'The Last Dance' Chronicles: Utah's 'Last Chance'

'The Last Dance' Chronicles: Utah's 'Last Chance'

MANILA, Philippines – The documentary’s title is, “The Last Dance” as it was given by former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson to the 1997-98 season. As everyone knows, Chicago won its third straight title for its repeat three-peat. But it was also the last year of that particular team with Jackson, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, Jud Buechler and Scott Burrell.

What was lost to history and can only be gleaned backwards is… that certain NBA Finals… was Utah’s "Last Chance".

Before we get into that, here are some things that were left out of Episodes 9 and 10 of "The Last Dance":

Karl Malone’s big-time choke and Scottie Pippen’s big-time trash talk

During Game One of the 1997 NBA Finals, Karl Malone missed two free throws right before the end of the game, setting up Jordan’s game-winner. Right before the Jazz great took the shots, Pippen told him, “the Mailman doesn’t deliver on a Sunday.” And that game was indeed played on a Sunday. Massive.

Pippen learned from the best of them  Jordan.

Malone had Rodman’s number

During the two years the Jazz played the Bulls, Malone mostly had his way with Rodman. The reason for that was Malone knew Rodman even before the two of them landed in the NBA. And he knew Dennis deep inside so no matter what hair color "The Worm" had on and no matter what bullying or distracting tactics he tried, Karl wasn’t biting. 

The problem is, Malone didn’t see Jordan come from the weak side.

Utah's 'Last Chance'

I remember reading how after the finals, sportswriters should have voted for Jordan instead of Malone. And it was the same thing in 1993 after the Bulls dusted off Phoenix in six, that Jordan should have been the MVP and not Charles Barkley. Well, hindsight is 20/20.

That was such a huge loss for the Jazz. During the next year, without MJ and their Bulls tormentors, Utah only made it to the Western semifinals where they fell to the Portland Trail Blazers in six games. 

During the 1999-2000 season, a familiar face joined Portland in Pippen. This time, Utah lost in five games to the Trail Blazers in the semis. Pippen was wheeling and dealing and was top with Portland in assists. 

The NBA champions then were the Los Angeles Lakers, who had former Bulls Horace Grant, Ron Harper and Phil Jackson. Utah and LA split their season series — just like old times — but they only made it to the first round where they were scuttled by Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash of the Dallas Mavericks, 3-2. 

During the next two post-seasons, Utah went out in the first round, 3-1 and 4-1, to the Sacramento Kings. 

Malone fled to the Lakers next season hoping to win a ring with Jackson, while John Stockton retired. The Jazz dropped to last place in the Midwest Division with a 42-40 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1982-83, ending a streak of 20 consecutive seasons where they made the post-season. And the next season, they dropped even further with a record of 26-56. 

However, it didn’t take long for Utah to rebuild another contender. In two years’ time, they were back in the playoffs with their new tandem of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.