Documentary Chronicles Stockton And Malone’s Careers, Shortcomings
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – If you were riding high off of a surprisingly successful Utah Jazz All-Star break and want to feel bad about yourself, SB Nation released a 25-minute video detailing every playoff series from the time John Stockton and Karl Malone entered the league, to their last trip the NBA Finals culminating in the most famous shot of Michael Jordan’s career.
The video, part of SB Nation’s Untitled series, focuses on all-time great sports figures who never won a championship. Previous episodes have focused on Charles Barkley and Steve Nash, and even left the NBA to focus on legends like baseball’s Barry Bonds, and the NFL’s Randy Moss.
Though most Jazz fans will remember the back to back excruciating exits from the NBA Finals, what the video does best is chronicle the many missed opportunities the team had to go further in the playoffs before breaking through to meet Jordan’s Bulls.
Perhaps most difficult about the Jazz championship drought was the number of opportunities the team had to advance in the postseason before ultimately being undone by their own mistakes — including major blunders from both Stockton and Malone.
The first of many late-game mistakes came in game five of the 1988 second round against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers when Malone missed the front end of two free-throws with just over a minute to play that would have tied the game.
With seven seconds left in the game, and the Jazz trailing by one Mark Eaton threw a miserable crosscourt inbound pass towards Thurl Bailey that was easily stolen by the Lakers. Then, trailing by two with just seconds left in the game, Stockton failed to get a shot off against a Lakers double team and the Jazz blew an opportunity to head back to Utah with a potential closeout game in front of their home fans. The Jazz would lose the series in seven games.
The Jazz would get swept by the seventh-seeded Golden State Warriors in 1989, before another first-round at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in 1990. The Jazz would then alternate deep playoffs runs with shocking early exits over the next several seasons.
The team made it the Western Conference Semifinals in 1991 but were eliminated by the Portland Trailblazers in five games. In 1992, the Jazz would make it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time as a franchise but were once again eliminated by the Clyde Drexler led squad.
In 1993, the Jazz were stunned by the sixth-seeded Seattle Supersonics in the first round, losing in five games.
Then, Jordan stunned the NBA by retiring from basketball to pursue a career in baseball. With Jordan’s exit, it seemed like Western Conference teams would finally have a chance to beat win a Finals series, opening the door for a Jazz championship run.
Instead, the Jazz were eliminated again in the Western Conference Finals, this time at the hands of Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. Game four of that series featured a shocking game clock error that provided the Jazz with nearly an entirely untimed final offensive possession. Inbounding the ball with 13.5 seconds left in the game, the clock never started, but despite the home cooking, Tom Chambers would miss a fallaway jump shot, costing the Jazz game four, before finally losing the series in Houston in their next meeting.
History repeated itself in 1995, despite winning 61 games and having home-court advantage in the first round, the Jazz lost to the eventual champion Rockets in five games.
Against the Sonics in 1996, in a pivotal game four at home, Malone would again struggle from the free-throw line, sinking just 3-8 from the charity stripe, including a crucial miss that would have trimmed the Sonics lead to just one point in the final two minutes. Jeff Hornacek then turned the ball over on an entry pass to Malone in a late play and the Jazz would lose game four at home.
In game seven, with a chance to trim the Sonics lead to just one, Malone would miss two free-throws with eight seconds left in the game, and the Jazz would fall just short of a trip to the Finals.
After finally breaking through to the Finals in 1997, Malone missed two free-throws in game one in Chicago that set up a Jordan buzzer-beater to take a series lead. The Jazz lost the closeout game six on a Steve Kerr jump shot just one possession after Shandon Anderson missed a point-blank layup that would have given the Jazz a two-point lead late in the game. After Kerr’s shot, Bryon Russell would throw another aimless inbound pass that prevented the Jazz from having an opportunity to tie or take the lead, and the season was over.
In 1998, the Jazz had significantly more rest against the Bulls going into the Finals, but a game six turnover from Malone set up Jordan’s now-infamous jumper over Russell for the game, and series winner.
While the video ends after the Jazz back to back finals losses against the Bulls, it overlooks perhaps the Jazz best chance at winning a championship.
In 1999, Jordan had once again retired from the league and the Jazz brought back almost the entirely same roster. The Jazz should have been favorites to win their first-ever ring, but the NBA players and owners couldn’t come to an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the season was trimmed to just 50 games.
Even more difficult, the teams were forced to play all 50 games in just under three months, giving a bigger advantage to younger squads. The older Jazz roster would finish the season splitting their final 10 games 5-5, eventually losing the tie-breaker with the San Antonio Spurs for the league’s top record.
As a result, instead of playing the young Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round and the talented but not-quite-ready Los Angeles Lakers in the second round, the Jazz were forced to survive a tough first-round series against the plucky Sacramento Kings, before being eliminated by the Portland Trailblazers in the second round.
Unfortunately for Jazz fans, as a duo, Stockton and Malone were never able to get a ring. Despite 18 straight trips to the postseason, the Jazz seemed to find new, more painful ways to get eliminated just short of their goal.
However, with the Jazz once again surging, and the franchise in the capable hands of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Quin Snyder, the team is once again knocking on the door of a championship run.
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