ESPN is set to drop the first two episodes of The Last Dance on Sunday, a docuseries that focuses on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1997-98 season. The 10-part series will wet the appetite of sports fans, but it could leave some Trail Blazers fans wondering what was going on in Portland during the 1997-98 campaign.
Here is a quick look at the Blazers basics during the events chronicled in The Last Dance.
Key Faces: The 1997-98 season was the first season with coach Mike Dunleavy at the helm. After three straight first-round exits, Portland parted ways with P.J. Carlesimo in May of 1997. Outside of a coaching change, the Blazers made a splash in the summer by signing marquee free agent Brian Grant, but they also said goodbye to long-time power forward Clifford Robinson.
Over the course of two summers, the Blazers had moved on from both Buck Williams and Robinson. The new frontcourt now leaned on Rasheed Wallace, Arvydas Sabonis, Grant, Kelvin Cato and Jermaine O’Neal.
With Isaiah “JR” Rider already in the fold, the Blazers made a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline by acquiring Portland native Damon Stoudamire. In the deal, Portland shipped Kenny Anderson and Gary Trent to Toronto. Stoudamire would play a feature role in 22 regular season contests after the trade, averaging 12.4 points and 8.2 assists per game.
The Blazers would eventually continue their streak of first-round exits in the 1998 postseason. They secured a single victory in the best-of-five series against the Lakers. Despite the less-than-ideal finish that year, the groundwork was in place for consecutive runs to the Western Conference Finals (the foundation was also in place for the years that would later become known as the “Jail Blazers” era).
Results Against the Bulls in 1997-98:
L | 100-87 Bulls | Jan. 29 in Portland | Box Score
W | 106-101 Blazers | Feb. 25 in Chicago | Box Score
Future Blazers on the Bulls 1997-98 Squad:
- Scottie Pippen: The No. 2 man on the Bulls would go on to exit Chicago after the 1998 postseason. Pippen would play in 50 regular season games for the Rockets before landing with the Blazers. He would play four seasons in Portland, a stint that included two trips to the Western Conference Finals. Following the 2002-03 season, Pippen returned to the Bulls, appearing in 23 games.
- Steve Kerr: The current Warriors head coach would head to the Spurs in the immediate aftermath of the 1997-98 season. After three years in San Antonio, Kerr would join the Blazers for a single season. At 36 years old, the former Arizona Wildcats point guard appeared in 65 regular season contests and averaged 4.1 points per game.
- Joe Kleine: The former No. 6 in the 1985 NBA Draft would appear in 46 regular season games with the 1997-98 Bulls, 39 more appearances than he had with the Blazers in 1999-00. Kleine, alongside Jermaine O’Neal, was traded by the Blazers to the Pacers in exchange for Dale Davis.
The first two episodes of The Last Dance air on ESPN at 6:00 PM PST.