It's easy to get lost in the romance of the Chicago Bulls in the mid-90s.
"Would they have won eight straight titles if Michael Jordan never retired?" is one of those questions that every so often gets tossed around when talking about 3-peats and that sparkling 6-0 Finals record.
One of the historical footnotes that tends to get lost in translation when thinking back fondly upon the Bulls dynasty?
The fact that they lost.
The legend of Michael Jordan grows greater by the day in part due to the seemingly endless array of iconic moments which sculpt a perception of perfection.
We remember the shot over Byron Russell to sink the Jazz.
And the shot over Craig Ehlo to eliminate the Cavs.
And the pass to Steve Kerr for the Finals game-winner.
MORE: Watch every single game-winning buzzer-beater of Jordan's career
But what about the time Jordan threw the ball out of bounds with the game on the line?
Expecting perfection from anyone isn't reasonable nor should it be. But when reminiscing about Jordan's legendary career, the story itself often conveniently leaves out those moments in which he came up short, particularly once he started adding to his ring collection.
Like Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic.
First came the steal by Nick Anderson. Protecting a one-point lead, Jordan had the ball stolen from him which led to a fastbreak and dunk by Horace Grant to give the Magic the lead. Orlando radio play-by-play broadcaster David Steele couldn't contain his excitement.
While the steal itself is one of the defining moments in Magic history and an alarmingly lackadaisical play from Jordan, it's not as surprising as what happened next. After catching an inbounds pass down one, Jordan drove and looked for a cutting Pippen, but threw a pass that went behind Pippen and out of bounds.
It was the last time that Jordan wore No. 45 as he switched back to 23 following the Game 1 performance in which he looked decidedly unlike Mike.
Penny cancels out Pippen
Two All-NBA First Teamers from the 1994-95 season played in that series.
Not MJ. Not Shaq.
Jordan only played in 17 games that season while O'Neal took home Second Team honours behind league MVP David Robinson.
MORE: What if Shaq and Penny stayed together... and healthy?
Penny Hardaway broke out in his second season to snag the second guard spot alongside assist king John Stockton while Pippen claimed his second straight spot on the first team. During this series, they essentially canceled each other out, with the up-and-comer more than holding his own against the established three-time champion Dream Teamer who less than 18 months later would be recognized as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
With Jordan still working himself back into shape, this could have - and perhaps should have - been an opportunity for Pippen to flex his muscles and assert himself. Although he delivered several strong performances including Game 6 when he finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, Pippen struggled mightily from the floor during losses in Games 1 (7 points, 2-11 FG) and Game 5 (4-13 FG, 10 points, 1-6 FT).
What about Shaq?
The 23-year-old O'Neal looked dominant throughout the series and was the best player on the floor in the deciding Game 6 when he finished with a game-high 27 points to go along with 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Chicago never really had an answer for O'Neal as the Bulls centre rotation of Luc Longley, Will Perdue and Bill Wennington could not slow down the big fella. No amount of double or triple teams could really change the tenor all that much and the degree to which Shaq dominated makes you wonder how things might have gone down differently in an NBA Finals for the Bulls, had they ever faced off against a dominant five like Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson.
Horace Grant's revenge
"I felt 10 feet tall out there."
Moments after the final buzzer in Game 6, O'Neal hoisted Grant above his shoulders in order to properly soak in the victory over his former team in the same building where he won three championships as part of Chicago's first 3-peat.
MORE: Which Bull was better - Horace Grant or Dennis Rodman?
With the four superstars essentially playing to a wash over the course of the series, Grant swung the series with an emphatic series-long effort in which he badly outplayed any of the other members of Chicago's supporting cast. Sporting those patented goggles, Grant thoroughly dominated Games 2-5 in particular, rattling off four straight double-doubles with tidy averages of 21.5 points and 13.3 rebounds on a sizzling 74.0 percent shooting.
Determined to make anyone but Shaq and Penny beat them in Game 5, Jackson dared Grant to do his worst. The former Bull happily obliged, accepting the challenge and draining one jumper after another as he finished with a game-high 24 points on 10-13 shooting,
Grant's performance couldn't have come at a better time. Up until that point, Jordan's Bulls had a 38-2 postseason record in games they led by at least seven at the half. Toss in 39 points from Jordan and it had all the makings of Chicago taking a 3-2 series lead back to the United Center.
Except that Grant wouldn't let it happen, leading the charge for a 35-20 third-quarter swing that proved to be the crucial 12-minute stretch which forever turned the tide of the series and stands the test of time as perhaps the defining moment of Grant's post-Bulls playing days.
The 14-0 run
Imagine Michael Jordan shooting an airball with his season on the line. Impossible, right?
If you're searching for another scuff mark on the sculpture, look no further than the penultimate final minutes of Game 6. Despite a subpar performance from Jordan who finished with nearly as many turnovers (six) as made shots (eight) in an elimination game in front of his home crowd, the Bulls were somehow in great shape.
Up 102-94 with three minutes left, you'd think Jordan and Company would finish this one off in their sleep without any trouble at all.
Not only did the Bulls go scoreless over the final 3:24 as part of a series-ending 14-0 run by the Magic, Jordan stunningly fired an air-ball with the Bulls clinging to a one-point lead with just over a minute left. He wasn't even the best shooting guard on the floor down the stretch as No. 23 was outplayed by Chicago native Nick Anderson, who not only defended Jordan on the aforementioned gaffe, but hit the game-winning step-back jumper on the following possession.
It's almost unfathomable now but in the immediate aftermath, the Bulls dynasty was perilously close to collapsing with Pippen openly doubting whether he'd be back to give it another go. "If I could say right now, I'd say I won't be back."
MORE: What if the Bulls actually traded Pippen?
Sure, Michael Jordan had only just returned.
Sure, the Bulls weren't really back to fully being the Bulls.
Sure, tensions ran so high with Scottie Pippen that he almost got traded multiple times.
Sure, there are qualifiers that make it perfectly reasonable why the 1994-95 Bulls didn't win it all.
In many ways, it's almost better they didn't make it to the Finals and lose to the Houston Rockets. The excuses would have been the same ones and there would certainly be an asterisk, but let's not kid ourselves... 6-1 doesn't carry the same mystique as 6-0.
MORE: What the NBA was like without MJ
In many respects, it's almost as if the 1995 Eastern Conference playoffs never happened. Everyone mentions how the Rockets won back-to-back titles in the "non-Jordan years" while conveniently leaving out the fact that the second year wasn't really a "non-Jordan year."
Judging by history, Jordan mostly gets a pass for losing to the Magic. It also means the Magic don't get the credit they rightfully earned, especially given what happened the following year when the Bulls swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals.
So while enjoying "The Last Dance" and reliving the glory years for one of the NBA's most dominant decade-long runs, don't forget about the role that Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant and Nick Anderson played in setting the stage for what's actually a tale of basketball redemption.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.