Utah Jazz: Time for a 15-year flashback on the Jazz's last trip to the NBA Finals
SALT LAKE CITY — Recent headlines with Utah Jazz legends' names in big font might have fans a bit nostalgic for a Beehive State basketball era that simultaneously included Jerry Sloan, John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek.
Pardon the omission — and Greg Ostertag.
Oh yes, and The Big Dawg (Antoine Carr), Larry H. Miller's passion, Hot Rod Hundley's descriptive flare, an earsplitting arena and perennial contender status.
Don't look at the deeper wrinkles that stare back at you in the mirror nowadays, but a decade and a half has indeed elapsed since "Saving Private Ryan" was on the big screen, Bill Clinton was defining the word "is," gas was $1.15 a gallon, TV dials were tuned to top-rated "E.R." and the Jazz last played in the NBA Finals.
If it makes you feel any better, the Chicago Bulls haven't been back on basketball's biggest stage since then, either.
"Fifteen years?" Sloan pondered out loud during an interview this week with the Deseret News.
Time flies when you're having, well, flashbacks and wondering what might have been had Michael Jordan not pushed off of Bryon Russell.
Or if Dick Bavetta hadn't called off Howard Eisley's 3-pointer or if Ron Harper's shot-clock violation had been enforced.
Or if the Jazz had held home court in Game 2 or not been blown out 96-54 in Game 3.
Or if Dennis Rodman hadn't hit clutch free throws in Game 4 after missing practice to attend a wrestling event the day before the Bulls took a 3-1 lead. Or if Utah could've taken advantage of the injured Scottie Pippen's absence and Stockton not missed the last-second long ball in Game 6.
Or … or … OR
Sloan, ever one with messages that range between blunt, self-effacing, humorously folksy and non-sentimental, balked at the notion he might occasionally reminisce about the Finals with old Jazz guys.
Want to talk about the family in Louisiana or the farm in southern Illinois?
Great. Just don't take the conversation back THERE to June 3-14, 1998.
He'd rather get a Barney Rubble tattoo to match the Fred Flintstone ink on Ostertag's right calf.
Really, that's not surprising considering 10 years after the second Finals happened, Sloan admitted to having never re-watched a second of the series. Fans continue to lament over lost golden opportunities, which is what fans do — at least in places like Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Seattle and Minnesota. But the 71-year-old Hall of Fame coach has emotionally moved on. He's not about to spend any of his spare retirement (job-hunting?) time wondering "What if?" If the headstrong Sloan can forge forward after selling his entire collection of beloved, antique tractors, he can surely get over the stinging setback to The Worm & Co.
"There's not much to think about," Sloan said. "We lost and went home. That's what happened."
But isn't there a memorable part of the Jazz's last Finals experience that stands out?
Maybe how Stockton scored 24 points with eight assists as the Jazz jumped ahead 1-0 despite being rusty from a 10-day sabbatical after sweeping Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals?
Or how Utah forced a Game 6 when Malone scored 39 points and Stockton dished out 12 assists in Game 5 at the United Center to prevent the series from prematurely ending with Phil Jackson and crew smoking championship cigars in the Windy City?
Or even the bitter memories of Rodman hitting clutch free throws in a Game 4 defeat, Malone struggling for only 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting in that pivotal Game 2 loss at the Delta Center or simply just falling to Jordan and Pippen for a second straight postseason?
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