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In terms of magical moments, the 1997 Finals between the Bulls and Jazz were among the most memorable in NBA history.
Chicago’s quest for a fifth title was challenged by a Utah team, led by the duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone, who were playing in the final for the first time. The result? A series of incredible pieces from the expected heroes (Michael Jordan, Stockton, Malone) and the unexpected (Steve Kerr).
“Give the ball to Michael and get out of the way,” Chicago’s Brian Williams said of Game 1’s final play, a 20-foot left-wing Jordan that gave the Bulls a thrilling 84- win. 82 and improved legend growth from the first player in the league.
Jordan used a cross dribble to free himself from Bryon Russell and buried a jumper just inside the three-point circle as the bells rang, leaving Russell complaining about Utah’s lost opportunity.
“Jordan got the ball back, the clock was ticking and he hit a good shot with my hand in his face,” said Russell. “He did what Michael Jordan is known for: backbreakers. I kept him in front of me, he didn’t pass me. He took a jump kick while I had a hand on his face.
Jordan’s heroism capped a 31-point performance and scored the first buzzer-winning shot in the final since Dennis Johnson gave the Boston Celtics a 107-105 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of 1985. After Chicago took a 2-0 lead with a 97-85 victory, the series moved to the Delta Center, where the Jazz hosted a final for the first time in 23 years of history. The Jazz almost blew up the roof of the Delta Center, literally and figuratively. Members of the Bulls were forced to cover their ears during a fireworks display a minute before the game. When the game started, the Jazz provided the fireworks in a 104-93 win.
Game 4, a 78-73 win over Utah, could have gone Chicago’s way without Stockton, who tallied 17 points, 12 assists, stole the key and threw an assist that will go down in the annals of the l history of the finals.
The Bulls appeared to be done, holding a 73-69 lead – and the ball – with just two minutes to go. As Jordan brought the ball back onto the field, Stockton pulled the ball out and took the foul.
Stockton missed one of two free throws, but Scottie Pippen missed a 3 point and Stockton made two more free throws, reducing the deficit to 73-72 with 1:03 to go. After Jordan, who was 11 for 27 on the field, missed a jumper, Stockton ran on the loose ball and found Malone with an impossible pass to Jordan for the go-ahead basket.
“Of all the good ones he did, I’ll probably remember this one for the rest of my career because it had to be the perfect pass,” said Malone, whose bucket put the Jazz ahead.
The momentum was in Utah’s favor after a pair of wins and word that a flu-ravaged Jordan might not even play in Game 5. However, when the first pitch came, Jordan was in the game. roster, further bolstering his reputation as the game’s brightest star.
Not only did he score 38 points, but Jordan buried the 3-point tiebreaker with 25 seconds left, while Salt Lake escaped with a 90-88 victory.
“We really wanted it,” said Jordan, who shot 13 for 27 from the field in 44 minutes. “I was really tired and very weak. At half time I told Phil [Jackson] to use me in spurts.
The Bulls were trailing 85-84 when Jordan was fouled with 46 seconds left. After taking the first of two free throws to tie the game, his second shot was short, but the ball was returned to him. He brought it back outside the key and passed Scottie Pippen at the station. Bryon Russell left Jordan to pass Pippen, who returned the ball to Jordan for a wide-open left-side three-pointer and an 88-85 lead.
“I almost played myself pass out,” Jordan said. “I came in and I was almost dehydrated and it was just to win a basketball game. I couldn’t breathe. My energy level was really low. My mouth was really dry. They started giving me Gatorade and I thought about IV.
Chicago came home to a rehearsal game as the champion. In what would be the series win, a 90-86 win, it wasn’t Jordan delivering the heroism, it was Steve Kerr.
“When Phil set the game at the end,” said Jordan, who had 39 points and 11 rebounds and was named the final MVP for the fifth time. “Everyone in the gym, everyone on TV knew he was coming to me. I looked at Steve and I said, “This is your chance”, because I knew Stockton was going to come and help you and I am going to come to you. Tonight Steve Kerr won his wings from my point of view.
Kerr, a shooting specialist, was giddy with excitement after clinching the title for Chicago. “He [Jordan] said, ‘You’re ready, Stockton is going to let go.’ I said, ‘I’ll be ready, I’m going to drop him. It is so good it attracts so much attention. And his excellence gave me the chance to hit the winning shot in the NBA Finals. What a thrill. I owe him everything.