There is no need to introduce Michael Jordan because his name is known throughout all professional sports in the world. Jordan, who is widely recognized as the best athlete to have ever participated in team sports, is renowned for his athleticism, killer instinct, and nearly flawless ability to dominate the field against any opponent. People frequently make reference to his undefeated 6-0 Finals record, and while extremely impressive, Michael did not start out as a clutch killer in the pros; it actually began much earlier.
The all-time great shooting guard was a dominant player for his college team, the University of North Carolina, and was his usual self whenever he represented Team USA on the international playing field. Wherever Jordan went, he would win and would never lose in the biggest games of them all. NBA fans and pundits always try to stir up GOAT debates in professional basketball, but there might simply never be a comparison to Michael Jordan because he was undefeated in all major championship games, but mainly the NBA Finals.
Michael has stated on occasions how important his first NBA Finals victory was because it finally gave critics the evidence that he was the most dominant player in the league. MJ was already ahead of the pack in terms of impact because he already had MVP awards, scoring titles, and a Defensive Player of the Year trophy to show for his greatness even before he captured his first chip. But winning that first one was invaluable, and it kickstarted the first of three straight.
Of course, the final NBA championship was also sweet and most likely Jordan’s favorite. The 1998 Finals marked Jordan’s 6th championship and the completion of his second 3-peat in the “Last Dance” season. We have never seen a player accomplish two separate 3-peats before, and winning 6 rings places him in all-time great status. Only Bill Russell (11 championships) has more rings than Michael Jordan when comparing superstar players and not role players.
Michael Jordan’s statistics and performances during the 1991 and 1998 Finals were both extraordinary, but which one stands out more? Did Jordan’s performance in his first Finals appearance usurp that of his last Finals appearance? It is time to compare the GOAT’s statistics in the 1991 Finals when he was 28 years old versus the 1998 Finals when he was 35 years old.
1991 Michael Jordan: 31.2 PPG
1998 Michael Jordan: 33.5 PPG
Michael was always a spectacular scorer, as evidenced by his 10 scoring titles. Quite frankly, he is the greatest scoring talent of all time by pure metrics and the overall eye test. In 1991, Jordan averaged a very solid 31.2 PPG. He did his scoring by attacking the paint, nailing shots from mid-range, and getting to the line. Jordan led all players in scoring 4 out of the 5 games, with Scottie Pippen contributing 32 points to lead all scorers in Game 5. His high came in the Game 1 loss when Jordan posted 36 points. But he did the job the rest of the way, with the second-highest scorer being Pippen in the series at 20.8 PPG. Jordan only attempted 4 three-pointers in the entire series, making 2 of them and getting to the line to take 33 shots, of which 28 were made. Overall, Jordan was extremely efficient in getting his 31.2 PPG average in the 1991 Finals.
In 1998, Jordan led all players in points scored in 5 out of the 6 games except the Game 5 performance by Karl Malone when The Mailman dropped 39 points in an 83-81 victory. Michael’s high came in the closeout Game 6 when he dropped a whopping 45 points on 42.9% shooting. In 1998, Michael knew his way of winning was to take a ton of shots, force the offense, and counter the offensive brilliance of Karl Malone. But that took away from his efficiency, as he only shot 42.7% from the field.
Overall, Michael scored more in 1998 as a raw statistic, and that ultimately means he was better at accumulating points in his last Finals appearance.
1991 Michael Jordan: 6.6 RPG
1998 Michael Jordan: 4.0 RPG
Michael Jordan’s 1991 NBA Finals was certainly more well-rounded because he took a bigger role as a rebounder and passer. The shooting guard ranked 3rd on his team in rebounds behind Scottie Pippen (9.4 RPG) and Horace Grant (7.8 RPG). Michael was the leading scorer, obviously, so the fact he was able to rebound the ball at a high level was also impressive. Using his vertical and athleticism, Michael was efficient at grabbing the ball off the rim.
In 1998, Jordan took a far less role in doing other things on the court besides scoring. The shooting guard managed 4.0 RPG, a decent but unspectacular number. Michael was outrebounded by 5 other players on his team, including point guard Ron Harper and forwards Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc. Michael was focused on scoring, which meant his rebounding was certainly better in 1991 when he was 7 years younger and slightly more athletic.
1991 Michael Jordan: 11.4 APG
1998 Michael Jordan: 2.3 APG
As mentioned before, Michael Jordan was far more interested and able to be a primary playmaker in the 1991 NBA Finals. The shooting guard was exceptional in the Finals because he led the team in APG and PPG and only finished 2nd in the entire series in assists behind Magic Johnson (12.4 APG). Jordan managed his series-high in Game 2 and Game 4 with 13 assists and only finished under 10 assists in Game 3 when he had 9. Obviously, Jordan led the entire offense with his scoring and passing because Scottie Pippen was second on the Bulls with a 6.6 APG average.
In 1998, Michael Jordan took a complete backseat role when it came to playmaking. At 35 years old, Michael was just interested in focusing his offensive role on scoring the ball. Michael only averaged 2.3 APG, as he was also out-assisted by Steve Kerr. Amazingly, Jordan only managed 14 assists over the entire series, alternatively, he had 13 assists in 2 separate games in the 1991 NBA Finals. With Jordan taking complete control of the scoring department, he was hardly a passer because Scottie Pippen led the Bulls in assists at 4.8 APG.
1991 Michael Jordan: 1.4 BPG
1998 Michael Jordan: 0.7 BPG
Michael Jordan blocked more shots in the 1991 NBA Finals, to nobody’s surprise. The shooting guard was exceptional on defense, averaging 1.4 BPG, which led the Chicago Bulls, with Scottie Pippen finishing second with 1.0 BPG. Only Vlade Divac had more blocks than Michael Jordan, as he averaged 2.4 BPG with 12 total blocks in the series. Michael managed 7 blocks in the series, and his explosiveness in getting to shots was certainly impressive. Standing 6’6”, Jordan was a very good shot-blocker.
In 1998, Jordan was also a solid shot-blocker, getting 4 blocks over the 6 games in the NBA Finals. That meant the shooting guard averaged 0.7 BPG, which ranked 3rd (tied) on the Chicago Bulls. Only Karl Malone on the Utah Jazz (1.2 BPG) had more blocks than Michael Jordan. Overall, Jordan did his part defensively, but again, his focus was on scoring the ball because it was sorely needed to make up for the points the Bulls gave up to The Mailman, Karl Malone.
1991 Michael Jordan: 2.8 SPG
1998 Michael Jordan: 1.8 SPG
Michael Jordan did it all in the 1991 NBA Finals, averaging 2.8 SPG which led all players. Only Scottie Pippen (2.4 SPG) and Vlade Divac (1.8 SPG) came close to Jordan in stealing the ball, and the shooting guard was easily the quickest and smartest player in the series. Playing the passing lanes well and also poking the ball away from his opponents, MJ was extremely capable of causing turnovers. Over 5 games, MJ collected 14 steals which is a very high number in such a short series.
In 1998, Jordan was also excellent at playing passing lanes and playing consistent perimeter defense. The superstar shooting guard averaged 1.8 SPG in the series, which ranked 1st on the Bulls and 2nd overall in the series behind John Stockton (2.0 SPG). Michael collected 11 steals in the Finals and had key moments throughout the series where his defense (alongside Scottie Pippen) proved to be the difference.
Field Goal Percentage
1991 Michael Jordan: 55.8% FG
1998 Michael Jordan: 42.7% FG
As mentioned, Michael Jordan was simply on another level when it came to efficiency in the 1991 NBA Finals. The superstar shooting guard shot 55.8% from the field with the Chicago Bulls, including having 4 out of 5 games shooting over 50% from the field. Jordan also shot an incredible 83.3% from the field in Game 2, posting 33 points. Jordan got any shot he wanted in the series, whether he wanted to attack the rim or create offense from the mid-range. There is no wonder why the Bulls demolished the Lakers in 5 games because Michael was firing on all cylinders.
In 1998, the Utah Jazz's defensive game plan was geared to stop Jordan as much as possible. Obviously, that didn’t happen because Jordan averaged 33.5 PPG, but his efficiency was surprisingly low. In fact, it was uncharacteristically low. The shooting guard had to deal with double-teams throughout the series, and Jordan was slightly hampered with the burden of carrying an offense year after year. Shooting 42.7% from the field isn’t great, but Jordan came through in the biggest moments which is why he eventually killed the Jazz in 6 games.
Stats For Every Game
1991 Michael Jordan: 5 Games
Game 1 Stats: 36 points, 8 rebounds, 12 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 58.3% FG
Game 2 Stats: 33 points, 7 rebounds, 13 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 83.3% FG
Game 3 Stats: 29 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks, 39.3% FG
Game 4 Stats: 28 points, 5 rebounds, 13 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks, 55.0% FG
Game 5 Stats: 30 points, 4 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks, 52.2% FG
1998 Michael Jordan: 6 Games
Game 1 Stats: 33 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks, 44.8% FG
Game 2 Stats: 37 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 42.4% FG
Game 3 Stats: 24 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 50.0% FG
Game 4 Stats: 34 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 44.4% FG
Game 5 Stats: 28 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 34.6% FG
Game 6 Stats: 45 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 4 steals, 0 blocks, 42.9% FG
Michael Jordan finishing the rival Los Angeles Lakers in 5 games is extremely impressive. After years of losing to the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons, Jordan took charge against arguably the second-best player of his era in Magic Johnson and did it exceptionally well. The shooting guard posted extremely solid numbers, scoring under 30 points twice and shooting under 50% one time. Of course, he had the iconic Game 2, where he posted 33 points on 83.3% shooting from the field.
Taking care of Magic and the Lakers while shooting a high percentage has to be more impressive than his 1998 Finals, which was still great. Jordan had to endure tough defensive strategies by the Utah Jazz, and he shot a much lower percentage from the field. While his efficiency went down, his scoring didn’t. Michael had an incredible 45-point performance in Game 6, which took his average to 33.5 PPG in the series. But his all-around play slightly suffered, as he was only focused on scoring rather than rebounding and passing. Jordan averaged more points, but he was less efficient and lacked the all-around greatness from the 1991 Finals.
1991 Michael Jordan: 28 Years Old
1998 Michael Jordan: 35 Years Old
Michael at 28 and Michael at 35 years old did not have many differences, other than slightly less explosiveness and shooting efficiency. He was still the most dominant player in the world during both seasons and was the difference-maker in the biggest games. At 27, Jordan was simply unstoppable because he could leap in the air better than anyone else and had hang time which allowed him to finish inside. His quickness, verticality, and speed were off the charts.
At 35, Jordan was certainly a more powerful player because his patented fadeaway and physical strength were at the apex. Possibly, his physical strength allowed him to achieve the “push-off” of Bryon Russell that still resonates with fans from the 1990s. Overall, age hardly had an impact on Jordan’s performance, although he adopted a slightly different method of scoring the ball by focusing on methodical play at 34 versus at age 27.
The 1991 Finals Was The Best And Most Significant In Michael Jordan’s Career
Arguably the most impressive Finals series and most valuable of Jordan’s rings has to be his first one. MJ took the Chicago Bulls to the Finals against a rampant Los Angeles Lakers squad led by Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Byron Scott. But Jordan was so spectacular in this Finals series, it is hard to put it into words. The shooting guard averaged 31.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 11.4 RPG, and 2.8 SPG en route to a 5-game demolition job. Jordan got it done on both ends of the floor and was efficient nailing 55.8% from the field. Michael Jordan finally got his ring, and years of getting beat up by the Celtics and Pistons were way behind him. Finally, it was Jordan’s time to build his GOAT status, and it gave the shooting guard the extra juice to complete an incredible resume of championships.
Therefore, his first Finals performance has to be the most significant. Not to mention, when looking at raw numbers, Jordan also played better and more efficiently. Of course, he was 7 years younger and simply the most explosive guard we had ever seen.
While Jordan’s 1991 Finals performance usurps that of his 1998 performance, the latter was still special. It was not easy because Michael had to overcome his rival once more in the Utah Jazz. Stockton and Malone were back at their best, finishing with a 62-20 record in the regular season. Utah was hell-bent on winning their first title, and they believed Jordan could not repeat the same performance all over again after losing to the Bulls in the 1997 Finals. But it happened again.
Michael averaged 33.5 PPG in the series, although heavy minutes (41.7) resulted in lower efficiency as the GOAT shot under 43% for the series. Still, Jordan would not allow a Game 7 as the series ended in 6 games. “The Shot” also happened during the series, as Michael’s game-winner over Bryon Russell is still one of the greatest plays in the history of basketball. With his 6th ring, Jordan solidified himself for eternity as the greatest player of all time. To Michael, his 6th championship in the 1998 Finals was the best feeling, but in terms of significance to his career and overall numbers, the 1991 Finals performance has to take the edge.
Michael Jordan's Top 10 Highest Scoring Seasons: The GOAT Won 10 Scoring Titles, 8 Seasons Averaging At Least 30 PPG
1992 NBA Award Winners: Michael Jordan Won His Third MVP Award, David Robinson Was The Best Defender In The League
What LeBron James Needed To Surpass Michael Jordan On The All-Time Scoring List: 117 More Games, 4,942 More Minutes, 868 More Free Throws, And 3,202 More 3-Pointers