It’s June 14, 1998, the Utah Jazz lead the Chicago Bulls 86-85 with the final seconds ticking off the clock in game six of the NBA Finals. The Jazz are seconds away from forcing game seven, while the Bulls are seconds away from their third straight NBA Championship and sixth in eight years. Michael Jordan has the ball in his hands and, after a nifty move to get away from Byron Russell, he elevates and drains a jumper with 5.2 seconds left. The Bulls go on to win the game and the play simply becomes known as, “The Shot.”
Ever since that game, the question surrounding the play has been whether or not Jordan pushed off Russell to get the separation to take the shot or if Russell simply slipped amid a series of great moves by the greatest player on the planet. The refs certainly didn’t call a foul, but Jazz fans think they got hosed. Almost 20 years later, Jazz fans have gotten the acknowledgement they were looking for, even if it won’t change the outcome of the game.
In late January, while digressing from a more serious topic, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant talked about the play and issued a ruling that Jordan did, in fact, push off before sinking the game-winning shot. Durrant went on to say that if anyone thought he didn’t have the authority to rule on the play, they should read the Utah Constitution. So, for those of you who are interested in this legal argument, you can read the constitution here. Regardless of the ruling, the play, considered one of the top plays in NBA Finals history, still stands and it is still a play that sent two franchises in two vastly different directions.
Even though the Jazz came out on the short end of the play and the series, for the second year in a row, they stayed near the top of the NBA mountain, reaching the postseason nine times over the final thirteen years that Jerry Sloan coached the team. For the Bulls, the 90s dynasty was quickly dissolved as Jordan and head coach Phil Jackson retired (both only for a short period of time) and Scottie Pippen went on to play for the Rockets, Blazers and Bulls once more before hanging it up. While Utah was contending most years, the Bulls fell to the bottom of the standings for several seasons, before Derrick Rose arrived and made them relevant again.
Jazz All-Stars Karl Malone and John Stockton eventually retired a few years later, considered two of the better players in the game to never win championships and Russell, after playing a few more years with the Jazz, bounced around the NBA and a semi-pro league before calling it quits in 2009. All this being considered, it is certainly fair to say that, “The Shot” didn’t exactly hurt Utah basketball too much, at least not right away, but it did mark the end of an era in Chicago.
A whole generation of superstars has come and gone, but Utah has not forgotten about “The Shot”. Sloan says he got over the loss fairly quickly, but Jazz fans still hold a grudge, blaming crooked refs and citing all kinds of stats to show that the Jazz could’ve and would’ve prevailed if there had been a game seven. While history can’t be changed, maybe Durrant’s ruling can bring some sense of vindication or closure to Jazz fans.