night, you would run into Tim there all the time. One time early in the season, Tim got kicked out of a home game for yelling at the refs and someone told me that before the game was over, Tim was at The Lodge. I thought, ‘That’s interesting.’ Well, beat writers meet with the coach before every game. Maybe a month later, during our pregame meeting, he was sitting in his office, his feet were up and he said something that [made me think], ‘He’s going to get thrown out tonight.’ After the meeting, I turned to another beat writer and predicted it. And he got thrown out that night! I don’t usually predict things like that, I just had a weird sense. It turned out he had party plans and he was, again, seen having a very good time at The Lodge that evening. Then, it happened a third time. Each time he was ejected, it was at home. The third time he got kicked out, we all just looked at each other like, ‘They must be having a drink special or something.’”

John Jackson: “I’ve been to The Lodge with Tim a few times. (laughs)”

Corey Benjamin: “I don’t think Tim had full control over our team. Phil had full control of his team. It was kind of like Tim was being dictated and told what to do. I don’t think Tim had full control of that team. He’s a great person, but I don’t think Tim was able to be Tim.”

Kent McDill: “It was so weird because Tim Floyd was Jerry Krause’s guy, and it was really hard to understand who was in charge of things… Jerry was around more [that season] and he had a smile on his face the whole time.”

John Jackson: “Krause was looking forward to the rebuild after the championship run just to prove how valuable he was… Krause was a hands-on guy; he went on a lot of road trips, he always made sure he was on the team bus and the team plane. He was around all the time that year. To be honest, Krause was around more that year because he didn’t have Jordan and Pippen needling him every time he came around.”

Corey Benjamin: “I believe Jerry wanted control. He didn’t have control during those dynasty years. Without Michael and the other stars, Jerry had control. He had Tim Floyd, who was his fishing partner, and Tim would do as he asked. He had young players who would do as he asked. I think teams should be teams and management should be management, and you should separate the two. Jerry always wanted to come to practices and be around the team and talk to the players. A lot of GMs don’t do that, they keep their distance. But Jerry just wanted control, and he was able to get it during those years. With the dynasty teams, he was basically told to stay upstairs. But once those guys were gone, Jerry would show up all the time.”

Dickey Simpkins: “Jerry was definitely around the team more. I could see that being challenging for the young guys who had just gotten drafted, feeling like they were under constant evaluation, but that’s part of the business. I don’t think it affected our performance.”

Corey Benjamin: “When your GM or owner is around all the time, the team isn’t comfortable. You’re always looking over your shoulder. At the end of the day, you report to the coaches, but now you’re thinking, ‘Okay, well, I have the coaches’ boss here too.’ For us, we were very uncomfortable having Jerry around all the time – riding on the bus with us, riding on the plane with us, walking around at practice. Tim was supposed to be our leader. But, to me, it looked like Jerry wanted control, and he got it. But you have to choose: do you want to win or do you want control?”

Kornel David: “I remember our first game of that season; it was in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz. As were standing in line and listening to the national anthem, I looked across the court at Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, John Stockton – almost the same team that had just played the Bulls in the Finals. I looked at them and said, “Oh my God, I have to play against these guys who I just watched in the Finals?!” That was my first game, so that moment stands out for me.”

Corey Benjamin: “For the first half of the season, it was great! We got chaperoned around by police escorts because we were still that team. As a 20-year-old kid, it was unbelievable. We were getting police escorts and security was ushering us around everywhere, but then that stopped because we weren’t winning. (laughs) We didn’t win much…”

Rusty LaRue: “Losing sucks. Fifty games feels like a long time when you aren’t winning. And not only were there back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs, everyone was excited to give it back to the Bulls since they had been giving it out to teams for years. We got beat by 47 points or something when we played Orlando! Teams felt like, ‘Hey, those guys aren’t here anymore, so it’s time for you guys to take a hit.’”

Corey Benjamin: “There were times when we were playing against veteran teams and they’d be beating us and they’d say, ‘You guys beat us for so many years, so we’re gonna step on your necks.’ We were kids, a bunch of 20-year-olds, but they were getting revenge for what the champions had done for the past seven or eight years. They were taking their anger out on us.”

Chicago Bulls forward Toni Kukoc

Kornel David: “Obviously, the team wasn’t really good; actually, it was bad. Toni Kukoc was the best player, by far, on that team. Toni was absolutely fantastic. He was already my favorite player before I went to the Bulls and then he was incredible that year. Ron Harper was still on the team, but he was going downhill [toward the end] of his career and he was hurt, so he wasn’t the same as before.”

Dickey Simpkins: “Toni was the most underrated complementary star in the NBA, and then he transitioned into being ‘the man’ for us in the latter part of his career. Toni was an unbelievable player and talent, and he was an unbelievable teammate off the court.”

John Jackson: Kukoc was the leading scorer and he’s a good, solid guy in the locker room, but he’s not someone who would step up and take the reins to the team. Brent Barry, who was a free-agent signing, was probably the closest thing they had to a leader at that point. But there wasn’t really a lot of strong leadership.”

Sam Smith: “The Bulls did make one significant free-agent acquisition that summer with Brent Barry. Jerry Krause had this thing where he always fell in love with certain players, like Dan Majerle, and talk about them all the time, which didn’t help them playing against Michael Jordan. Brent was one, but he was so turned off by the amateurish mess that this Bulls team was that he sort of checked out.”

Rusty LaRue: “We had a bunch of guys who were fighting for their NBA future; we didn’t have a ton of established guys. A bunch of us – me, Corey Benjamin, Corey Carr – were just fledgling NBA guys who were trying to figure it out. And with a new coach, it was difficult.

Dickey Simpkins: “It was tough losing so much, but the fans understood and were still great.”

Kornel David: “We played in front of a full house – a sold-out arena – for the next two and a half years. The United Center was sold out every night.”

Sam Smith: “The reaction from fans was mostly acceptance and appreciation of what the team had accomplished. You could never get tickets to Bulls games in the championship years, so people were thrilled just to come to the United Center to get a look at where it all happened.”

John Jackson: “The fans were as positive as could be that year because for the previous eight seasons – even in the year and a half that Jordan didn’t play – it was tough to get into the Chicago Stadium and then it was tough to get into the United Center when they moved there. That season, they still sold out every game and every crowd was enthusiastic. A lot of people who didn’t have a chance to see a Bulls game in person during the championship run were finally able to get into the building, so the atmosphere was just as electric as it was during the previous eight years. Everyone was surprisingly positive, considering how much they struggled.”

Corey Benjamin: “The fans weren’t used to us losing, so we did get booed at times. I mean, we were getting beat by teams that hadn’t beat the Bulls in, what, seven years?”

Kent McDill: “If you showed that team to a bunch of NBA experts and there was no reference whatsoever to the team they were replacing, it still would’ve been embarrassing. Who was supposed to score on that team? There was nothing that they could point to [as a bright spot]; it was ridiculous. I don’t have another word to describe it other than ‘embarrassment.’ There were so many factors that made the 1998-99 season a train-wreck.”

On April 10, 1999, the Miami Heat defeated the Bulls, 82-49. To this day, Chicago’s 49 points is an NBA record for the fewest points scored by an NBA team in the shot-clock era.

Corey Benjamin: “I remember it was very cold in that gym. It seemed like we couldn’t get anything going. Pat Riley didn’t stop it; he just let them manhandle us. I didn’t get hot; nobody got hot. I don’t know if they had ice under that court or what, but it was so cold. We got a whoopin’. It was very embarrassing. It was like they were toying with us. They put it on us. The veterans were there to pick us back up, but it was hard for them too. And it was their last season or close to it. They’d already put their retirement papers in, probably, so they were on vacation.”

Sam Smith: “It was such a mismatched and overmatched team. It was like a G League team against an NBA team by then. Miami was good, with tough interior guys like Alonzo Mourning and PJ Brown. The Bulls had zero inside presence. Brent Barry had checked out by then. I was surprised there weren’t more games like that. It was such an unusual season, with 50 games rushed, that it was difficult to take it seriously.”

Kornel David: “That was terrible. Terrible. (sighs) That was maybe our lowest point of the season. But it wasn’t just that game. There were a lot of games like that – obviously not 49-point games, but we had a lot of bad games and bad losses. It was tough. When the team is falling apart, everyone tries to put themselves in front. A lot of players in that situation think, ‘At least I can show what I’m able to do.’ We had a number of players who felt that way, especially the rookies and some of the vets. We didn’t have a team that played together. It was bad.” 

Kent McDill: “The wheels came off way before that game. But what kind of coach is going to see their team go through something like that and not make some kind of changes at halftime? The whole season was an embarrassment. We were only saved by the fact that the season was half as long as it should’ve been thanks to the lockout.”

Dickey Simpkins: “I hope somebody breaks that record, so we don’t have to be known as that team. (laughs)”

Rusty LaRue: “I don’t remember much from that game, probably because I’ve blocked it from my memory. I’ve tried to forget it.”

Kent McDill: “So many people would ask me, ‘What’s it like having covered all the championship teams and now having to cover this crap?’ There were a lot of questions like that. Honestly, it almost felt like the Bulls should have folded after ‘98 because of the product they were putting on the floor.”

Dicky Simpkins: “When the season was over, it was a relief. It was almost like when you change schools and you get through that first year at the new school. You get through the ups and downs – you get through the adjustments that come with a new school, new students, new teachers – and you’re like, ‘Whew! Glad that’s over!’”

Chicago Bulls guard Corey Benjamin

Over the next few summers, Krause and the Bulls tried to attract star free agents to Chicago, but they didn’t have much luck. Instead, Krause continued to build through the draft (selecting players such as Elton Brand, Ron Artest, Marcus Fizer and Eddy Curry in the years to come).

Dickey Simpkins: “During that 50-game season, Jerry had opened up a lot of cap space and the plan was to sign two big free agents. Based on what I heard in the media and the talk around the Berto Center throughout that offseason, he was trying to get two big free agents.”

Corey Benjamin: “I had Arn Tellem as an agent and Arn represented a lot of star players. The Bulls were trying to sign free agents. I hosted Tracy McGrady, Tim Thomas and Jermaine O’Neal when we brought them in. I was there personally for those [meetings] because we were all represented by the same agent (Arn). I remember Jerry Krause told me, ‘If you can get them to sign, I’ll renew your contract.’ I don’t remember Tim Duncan coming in, but I know we wanted Duncan. But we weren’t offering them the money that other teams were offering. I remember Tracy and Jermaine telling me, ‘They’re offering me peanuts.’ They weren’t trying to max these guys out; they were trying to give these guys smaller contracts.”

Kent McDill: “That sounds right. The Bulls organization – whether it be Krause or Reinsdorf – thought that you would take a pay cut in order to be a member of the Chicago Bulls, that being associated with a franchise this successful is worth more than the money you can make elsewhere. Nobody, nobody, was buying that argument.”

John Jackson: “Those were the main guys that they were talking to; that’s who they wanted. But their free-agency plans never produced anyone and they didn’t land a superstar through the draft, so they couldn’t rebuild or even become a serious playoff contender at that time.”

Kent McDill: “I remember them going after Grant Hill, which made all sorts of sense because they needed a really good citizen and Hill was maybe the best citizen in the NBA at that time. The one thing that we heard at that time – and, amazingly, we still hear it more than 20 years later – is that nobody wanted to come in and try to follow a six-time championship team. Not only are you trying to follow in Michael Jordan’s footsteps, you’re having to follow [a dynasty]. The invitation to join the Bulls was not an attractive one, which is why nobody ever came.”

Dickey Simpkins:I know Jerry talked to one of my former college teammates, Austin Croshere. He was trying to sign Austin, but Austin ultimately ended up signing back with Indiana on a big deal. I had direct contact with Austin [about it] since we had a relationship after playing together at Providence.”

Kent McDill: “They could’ve gotten some guys – and eventually they did – but if there’s such a thing as ‘A players’ and ‘B players,’ they were getting a lot of B- players. There was no attempt to build a cohesive unit; it was just gap filling. The pressure that Krause put on himself to create a new championship-level team caused him to make decisions that weren’t viable.”

Since the premiere of “The Last Dance,” there’s been a lot of discussion about whether the Bulls would’ve won their seventh championship in nine years had the team stayed intact for the 1998-99 season. The players believe the team would’ve won it all, while the writers believe Chicago’s run was over.

Sam Smith: “Would they have won again? No. Because that’s like saying, ‘If he hadn’t fallen off that building, he would be alive!’ Pippen was estranged for a year; heck, he had a half season sit-down strike. Rodman was melting down and did so in Los Angeles. Phil was one step into a sabbatical for a year. Michael clearly was burned out, as he was seen telling Ahmad Rashad in the documentary. Pippen had back surgery after the 1997-98 season and was never again close to the player he’d been. Also, Jordan sustained a severe cut on his shooting hand that offseason from a cigar cutter and could no longer grip the ball and would have trouble shooting. How would his legacy have looked trying to come back without any preseason or camp under those circumstances? Plus, all those Bulls reserve guys like Luc Longley, Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler got long-term contracts from new teams that I am certain all their teams regretted and made no sense for the Bulls to match. This another-year thing is so pathetic. It’s like a teenager dreaming for years about the girlfriend who dumped him. If only… Move on!”

Kent McDill: “The only thing that would’ve stopped them would’ve been Michael’s motivation. But part of Michael’s motivation (that hasn’t been mentioned in the documentary) was that number: 6. Six titles is a lot of titles. The idea of having back-to-back three-peats was the motivation that got everybody through 1997-98.”

John Jackson: “One thing that people don’t realize is that Jordan didn’t wait until the summer to make his decision about whether he was coming back; that happened pretty soon after the championship series ended. I think he was just mentally and physically exhausted and he knew that he needed a break at that point.”

Dickey Simpkins: “During the 1997-98 season, we knew that was going to be the last time that we ever played together. Phil’s approach was for us to be mentally calm, embrace the moment and cherish that last season, so we had time to process it. I don’t want to compare it to losing somebody close to you, but it’s kind of like when they’re going through something and you know at some point soon, they’re going to be gone; it wasn’t sudden. We had time to process it. Do I wish everybody could have come back again? Yeah, I wish. Do I feel like we could’ve won another championship? Yes. I believe we could’ve, especially in a 50-game season. I would’ve loved to have one more year together as a group.”

Corey Benjamin: “Yes, we would’ve won it all if those guys returned! It would’ve been a breeze, especially in a shortened season. Even in a regular season, it would’ve been a breeze! They were at the point where nobody could touch them. There was nothing missing from that team. I’m 100 percent sure we would’ve won it all that year, and Vegas will tell you that too.”

The closest that Jordan came to donning a Bulls jersey again was the time he returned to the Berto Center in November of 1999 to teach Corey Benjamin a lesson. 

Corey Benjamin: “Randy Brown, Ron Harper and Dickey Simpkins were Michael’s close friends. Those guys would always talk to Jordan on the phone and Jordan would always have stuff to say. I remember there was one particular moment when MJ said something to me and I told him, ‘I can get that.’ I was saying I could beat him one-on-one. We went back and forth, talking trash with each other for a month or two. Ron gassed it up a lot like, ‘He said he can get you, Mike! He thinks he can beat you!’ One day, Mike told Ron that he was going to come to our game [in Atlanta] and he told me, ‘I’m about to come see you.’ We’re at the game and they showed Mike walking into the game [on TV] and I knew right where he was headed. I’m in the training room with Ron and Randy, and MJ walks in there. He comes right over to me and says, ‘What did you say?!’ Remember, this is my childhood hero. I man up and I say, ‘I think I can get that.’ He told me, ‘I’ll be at your practice in a few days and we’ll see if you can get that.’”

Rusty LaRue: “I was just shaking my head. Everybody thinks they can beat the man until they get a chance to beat the man. Corey was a good guy and a good player. I don’t know if he really thought he could beat Michael or if he just wanted a chance to play against him.”

Corey Benjamin: “We fly back to Chicago and at our next practice, I’m looking over my shoulder but I’m also thinking, ‘Yeah right, he’s not going to fly to Chicago just to play me.’ After practice, I’m walking off the court when MJ walks into the gym. He said, ‘I’m about to give you your chance.’ As a basketball player, it was the best feeling in the world to play one-on-one against Michael Jordan in front of everybody. The score was 11-9, just to let you know. Everybody says it was 11-0 or 11-1 or 11-2. He did get up to 7-0 pretty fast and I was amazed; I had never seen anything like that in my life. But the final score was 11-9 and it was the best one-on-one game I’ve ever played. It was like a dream come true.”

Kornel David: “MJ showed up and he just schooled him. Corey was a high-flying athlete who could jump out of the gym; he had incredible athletic abilities. But it’s MJ! There’s a video of it on YouTube! You have to watch it. The next day, the Chicago Tribune ran a double-page [spread] showing all of MJ’s buckets. It was incredible. (laughs)

Rusty LaRue: “I remember them playing one-on-one; of course, Mike put it on him. (laughs)”

Jordan trash-talked throughout the game. 

“Look around you,” Jordan said at one point, looking at the six championship banners hanging in the gym. “What do you see all around you? You didn’t have anything to do with those!”

After scoring the winning basket, Jordan spanked Benjamin and yelled, “Sit down!” With a smile, Jordan added, “Don’t call me out of retirement again.”

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