Just when it seemed the term "double-threepeat" was about to become a permanent part of American jargon, and just when it was all over but Michael Jordan kissing the championship trophy one more time, and just when pretty much everyone had decided the commercials are right - we all do want to be like Mike - something strange happened.
The Jazz took a hammer to the entire proceedings.Champagne was chilling in the Bulls' locker room before the game, the confetti was bagged and ready to drop. The Chicago Police Department issued an announcement that it would be "securing the downtown area." In order to gain access to downtown hotels, media members were supposed to show their passes to get past the police lines. In the game's final minutes, the MVP ballots had already been cast, the awards podium was being rolled out.
As it turned out, it was all for nothing. No celebration. No looting. No title.
"No, I didn't have a tee time, because I anticipated drinking so much that I couldn't golf," said Michael Jordan.
That's the way things swing in the NBA Finals. That victory celebration in Grant Park is going to have to wait. Scottie Pippen will have to check the free agent market a few days later than expected. Chicago's going to have to wait at least until Sunday for a good excuse to pillage the city.
As for what was supposed to be the Incredible Folding Basketball Team, the Utah Jazz are still alive. "We're still in the hunt, still kicking," said John Stockton.
The Jazz stayed in the playoffs by beating the Bulls 83-81 at the United Center Friday night. The win brought them to a 3-2 deficit in the series. But more important, it sent the series back to Salt Lake City where the Jazz went 36-5 during the regular season.
"We're going home, something we've worked very hard for all season," said Stockton.
Though circumstances are far from good for the Jazz, they could be worse. They could be going back to Chicago for the final two games - which is what happened last year. But now the series is back in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz are, if not invincible, at least bel-lig-erent.
The Delta Center is where they have won 239 of 277 games since moving over from the Salt Palace; where they're 44-8 in playoff competition. It's where Larry H. Miller sits in the front row and stares down the other team's players; the place where the crowd does a fair imitation of a launching pad, especially when the scene of John Stockton's game-winner against Houston last year shows on the JumboTron. It's where - face it - there isn't much of anything else to get crazy about.
While this is good news to the Jazz, the Bulls can't be happy. First, Friday's Jazz win wrecked their party plans. Second, Salt Lake isn't their favorite town to visit. This is the place (where have we heard that phrase before?) where Dennis Rodman declared he can't get in a groove because it gives him the creeps. It's the same place Michael Jordan vacated for a day during the 1993 All-Star Weekend so he could play golf.
Salt Lake isn't exactly a Bulls kind of town. It's a place so quiet Rodman has to catch flights to Las Vegas just to keep from going stir crazy. "Rodzilla Does Salt Lake" is not a movie coming anytime soon. It's a place where Scottie Pippen - asked about a possible Game 7 - told reporters, "How long do you want to stay in Utah?"
The win sent the Jazz back to the place only a homebody could love. Back to where the only way to get deep dish pizza is by mail. Back to where "Bear" drives in on a Harley and they turn the sound system waaaaay too high. It's a place where they figure there is some sort of correlation between volume of sound and volume of points.
The way the Jazz earned their way back was, well, weird. They threw away eight passes in the second period alone - six in a row. They had 13 of their 16 turnovers in the first half. Even so, they trailed by only six at half. Clearly, the chance was there. For all their aborted efforts - their dreadful floor play, the missed easy shots, the errant passes - they were still in the game. It was obvious that on this night the Bulls weren't going to paint something that belongs in the Art Institute of Chicago, either.
Thus, down the stretch, the Jazz seized control. Karl Malone, who scored 39 points, put the Jazz on his back and carried them in. It wasn't pretty all the way, but it counted. And though it didn't win the Jazz the title, it did score at least a minor victory: If the Bulls do win the title, they'll have to celebrate in the town they like the least.