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Was This The Bulls Last Run?


It was one more stroke of genius, this time from the top of the key. The master of basketball's greatest moments and biggest trophies did it again.

He seized his sixth NBA championship with a game-winning shot Sunday night that ripped the hearts from the Utah Jazz. Then he walked away for the last time? with his sixth NBA Finals MVP trophy.

Now the question is, will he do it again?

"It's a gut feeling," said Jordan, who had 45 points and hit the jumper with 5.2 seconds left to give the Bulls an 87-86 victory over the stunned Jazz in Game 6.

"When I walked away the first time, it was a feeling. When I came back, it was a feeling. When that time comes to walk away, I hope that because I walk away, people won't look at me any less."

No, but if this is the end, Jordan left everyone wanting more.

"Michael's probably got another five years left in his career before you even see a decline in him," said Scottie Pippen, whose past and future is linked with Jordan's. "There are so many things that are waiting in his game that he can pull out at any moment."

Somehow, he made what could have been his last game one of the best of his incomparable career. When it is over and it could be already someone had better write down all of Jordan's accomplishments and have them notarized. Future generations might not believe it.

Coach Phil Jackson called it "the best performance I've seen by Michael Jordan in a critical situation in a critical series."

"We're celebrating like this is our last one," Jackson said. "Unless something absolutely unusual comes out of left field, I don't expect us to be back here."

With Chicago trailing 86-85 in the closing seconds, Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone, then drove on Bryon Russell, stopping on a dime and pulling up for yet another game-winning shot. He crushed the Jazz the way he's crushed so many teams.

Last year, he burned Utah in the opener of the NBA Finals with a jumper over Russell. Then, in Game 5, playing despite a draining virus, he punctuated a 38-point game with the 3-pointer that decided the game.

In Game 6 last year, he passed to Steve Kerr for the winning shot. This time, he did what no one does better.

"You can double him, you can push him, but great players make those kind of plays," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We're not going to change our whole structure of basketball just for one player."

Leaving no doubt that he is the best ever, Jordan still left one question unanswered. Is he retiring? Is this the end? Jordan and Pippen are among nine Chicago players who can become free agents, and Jackson doesn't have a contract for next season.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," Pippen said. "Give me a couple days, and I'll give you an answer. Anything is possible."

No. 23 had 23 points in the first half, but only si in the third quarter. He came out for perhaps his last quarter with eyes and jump shot ablaze.

After hitting two free throws and a jumper to start the period, he went to the foul line again to pull Chicago to 73-72 with 7:28 left. That gave him 35 points. It was getting warmer and warmer in the Delta Center.

While Pippen, his hobbled partner because of a back injury, was struggling to get up near the top of the circle, Jordan dribbled around the crowd and hit another jumper to give Chicago a 74-73 lead with 6:51 to play.

It wasn't all artistry. Jordan missed two straight jumpers and was short on a 3-pointer as the Jazz took an 81-79 lead on two free throws by Russell. But it was evident how badly Jordan wanted this game if not only for himself, but for Pippen.

Jordan got thrown hard to the court on a drive, stepped to the line and tied it at 83 with 59 seconds left points 40 and 41.

There was another drive to pull Chicago within 86-85 with 37 seconds left, and then the winning shot a crowning moment and confusing dagger all at once.

Was this it?

"Hopefully, I've done enough so that everybody can have some thoughts about what Michael Jordan did in 13 years," Jordan said. "I have another life, and I have to get to it at some point in time."

It could never top this one.

Could it?

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