For the Chicago Bulls, the campaign was almost identical to their record-breaking 1995–96 season. They began the season 12–0, and by the All-Star break, the Bulls' record stood at 42–6, putting them on pace to win 70 games for a second year in a row. But some late-season injuries and poor play denied them of another 70-win season, and the Bulls settled for a 69–13 record, still good for the league's best record.
In the playoffs, the Bulls swept the Washington Bullets in the first round (which was also that team's final season before it was re-branded as the Wizards), dispatched the Atlanta Hawks in a five-game second round series, and then defeated the Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Jazz emerged as a force in the Western Conference during the 1990s, due in large part to its All-Star duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone. They advanced to the Western Conference Finals thrice between 1992 and 1996, but came up short on each occasion.
However, a different story was written for the 1996–97 season. Powered by league MVP Karl Malone, the Jazz finally asserted themselves atop the Western Conference, finishing with a franchise record 64 victories.
In the playoffs, Utah swept the Los Angeles Clippers in the opening round, eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games of the second round, and then with John Stockton making the buzzer-beating three-point field goal in Game 6, eliminated the Houston Rockets to advance to their first NBA Finals in franchise history.
Both teams split the two meetings, each won by the home team:
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame‡
The Finals were played using a 2-3-2 site format, where the first two and last two games are held at the team with home court advantage's (Chicago's) home court (United Center).
Had the Western Conference Finals between the Jazz and the Houston Rockets reached a Game 7, the Finals would have begun on Wednesday, June 4, and follow the similar Wednesday-Friday-Sunday rotation.All times are in Eastern Daylight Time (UTC−4).
Despite injuring his foot in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, Scottie Pippen helped the Bulls to an 84-82 victory over Utah on Sunday. He scored 27 points while Jordan scored 31. The Bulls trailed by one in the 4th, yet were able to grab an 81-79 lead after Pippen blocked Antoine Carr, then made his third 3-pointer with 1:11 remaining. However, John Stockton answered with a 3 of his own with 51.7 seconds left to give Utah an 82-81 lead. Michael Jordan made 1 of 2 free throws with 35.8 seconds left to tie it at 82. Then, Karl Malone was fouled by Rodman with 9.2 seconds left and had a chance to give Utah the lead. Scottie famously psyched him out, saying, "Just remember, the mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays, Karl", before he stepped up to the line. He missed them both. Jordan got the rebound and quickly called a time-out with 7.5 seconds left. With the game on the line, the Bulls put the ball in Jordan's hands. He dribbled out most of the waning seconds, then launched a 20-footer that went in at the buzzer to give Chicago a 1-0 series lead, after which he pumped his fist in triumph. The fist-pumping often draws comparisons to another famous Jordan reaction to a buzzer-beater, when he leaped into the air after hitting The Shot that eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The Bulls simply dominated Game 2. After a hard-fought first quarter, the Bulls took control of the game with a 12-0 second quarter run. Utah's 31 points in the first half was only one point above an NBA low. Karl Malone, who missed those two key free throws in Game 1, had another bad night, making only 6 of 20 field goals. Dennis Rodman nailed a late 3-pointer to put the Bulls up 97-85.
Utah's fans welcomed their proud Western Conference champs with force. During the introductions of the Jazz's starting lineups, the Bulls players plugged their ears, due to the loud cheers and fireworks within the Delta Center. The Chicago Bulls started off the first three quarters with mediocre play, despite Scottie Pippen tying a then-Finals record with seven 3-pointers. Utah was led by Karl Malone, who scored 37 points and had 10 rebounds. Chicago attempted a 4th quarter comeback, cutting a 24-point deficit down to 7, but Utah ultimately won its first game of the series. With the Bulls trailing by 18 points in the second quarter, Michael Jordan threw down an alley oop slam which drew loud boos from the crowd.
Due to the extremely loud Jazz fans in Game 3, Bulls coach Phil Jackson wore a pair of ear plugs. A tight game with many lead changes throughout, the Jazz led by 5 after the first quarter, but trailed by 5 at halftime. The score was tied going into the fourth quarter. Late in the game, Michael Jordan made a fast break dunk to give the Bulls a 71-66 lead, but John Stockton made a momentum-shifting 3 at the top of the key to cut the deficit to 71-69. Jordan made a jumper to give the Bulls a 73-69 lead, but the Bulls would not score again. The Jazz pulled to within 1 when Stockton stole the ball from Jordan and made 2 free throws at the other end. On the next possession John Stockton grabbed a rebound from a Jordan miss and threw a full court pass to Karl Malone for a layup with 44.5 seconds left that put Utah in front for good, 74-73. After Stockton made the assist, he jumped up into the air several times pumping his fist. After some Bulls misses, Karl Malone made two free throws with 17 seconds left to put the Jazz up by 3. On the next possession, Michael Jordan's potential game-tying 3 with less than 10 seconds left rattled out; Stockton grabbed the rebound and threw another full court pass to Bryon Russell, who escaped the intentional foul and dunked with 00.5 left in the game to seal it, drawing a huge roar from the crowd. The Jazz's 12-2 run tied the series at two games apiece. The Delta Center grew so loud that during the final moments of the game when Bryon Russell made the dunk that iced the game, Marv Albert was unable to be clearly heard. The 78-73 score was one of the lowest scores in NBA Finals history.
Game 5, known as "The Flu Game", was one of Michael Jordan's most memorable games. At 2 a.m on Tuesday morning, Jordan called his personal trainer to his hotel room, where he was lying in the fetal position and sweating profusely. He hardly had the strength to sit up in bed and was diagnosed with a stomach virus or food poisoning, likely caused by a pizza ordered the night before. The Bulls' trainers told Jordan that there was no way he could play the next day. The Jazz had just won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series at 2 wins a piece, and a third consecutive win would give them the lead. The Bulls needed their leader for this critical game, and despite his sickness, Jordan got out of bed at 5:50 p.m on Wednesday, just in time for the 7 o'clock tip-off at the Delta Center.
Jordan was weak as he stepped on the court for Game 5. At first, he displayed little energy, and John Stockton, along with reigning MVP Karl Malone, led the Jazz to a 16-point lead (36-20) in the second quarter. But Jordan slowly began to make shots despite lacking his usual speed. He scored 17 points in the quarter as the Bulls ended the half with a large run cutting the Jazz lead to four (53-49). While Jordan was fatigued in the third and sitting on the bench, Utah was able to reclaim the lead and stretched it to 8 points (77-69). Jordan shot well again in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points. With 46.4 seconds left and Chicago down 85-84, he was fouled and went to the free throw line. He made the first to tie the game, but missed the second. Toni Kukoč got the offensive rebound to Jordan, who dribbled back to allow the offense to set up. He passed the ball to Pippen, who was quickly double-teamed. Pippen then passed the ball back to a now-unguarded Jordan, who made a 3-point shot to give the Bulls an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the game. A Greg Ostertag dunk brought the Jazz back within one point, but Luc Longley answered with a dunk of his own, and Chicago held on for a victory when John Stockton missed the first of two free throws in front of the stunned crowd. With only a few seconds remaining and the game's result safely in Chicago's favor, Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen's arms, creating an iconic image that has come to symbolize The Flu Game.
Malone was the high scorer for the Jazz with 19 points but shot poorly during the game, air-balling an off-balance shot on the possession prior to Jordan's 3-pointer. Malone finished the second half 1-for-6 from the field. Jordan played 44 minutes, finishing the game with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block.
Michael Jordan hadn't fully recovered from the flu, but he was feeling much better and led the Bulls with 39 points. Chicago struggled in the first half, scoring just 37 points and making only 9 of 27 field goals. With the Bulls struggling in the third quarter, Michael Jordan dunked after a steal, bringing the crowd to its feet and Jud Buechler buried a 3 to help give the Bulls the momentum. The Bulls trailed by 9 early in the 4th, but went on a 10-0 run to take their first lead since the opening minutes when Steve Kerr hit a 3-pointer, but the Jazz regained the lead and the game remained one possession until the final score. In the final minutes, Jordan's fadeaway jumper extended the Bulls lead to 3, before Bryon Russell hit a 3-pointer with 1:44 left to tie the game at 86. The two teams failed to score on their next possessions. Shandon Anderson then missed a reverse layup. The Jazz argued that this was due to Pippen grabbing the rim before the shot, causing the basketball standard to shake. However, the officials ruled that the ball had no chance of going in. Dennis Rodman grabbed the rebound and called time-out with 28 seconds left in a tie game. The Jazz expected Jordan to take the final shot. Instead, Jordan drew a double-team, then passed to a wide-open Steve Kerr, who hit a 17-footer with 5 seconds left to send the United Center into a frenzy. The Jazz looked for a final shot to stay alive, but Scottie Pippen made a massive defensive play as he knocked away Bryon Russell's inbound pass intended for Shandon Anderson and rolled the ball over to Toni Kukoč, who dunked the final 2 points of the game before the roaring crowd to bring the Finals to an end, despite there being 00.6 left in the game. Afterwards, Jordan was named Finals MVP for the 5th time. This would also be the last United Center championship celebration until the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the 2015 Stanley Cup.
Following the championship ceremony, NBC Sports concluded their broadcast of the NBA Finals by playing R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly", a song that has been commonly associated with the NBA (and Jordan in particular) due to its inclusion in the movie Space Jam, as the credits rolled.Chicago Bulls
Just remember, The Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays, Karl.
MJ, top of the circle, against Russell. Michael hangs, fires...SCORES!! The Bulls win!! He knocked it in at the buzzer, Bulls win! How many times has he done that?
We're down to five, Jordan putting moves on Russell. We're down to two, down to one. Here's Jordan. YES! It is all over! The Chicago Bulls have won at the buzzer in Game 1 of the best-of-7, on a jump shot by Michael Jordan.
It's difficult to get in sync with all of the fucking Mormons out here.
Jordan comes up short. Stockton fires down to Malone...And the Jazz have taken a one-point lead!
It's 73-72, Chicago. One minute left in the game. Jordan, right side. Michael up top, 20-footer...no good! Rebound Stockton, ahead to Karl Malone, he's got it, he scores!!! Stockton to Malone!! Jazz take the lead! Incredible! The Jazz take the lead.
A courageous, classic performance by the flu-ridden Michael Jordan.
It is Michael Jordan time. Scottie Pippen, looking, looking for Michael Jordan. Checks the clock, 5 on the 24, here's Jordan. Did not have the shot, Kerr did...and hits!! Steve Kerr with 5 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter! The Jazz take a timeout.
Kerr, still with the dribble. Looking...dump to Pippen. Scottie, bumped by Shandon Anderson, hands it to Michael. Six seconds (on the shot clock)...five. Michael, in traffic, to Kerr. Fifteen-footer...YES!! He knocked it in! Kerr buried the jumper, five seconds left! The Bulls lead is two! Stevie Kerr knocked it in! He took the pass from Michael and stuffed the jumper! Wow!
Five seconds remaining in regulation. The inbounds...batted away by Pippen! Pippen rolls it to Kukoc...and the Chicago Bulls have won their fifth championship in the last seven years!
Russell, to inbound. Looking, looking, looking...skipped across, PIPPEN THE STEAL!! Scottie, saves it to Toni, he runs... (time expires) The Bulls win!
Marv Albert was the play-by-play announcer for his seventh straight NBA Finals for the NBA on NBC. It was his third straight NBA Finals working with color analysts Matt Guokas and Bill Walton. This would be the last NBA Finals that Albert would announce in the 1990s because of a sex scandal that would force NBC Sports to fire him later in 1997.
During these NBA Finals, NBC Sports’ Hannah Storm became the first woman to serve as pre-game host of an NBA Finals. She would continue in this role for the next three NBA Finals.
NBC Sports also used Ahmad Rashād (Bulls sideline) and Jim Gray (Jazz sideline) as the sideline reporters.
This would be the only NBA Finals on NBC during the 1990s that would not include Bob Costas in any capacity. He had served as the pre-game host from 1991 to 1996. The next year, during the 1998 NBA Finals, Costas served as the play-by-play announcer, a role in which he would continue until the 2000 NBA Finals.
For the first time during their NBA coverage, NBC did not play "Winning It All" by The Outfield, choosing instead to play the aforementioned "I Believe I Can Fly" over the credits.
Both teams would meet again in the Finals in 1998, the first time the same two teams met in the NBA Finals since 1989, when the Lakers and Pistons went up against each other. Only this time, the Jazz had home-court advantage even though both teams won 62 games, because they won the regular season series 2-0. However, the Bulls still won the series in 6 games, highlighted by Michael Jordan's last shot as a Bull in Game 6.