Was 1997 The Greatest Year In Utah Sports History?

Jun 21, 2023, 2:17 PM

1997 Utah Jazz Chicago Bulls NBA Finals Michael Jordan Karl Malone...

Michael Jordan and Karl Malone greet each other before Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals in Chicago. Malone was named the league's MVP ahead of Jordan for the season. (Beth A. Keiser | AP Photo)

(Beth A. Keiser | AP Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY – From the NBA Finals to college football bowl games and more, 1997 was debatably the greatest year in Utah sports history.

Join us as we go back through time with recaps of some of the most memorable years in Utah sports.


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BYU Football Opens Year With Cotton Bowl Win

The 1996 BYU Cougars football team was a force to be reckoned with.

RELATED: BYU’s Historic Cotton Bowl Win Remembered 25 Years Later

They went 14-1 in the regular season and went on to win the Western Athletic Conference Championship Game on December 7, 1996. They beat Wyoming by three points in overtime.

However, some of the excitement spilled over into 1997.

On January 1, the No. 5 Cougars played Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl in front of over 70,000 fans.

BYU trailed 15-5 after three quarters. Going into the fourth, they completely flipped the momentum in Dallas. The crowd roared as the Cougars scored 14 unanswered points and then got a goal line interception to seal the game.

A perfect ending to a near-perfect season.

Runnin’ Utes Cap Off Impressive Season With Elite Eight Run

The 1998 Runnin’ Utes men’s basketball team is what most think of when you go back to the late 1990s.

RELATED: This Day In Utah Sports History – Utah Utes Advance To National Championship Game

The 1997 team was still extremely talented.

Headlined by Andre Miller, Keith Van Horn, and WAC Coach of the Year Rick Majerus, the Runnin’ Utes went 29-4 and were WAC tournament champions. But, their season didn’t end there.

They were the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They won by 15 or more points in the first three rounds before losing a heartbreaker to No. 5 Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Kentucky lost in the national championship to Arizona.

Keith Van Horn went on to be the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft.

Utah Jazz Make History with First Finals Appearance in 1997

The Utah Jazz broke their drought and made it to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

The most iconic moment in Jazz history, John Stockton’s shot to send Utah to the finals, also happened in 1997.

RELATED: 26 Years Ago – John Stockton Sends Utah Jazz To NBA Finals

Utah went 64-18, the most wins in franchise history, in the regular season. They went on two separate 15-game win streaks and also won 19 of their last 20 games.

This was also the first season with the purple and turquoise color scheme. The players and fans must have liked the change, as Utah only lost 3 games in the Delta Center the whole season.

Although not in favor of the Jazz, one of the most legendary games in NBA history took place in Salt Lake City in 1997. Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” in pivotal game five of the NBA Finals.

Utah ultimately ended up losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. But, the journey to the biggest stage will live in Jazz fans’ hearts forever.

Starzz Welcomed To Utah For Inaugural Season

Although the Utah Starzz only stayed in town for six seasons, having one of the original eight WNBA teams should be a positive memory for Utah sports fans.

Utah did not perform very well in the WNBA’s first season. They went 7-21 and sat in the Western Conference’s last seed.

Wendy Palmer was the leading scorer for Utah with 15.8 points a night. Palmer also scored the fourth most points in the WNBA in 1997.

The tallest player in WNBA history, 7-foot-2 Margo Dydek, was selected by the Starzz in 1998. Dydek went on to become the all-time blocks leader in the WNBA.

The Starzz had their best season in 2002. They went 20-12 and made it all the way to the conference finals before losing to Los Angeles.

Just after the 2002 season, Utah would relocate and become the San Antonio Silver Stars. The Stars played for over a decade in San Antonio before relocating again in 2017.

The Stars moved to Nevada and became the Las Vegas Aces.

RELATED: Las Vegas Aces Celebrate Title And Are Dominating WNBA Once Again

Utah Wins Rivalry Game Over BYU In Last Game Of The Year

Neither Utah nor BYU turned many heads in the 1997 season.

Both teams went 6-5 and didn’t get any bids for a bowl game.

Luckily, the last game of the year brought as much intensity as any postseason game would have.

Over 65,000 fans filled up Cougar Stadium to watch the Cougars and Utes face off in the famed college football rivalry.

RELATED: This Day In Utah Sports History – Utah, BYU Basketball’s Last Conference Tournament Meeting

BYU led, 14-10, going into the half. Brian McKenzie had run in two touchdowns for the Cougars.

After no points were scored in the third, it was anybody’s game with just 15 minutes left. Both teams aiming to end their season on a high note, Utah took over in the final quarter.

Quarterback Darnell Arceneaux ran in a touchdown from seven yards out to give Utah a 3-point lead. The Utes got a stop and made a field goal to seal the road win and take home bragging rights.

Other Notable Events

Karl Malone wins his first NBA MVP trophy. He would win his second two years later in 1999.

RELATED: This Day In Utah Sports History – Karl Malone Sets Playoff Record

The Utah Utes Ski Team wins its tenth national championship.

Utah State Aggies men’s basketball goes 25-8, wins the Big West tournament, and gets a spot in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as a No. 13 seed.

The Utah Football team plays its last game in Rice Stadium before it’s torn down and rebuilt as Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah Jazz News

Utah Jazz Schedule

The 2023-24 NBA season is set to start in October of 2023. Before then, the NBA Draft, Salt Lake City Summer League, and NBA Summer League will occupy the offseason. Utah’s first game of the 2022 season was on October 19 against the Denver Nuggets.

RELATED: Karl Malone’s ‘Dream Team’ Collection Sells For Over $5M At Auction

Utah Jazz Roster

The full roster can be found on the NBA website. KSL Sports is home to all things Utah Jazz, including trade rumors, roster updates, and other news.

Utah Jazz Tickets

Do you want to watch the Utah Jazz play in the Delta Center? You can purchase tickets through Ticketmaster, the official ticketing partner of the NBA.

RELATED: Delta Center Returns To Downtown Salt Lake City, Signage Installed 

Utah Jazz Standings

The Utah Jazz finished as the 12th seed in the Western Conference in 2022 with a record of 37-45. The NBA keeps track of yearly standings on its website.

Chandler Holt is a Digital Sports Producer for KSLSports.com, specializing in all things basketball and football. Follow Chandler on Twitter at @ChandlerHoltKSL.

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Was 1997 The Greatest Year In Utah Sports History?