Jay C. Brandriet
“The Last Dance” documentary of the 1997/98 Chicago Bulls has taken center stage in the sports world. We know this story ends up in Salt Lake City Utah, as the Bulls top the Jazz in the NBA Finals for the second straight season.
Those Jazz teams are receiving some serious disrespect this week.
Multiple people in the media brushed them aside as just another victim to Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
Three guys laughed at the idea Utah even made it to the championship round.
Jason McIntyre was a guest on 1280 the Zone with Scott Garrard and Hans Olsen. While attempting to diminish the accomplishments of Jordan, it was the Jazz he insulted. He took shots at every guy who defended MJ in those series.
Colin Cowherd tried to poke holes in all of Jordan’s rings. He said, “those teams he faced were good, not great. It was pretty much a two man show in Utah with Stockton and Malone. They had Eaton protecting the rim, but that was about it.”
Well, Eaton was retired at the time.
More importantly, the Jazz were much closer to great than good.
A LOOK AT THE 1996-97/1997-98 UTAH JAZZ
OWNERSHIP AND COACHING MATTER
Jerry Sloan is one of the most respected figures in the history of the NBA. He was an old school bad ass. His culture of hard work, toughness, and defense was in full bloom with his two Finals teams. Sloan’s coaching staffs were on a high level. They were all in sync with owner Larry H. Miller.
JOHN STOCKTON AND KARL MALONE WERE NOT NORMAL
I’m hearing these dudes were a “two man team?” Thing is, they were not normal. They were iron men superstars who seemed to read each others minds. Malone was the league MVP in 1997. John had just finished off a NINE year run of leading the league in assists. Those two men counted for more than two players.
JEFF HORNACEK WAS A SPECIAL ADDITION
Jeff was one of the best shooters of all time. His passing, and tool box of crafty moves were off the charts. His handles made a huge difference in Utah’s offense. Hornacek was the 15th leading scorer of the 1990’s.
THESE TEAMS HAD MORE GAME THAN NAMES
The names won’t blow anyone away. This group was like a well designed puzzle.
THE JAZZ RECORD AND HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE
The Jazz went 126-38 over those two seasons.
They were 3-1 against the Bulls.
Salt Lake was a brutal place for the visitor at that time.
Utah was 39-3 at home in 1997.
That group had two different, 15 game winning streaks.
WHO THEY BEAT IN THE PLAYOFFS
Utah was 22-6 over the two western post-season runs.
The Rockets roster was led by Olajuwon, Barkley, and Drexler. Utah sent them on summer vacation twice.
They took out Popovich, Duncan, and Robinson in a quick five.
They faced a loaded Lakers team in two consecutive springs. The 1998 Lakers led the league in skills. Utah put on a clinic and beat them eight times over nine contests.
LET SHAQ BE THE TRUTH TELLER
As a TNT analyst Shaquille O’ Neal has said some heavy words about his former opponent.
“They asked me to miss games late in the year. We wanted to tank to avoid matching up with Utah. They would pick and roll us to death. We couldn’t beat these boys for nothing.”
Shaq tweeted, “The 1998 Jazz SWEPT a Lakers squad with four all stars in the playoffs yet people still say they were “weak Finals competition.” A team is more than just a collection of talent. The Utah Jazz were a great TEAM.”
THOSE JAZZ COULD STAND UP TO ANYONE IN HISTORY
I actually felt like the Jazz were a slight favorite in 1998. They were so poised. They were a fine tuned executing machine. They knew who they were. It was easy to be themselves every night. They didn’t need to change for the opponent.
Second place can feel like last. In most cases, it would seem like a reach to celebrate a runner up. Utah faced a 69 win Chicago team, followed by “The Last Dance” Bulls. It’s a unique consolation prize the Jazz have earned. They are the face of Michael Jordan’s toughest Finals battles. Ask him.
Stop disrespecting the 1997 and 1998 Utah Jazz.
Jay C. Brandriet