Just like that, “The Last Dance” is over. After five weeks of immersing ourselves in the Michael Jordan saga, we reached the end on Sunday night with the final two episodes. And finally, at long last, we got the answer to what happened in the 1998 NBA Finals. Turns out the Bulls won that one, too.
With Scottie Pippen ailing from a bad back, and needing constant trips to the locker room for treatment just so he could stay on his feet, Jordan did what he had done so many times before in his career: put the Bulls on his back. He went for 45 points in 44 minutes, taking more shots than the rest of the team combined along the way.
And with the game on the line, and a potential Game 7 staring the Bulls in the face, he stole the ball from Karl Malone, then came down the floor and drilled the game-winning jumper over Bryon Russell. The last shot of “The Last Dance,” it immediately became one of the most iconic plays in basketball history, and produced a photo of equal magnitude.
Framed from the opposite baseline, the image of Jordan poised in perfect form in mid-air, with the ball floating toward the rim and the entire arena transfixed, is legendary in its own right. The tension, the significance, the pure emotion it invokes resonates with everyone, basketball fan or not.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a closer look at the photo — you really can stare at it for ages — to check out some of the best reactions. Twenty-plus years later, we all know what happened and what the shot has inspired, but it’s fun to get a glimpse of those in the arena reacting in real time.
Holding up the six
First of all, we have to give a shoutout to the little kid just above the shot clock. Going into Salt Lake City as a Bulls fan was a brave move, but this little guy wasn’t fazed, so it’s no surprise he knew the shot was in the moment it left Jordan’s hands. Just look at him holding up the six fingers for the six championships. Looks like Jordan stole that celebration from him.
This little fan was celebrating ahead of time Traveling?
Up in the left hand corner, there’s someone who appears to be making a traveling sign, which is just amazing. Even back in the ’90s there were travel truthers ready to explain why a great highlight actually shouldn’t have counted.
Push-off? No way, but how about a travel? Milan is black and blue
This one is a bit of a deep cut for all of my soccer fans out there. It’s not really a reaction, so much as it is acknowledging the guy right next to the shot clock rocking an Inter Milan jersey. I’m going to guess that’s a Ronaldo jersey — the real Ronaldo, not Cristiano — but it’s impossible to know for sure. Inter had some great teams back in those days.
An Inter fan was in the building Opera time
There are a bunch of incredible faces in this section, including a hopeful Malone, but the guy in the white shirt stands out. The way he’s yelling and holding out his hands looks like he’s performing an opera.
Time to perform You’re mad, I’m glad
The amazing thing about this photo is how clearly you can see the way everyone is dealing with what’s playing out in front of them. From hope to fear, and everything in between, the emotion is etched clearly across their faces. There’s no better juxtaposition of the competing mindsets than a snapshot from the right-hand side of the photo.
These two weren’t cheering for the same team
Our friend in the white shirt stands with his arms raised triumphantly, already celebrating what’s about to happen, while a few rows behind him, a woman in a purple jumpsuit, camera around her neck, stands furious. Hands on her hips, she can’t believe what she’s seeing, and just like the guy in the white shirt, seems to know exactly what comes next.