Utah Jazz: Time for a 15-year flashback on the Jazz's last trip to the NBA Finals

Published: Saturday, June 1 2013 9:10 p.m. MDT

Or the time you met Jack Nicholson in the bathroom by the pressroom, sat by Laverne in Chicago, were offered a Size 17 shoe from Joe Kleine or became quite embarrassed to be seen by a colleague while jogging after Rodman down a Delta Center hallway with a few dozen of your closest media friends? (Oh, wait, those are this writer's recollections ... carry on.)

But, c'mon, no soul-piercing painful memories stand out?

"It's painful to still be alive," Sloan said, chuckling. "That's part of sports. You couldn't ask for guys to play any harder. They made some mistakes. That's what basketball is about — a game of mistakes."

There is one prevailing thought for Sloan 1.5 decades after Jud Buechler, Bill Wennington and Scott Burrell all received one more championship ring than any of the Jazz Hall of Famers ever got.

Sour and forgotten plays be darned, one sweet memory remains.

"The fact," Sloan convincingly said, "that we were there."

Everybody automatically assumes "The Shot" in Houston by Stockton in 1997 was the crowning achievement for a franchise that had a history of early exits in the postseason.

And who not affiliated with the Rockets doesn't enjoy watching that sweet buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Stockton soar over Charles Barkley and drop to the bottom of the net, eliciting an infamous "Uh, oh!" and an oh-so-famous happy dance on Houston's hardwood?

It still fires up the proud warm-fuzzies in Sloan's bosom to think about what the Jazz did after falling to M.J. four games to two in their first championship showdown.

The next year, the Jazz bounced back with resolve, going 62-20 and only losing three games in the Western Conference playoffs en route to earning a rematch with the Bulls.

If anybody could knock Jordan off of his perch, a group that included MVP Malone (now the Jazz's part-time big man coach), Mr. Assist Stockton (now an author of an upcoming autobiography "Assisted") and Smooth-Stroking Hornacek (now the Phoenix Suns' head coach) seemed up to the task.

On this date in '98 — a day before the series' June 3 tipoff — an elusive title in Utah seemed like a distinct possibility.

"A lot of people talk about winning a championship, and that's an amazing thing," Sloan said. "But the more amazing thing is to lose and then come back and try to do it again, which our guys did.

"They put everything they could in to try and have a chance to win, and that takes a tremendous amount of concentration and desire to even get to that point again."

More impressive, the gritty man who coached the Jazz from 1988-2011 believes, is that they did that while supposedly being over the hill — when Stockton was 36 years old, Hornacek was a year younger but without knees, and Malone was almost 35.

"It had been reported that we needed to get rid of Stockton and Malone because they were getting too old," Sloan recalled. "And that's when they pushed up and made it to the Finals a couple of years in a row. I don't think they showed any signs of being too old to play whenever we got there."

A commendable achievement, no doubt.

But that still might not provide solace to fans who continue to be rankled about being on the losing end of what's considered to be the greatest NBA Finals game ever — to be commemorated for eternity thanks to Jordan's career-capping moment with that push-off-aided historical jumper with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 at the Delta Center.

Sloan might not have watched basketball's most famous shot over and over again (outside of replaying it in his mind, at least).

But Jazz fans have. A lot. A maddening amount of times.

The closest Utah has been to returning under the glaring championship spotlight was in 2007 with a new point guard-power forward combination. Six years ago, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer pushed the Jazz into the Western Conference Finals, but a 4-1 smackdown by San Antonio ended that surge.

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