Marshall Snow Thomas
Every story needs a hero and a villain. For sports, every team and fan base have their own individual villain, whether it’s a team, player owner. For the Red Sox, the Yankees are that evil villain. For old time Colts fans, Tom Brady is that villain. Also, for the Auburn Tigers, Nick Saban falls into the villain category.
For the Utah Jazz and their fans, one player comes to mind, and its someone who has haunted the organization and the entire state for almost twenty years. For most Jazz fans, they hate the Lakers, and especially Kobe Bryant. For the last fifteen years, it has been the Lakers that have bounced the Jazz from the playoffs. However, you have to reach a few years back, when the Jazz were actually beating L.A. in the postseason, to find the real villain. The answer is simple, Michael Jordan, and the shot.
Its an image that every sports fan has seen. The framed image of Jordan, watching his last shot as a Chicago Bull go in, while thousands of horrified Jazz fans stare back at him. It was at that moment, before the shot went in, the last time Utah led in an NBA Finals game. Since that day in 1998, the Jazz have never made it back to the finals. Today, we’re going to look at that shot, and its affected the Utah Jazz, and the entire state of Utah.
In restaurants in Salt Lake City, there are certain things you don’t bring up, or else you’ll have a debate that’ll last all night. For instance, don’t bring up Max Hall and BYU football, or Urban Meyer leaving the Utes in 2005. Most of all, you don’t bring up that Jordan shot, or you’re in for a long night. Most Jazz fans remember the day they were married, their first child being born, and the day Jordan hit the shot. That Utah team, is sacred in the Wasatch Front. Jerry Sloan is mentioned, and it’s like the Pope is being discussed. I still remember the day Sloan retired, people in the high school hallway looked like their puppy had just died. John Stockton and Karl Malone are larger than life, and fans will tell you that they’re the greatest to ever play the game. Even when you mention Jeff Hornacek you’ll see smiles from the Jazz faithful.
In the 97 finals, people expected Chicago to win the championship. They had home court advantage, and it was anticipated that the Bulls would bring home the trophy, which they did in six games. The next year, 98, was supposed to be different. The Jazz were coming off a four game sweep of the Lakers in the conference finals, and the Bulls just barely got by the Pacers in a seven game thriller. That year in the regular season, the Jazz swept the Bulls, and with home court advantage, it looked as if the trophy could actually come home to Salt Lake City. However, the Bulls shocked Utah in game two with a close win, and then two more wins back in Chicago to take a 3-1 lead. Fully expecting to clinch the title at home, the Bulls fell to Utah, thanks to heroic performance by Karl Malone, sending the series back to Salt Lake. With the rest of the series to be played on their home court, Jazz fans seemed confident that they could force a game seven, but first they had to win game 6.
They had the lead, with just over 40 seconds to go, Utah had the lead. John Stockton had just hit a three to give the Jazz a three point lead, and it seemed possible! A quick Jordan layup cut the lead to one, but the Jazz had the ball, and more importantly, Malone had the ball down low. This was a lock, Malone was going to score, and the Bulls would miss a three, and then its game seven. Unfortunately, the history of the Jazz took a turn at that moment. Instead of hitting a shot, Malone had the ball stolen from him by Jordan, and the 20,000 in the Delta Center were in stunned silence. People forget this moment, they remember the shot, but they don’t quite bring up the steal. For me, I’m a Malone fan, but instead of his 36,928 career points, the thing I remember of him, is how Jordan stole the ball from him, and with it, the reality of game seven almost completely vanished.
Jordan stealing the ball was like the part in Return of the King, when Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger and steals back the ring. All Sam could do was watch Gollum dance with the ring, and all Jazz fans could do was watch Jordan bring the ball up the court, and they couldn’t do anything. However, in the movie, Frodo saves the day and kills Gollum and destroys the ring. Unfortunately for the Jazz, there was no Frodo. Jordan hit the shot, and just like that, it was over. The score reads, CHICAGO 87, UTAH 86.
Since that day, great players have come and gone, a legendary coach retired, and the all-time owner has passed away. Not even Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer could bring the Jazz back to the finals. All they could manage, was a single conference finals appearance. 2003 marked the end of the Stockton and Malone era, and the excitement that those players brought, hasn’t even come close to being recreated. Could that shot have made such an impact? Has it made such an impact on the organization? Well for starters, they’ve changed uniforms to an ugly Halloween costume, they changed the arena name from Delta Center, and Hot Rod Hundley doesn’t announce the games from the radio anymore.
Maybe one day, it could potentially happen. Perhaps the basketball heavens will bless this special organization with a championship. If there is a franchise in the NBA that deserves a title, it’s the Utah Jazz. They cherish their team like no other fan base in sports, and they sell out every single game. However, until the team reaches the promised land, the shot by Jordan shot will not be taken with a smile, and will haunt the entire state of Utah.