by TYSON SHAW
On June 13, 1997, the Chicago Bulls in the Chicago United Center hosted the Utah Jazz for Game 6 of the 1997 NBA finals. The Jazz held the lead over the Bulls for most of the game until the end of the fourth quarter, when Chicago tied the game at 86-86. In the last seconds of the game the Jazz fell apart and Chicago’s Steve Kerr broke the tie with a quick jumper. The last possession for the Jazz would also end with a steal and a bucket for the Bulls. The Chicago Bulls became the 1997 NBA champions, defeating the Utah Jazz 90-86. It was the first time the Jazz had made it to the NBA finals, but it was the fifth NBA championship in seven years won by the Bulls. With this win, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had lifted their team to dynasty status in the history of the NBA. (Taylor, 30)
The 1998 NBA season featured the Utah Jazz’s best season. The team led the Western Conference Division with a season record of 62-20. The Jazz once again found themselves in the NBA playoffs. They were able to push past tough teams such as the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs. They ended up sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 to win the Western Conference title. (Basketball-Reference.com) The 1998 NBA finals would once again pit the Utah Jazz against the Chicago Bulls for the NBA championship. The Jazz ended up winning the first game in the series. In Game 3, with a loss to Chicago of 96-54, the Utah Jazz had set the record for the least amount of points scored in a finals game. By Game 5 of the Finals, the city of Chicago was planning for another Bulls championship ending at the United Center. But Utah surprised Chicago with a win in Game 5, with the help of 39 points by Karl Malone, to send the series back to Utah for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. (Lewis, 270-274)
An article from the Salt Lake Tribune published June 14, 1998, shows that the Chicago Bulls weren’t happy to have to travel to Utah for Game 6. Before Game 5, Dennis Rodman pledged, “We’re not going back to Utah.” Even Scottie Pippen chimed in after the loss of Game 5, stating, “I know no one wanted to make this trip.” The Chicago Bulls understood that it would be tough to face Jazz fans and players at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.
One individual who still had hope for the Jazz was a writer for the Deseret News, Doug Robinson. His article, published June 14, 1998, was titled, “8 reasons the Bulls can still be had.” Robinson discussed the injuries the Bulls had encountered, such as the back problems that power forward Dennis Rodman was experiencing. The Bulls were struggling with their game and that included not having players they could pull from the bench. Robinson pointed out that Michael Jordan seemed “a little dreamy and distracted,” and noted that Jordan wasn’t playing up to his legendary status, only shooting 43 percent in the Finals.
Robinson changed his tune the following day, when he wrote about the Bulls’ victory over the Jazz in Game 6. Robinson had to admit that it wasn’t the Chicago Bulls that had beat the Jazz. Rather, “Michael Jordan beat the Jazz.” The Jazz stayed ahead of the Bulls throughout most of the game. Robinson listed the plays Jordan made in the last 41 seconds, including “a rebound, a layup, a steal, a jump shot, a trophy, a hug.” Though the Jazz had the last possession of the game, Jazz guard John Stockton wasn’t able to capitalize on a last-second three-pointer that ended the game with the Bulls defeating the Jazz 87-86. It was another NBA championship for the Chicago Bulls, their sixth world championship and a defining moment in Jordan’s career. Deseret News reporter Robinson truthfully admitted about Jordan, “Was there ever any doubt it would come to this? … He’ll find a way to beat you.”
It was safe to say that after Game 6, Utah Jazz fans were feeling disappointed. The Deseret News reported on June 15, 1998: “Thousands of somber, frowning fans departed” the arena following the loss. But many Jazz fans didn’t want to accept the fact that the season had ended with another loss at the finals to the Bulls. Dick Rosetta, writing for The Salt Lake Tribune, explained that there should have been a Game 7—even though Jordan would still have taken the championship in the end. Rosetta pointed out that bad calls by the officials resulted in the Jazz losing the game. The problem was that Howard Eisley, the guard for the Jazz, had hit a three-pointer as the clock buzzed, but referee Dick Bavetta called the shot as a “no basket.” Bulls Guard Ron Harper hit a buzzer-beater for two points that was counted by the officials. League officials didn’t use instant replay, but TV replays showed that Eisley’s three-pointer was in before the buzzer while Harper’s bucket later in the game did not beat the buzzer. If instant replay for officials had been used in the league then, the Jazz would have been ahead by five more points and most likely would have won Game 6.
As Rosetta observed, Game 7 might have ended with another last-minute shot by Jordan. However, the Jazz would have had home court advantage in Game 7. John Tauer, Corey Guenther, and Christopher Rozek discuss home court advantage in their article published in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. It addresses the benefit of familiarity basketball players have when shooting baskets at home and the psychological advantage of cheering fans when it comes to winning a game. Yet even with this advantage the Utah Jazz still lost Game 6. If the Jazz would have made it to Game 7, as Rosetta claimed the team deserved, the Jazz would have had the best chance of winning. As the scholars observe in their article, “In the ultimate game of professional basketball series, we observed home teams performing exceptionally well in Game 7s.” (157) But that was immaterial. The loss of Game 6 sealed the end of season. No one felt that loss harder than the Jazz players and staff.
A Deseret News article published on June 16 focused on the disappointment of the players on losing Game 6 and what the future held for the Utah Jazz. Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan pointed out that the defeat hit much harder than the loss of Game 6 in 1997. Regarding contracts and deals, no player knew what the next season would be like. The NBA even faced problems such as a lockout if the owners didn’t make the correct deals on time. Emotions were different for Jazz star Karl Malone. The thought of basketball was not something he wanted to discuss. His focus was on getting healthy and the wrestling match between him and Dennis Rodman that was scheduled for July 1998.
Utah TV viewers were ready to put the finals behind them. Scott D. Pierce reported in the Deseret News that Game 6 was “the most-watched NBA game in history.” Many tuned in to see what might have been Michael Jordan’s last game. NBA fans also would not want to miss the power duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton. Pierce pointed out that it was a time for relief: “No more Jazz Fever.” Utah viewership could forget about basketball for a while. There was always next season to worry about.
Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals will go down as one of the greatest games played in sports. Jazz fans should be proud that the great final match between Utah and Chicago all happened on their home court in the Delta Center. Some fans may always feel—as was written by Kurt Kragthorpe in The Salt Lake Tribune—that if Jordan had stayed in baseball, the Jazz might have been the 1998 NBA champions without having a Game 6 in the Delta Center. To fans of basketball, Jordan’s performance on June 14, 1998, in the Delta Center will always be remembered as one of his greatest performances. To Jazz fans, the 1998 Utah Jazz will always be remembered as a legendary team, despite not winning the NBA Championship.
Tyson Shaw is a junior at The University of Utah. He is majoring in film and media arts and minoring in media studies.
Scott D Pierce, “Finals are finished-some relief in order for Utah TV viewers,” Deseret News, June 18, 1998.
David Locke, “Always a gambler, Jordan deals Jazz the Finals blow,” Deseret News, June 16, 1998.
Loren Jorgensen, “Jazz feel letdown in the locker room,” Deseret News, June 16, 1998.
Zack Van Eyck, “Crunch time leaves fans feeling crunched,” Deseret News, June 15, 1998.
Doug Robinson, “M.J’s Moment: a Finals finale” Deseret News, June 15, 1998.
Kurt Kragthorpe, “Another Jazz Shot Comes up Just Short; But there’s hardly any disgrace in losing to MJ,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 15, 1998.
Dick Rosetta, “Hit Playback Button to Watch Rerun—MJ Shoots, Bulls Win; Rosetta: We’ve Seen This Stuff All Before,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 15, 1998.
Steve Luhm, “Jazz Back Home; They’er Not Alone; Bulls Would Like to Cut Visit Short,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 14, 1998.
Doug Robinson, “8 reasons the Bulls can still be had,” Deseret News, June 14, 1998.
Phil Taylor, “To the Top. (Cover Story),” Sports Illustrated (June 1997): 30.
Tauer, John M., Corey L. Guenther, and Christopher Rozek. “Is There A Home Choke In Decisive Playoff Basketball Games.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 21.2 (2009): 148-162.
Lewis, Michael. To The Brink: Stockton Malone and the Utah Jazz’s Climb to the Edge of Glory. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
“1997-98 Utah Jazz Roster and Stats,” Basketball-Reference.com.