• Brian L. Barefield

Bryon Russell Helped Fuel The Bulls To Final "Three-Peat"- "The Last Dance"

After watching four episodes of the docuseries “The Last Dance” on ESPN about the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls sixth and last championship season together, it got me to reminiscing about another great feat that basketball royalty Michael Jordan had perfected.

No, it wasn’t the ferocious dunks over opposing team’s centers or the tenacity he displayed on defense. It wasn’t even the way he called teammates out when he felt they weren’t performing to the best of their ability.

It was the trash talking to opponents by “Air Jordan” that I grew accustomed to love and all the stories I hear when I talk to former basketball players who played during that era.

One story that I was reminded of as I was watching the docuseries took me back to Jordan’s famous Hall of Fame speech in 2009. Michael Jordan came to the podium after watching a plethora of in-game highlights of himself were shown and began to criticize anyone who ever doubted his basketball skills. He went from former players (Leroy Smith who made the varsity team over MJ when he was a high school sophomore), opposing coaches Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy, to Bulls former general manager Jerry Krause who Jordan still resents for breaking up the Bulls.

But it was when Jordan went down memory lane to talk about what fueled him to come back to the league in 1995 after retiring on October 6, 2013 to play baseball after the Bulls had just completed their first “Three-Peat.”

"I was in Chicago in 1994 and at this time I had no thoughts of coming back and playing the game of basketball," Jordan said. "Bryon Russell (Utah Jazz) came over to me and said, 'Why'd you quit? You know I could guard you.’ When I did come back in 1995 and we played Utah in '96, I'm at the center circle and Bryon Russell is standing next to me. I said, 'You remember the [remarks] you made in 1994 about, 'I think I can guard you, I can shut you down, I would love to play against you? Well, you're about to get your chance.”

That back and forth fueled MJ so much that he reminded Russell about that conversation every time he played against him. Especially in 1998 when the Bulls were on their last title run and it was Jordan’s shot over Bryon Russell In Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win the game.

The two would later become teammates during Jordan’s final year in the league with the Washington Wizards. Reporters would ask Russell all the time if the controversial shot Jordan hit (the alleged push off) should have been called a foul.

"Whether he pushed off or not, he was making that shot," Russell would respond.

Doesn’t matter to me if he pushed off or not. What I like most about the shot in 1998 was that MJ taught Bryon a valuable lesson that he learned from his dad growing up in North Carolina.

Never write a check with your mouth that your butt can’t cash.

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