Throughout the mid-to-late 90s, the Utah Jazz fielded the best teams in their franchise’s history. John Stockton and Karl Malone kept busy throughout the era by reinventing the NBA’s version of the wheel with their mastery of the pick-and-roll. Flanked by solid role players like Jeff Hornacek, Bryon Russell and Greg Ostertag, the Jazz made back-to-back NBA Finals trips over the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. They simply could not get over the same hump that stalled the entire NBA throughout the 90s: Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
The Jazz put up an admirable fight against the dynastic Bulls in 1996-97, losing in the Finals in six games. Undoubtably, they entered the offseason prior to the 1997-98 season with an intense focus on achieving their ultimate goal: the first NBA Championship in Utah Jazz history.
They were about one shot away from accomplishing that goal. Any longtime Jazz fan knows exactly what shot we’re referring to.
Recently, Michael Jordan sat down with Jack M. Silverstein to reflect on the shot that buried the dreams of fans throughout Salt Lake City. To nobody’s surprise, the man that many consider the greatest basketball player of all time has no regrets about his shot selection in the dying moments of the 1998 NBA Finals.
“I had no intention of passing the ball under any circumstances. I figured I stole the ball and it was my opportunity to win or lose the game. I would have taken that shot with five people on me” said Jordan.
Even the most casual NBA observer knows that Jordan would have taken that shot if the entire Utah Jazz roster was guarding him. However, that iconic NBA moment will be forever marred in controversy, as many feel Jordan “pushed off” primary defender Bryon Russell to create the separation he needed to get the shot off.
Jordan begs to differ.
“Everybody says I pushed off. Bulls***. His energy was going that way. I didn’t have to push him that way”.
Whether he pushed off or not, the reality will always be that Jordan got the call, the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship, and the Utah Jazz were sent home without a Larry O’Brien trophy for the second consecutive year.
Jazz fans will always be left to wonder what could have been.