After watching the footage for an abnormal length of time of Jordan against Russell on Jordan's last shot in the '98 Finals:
Russell was very clearly out of position. He was guiding Jordan to Jordan's right with Russell's right forearm inside Jordan's chest.
Jordan decides to make his move by quickly changing direction; Russell commits to directing Jordan to his right, Jordan crosses over to his left.
This is where the controversy is: to suggest Jordan "shoved" Russell (as to suggest that Jordan had committed some sort of assault) is giving too much credit to Russell's poor positioning. Jordan's left hand definitely made contact with Russell's backside. Jordan may have had thoughts on outright pushing and appeared to start doing so. However, looking at the slow-motion game replays, much of Russell's slipping was from his own momentum. Also, Jordan's left hand sweeps around Russell's back as if Jordan was acting on natural human instinct to get a fundamental jump shot in as he had to duck under a slipping Russell.
The "foul:" I think the no-call was correct: I could also argue that Russell was trying to hand check Jordan with his forearm going between Jordan shoulders. Both men were looking for the edge; Russell's defense on that play was based on gambling for a steal or directing towards help defense and not fundamentals on one-on-one defense. I can hardly say Russell was a "victim." Jordan was looking for a way to get a jump shot in.
I am of the opinion that Russell did himself in on that play. Also, when looking at the slo-mo replays Russell did not react as if he was startled at being shoved. The real-time footage did not suggest an outright offensive foul on Jordan in my opinion.
(Disclosure: I am a Jordanaire Bulls fan. Jordan knew many tricks up his sleeve; so do many star players. However that shot was not the greatest shot in his career.)
Jordan pushed off, and the NBA refs let him get away with it. Just like every other time jordan touched the ball with under two minutes. Either he pushed off and got a no call, or he was breathed on and got to go to the line.
That appears to be your classic "Ref lets the players determine the outcome on the floor" last 30 seconds non-call. The super-slow motion replays probably make it look a lot more egregious than it likely was, but if you go strictly by the rulebook - it's an offensive foul.
But it's kind of like holding in football, you could call it every down, so while they don't say it - the penalty is more for "flagrant holding". Same goes in the NBA, and possibly moreso in Big 10 basketball.
The fact that it's superstar Jordan only helped him out, the league has had a long-standing unwritten policy about 'protecting' its stars with favorable calls. For Bulls fans of the era, you need look no further than Hue F'n Hollins calling that late foul on Scottie Pippen in the waning seconds of Game 5 of the Conference Semis.. the first year Jordan was playing for the Birmingham Barons.
...since we have an ACC thread on this too. G - Chris Jackson, LSU - No question here...the most dominating scorer I ever saw in the SEC. Had 5 games of 40 or more points as a FRESHMAN. G - Allan Houston, UT - Not to sure about this one...