What You May Not Remember About the 1997 Conference Finals

Aug 2nd 2018

Though there have been many great moments in Utah Jazz history, few loom larger in fans’ collective memory than John Stockton’s 3-point shot at the buzzer on May 29, 1997. “The shot,” as it’s now referred to, toppled the Houston Rockets and sent the Jazz to their first NBA Finals.

1997 Conference Finals

(Pixabay / tookapic)

Stockton got the ball from Bryon Russell with less than three seconds left in the game. He put up a shot that soared 26 feet in the air, undeterred by Charles Barkley’s attempts to scuttle it. The ball slid through the hoop just as the final buzzer rang. Stockton and his teammates, including Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek, embraced in disbelief. Fans went wild as they processed the spur-of-the-moment victory.

Over two decades after Stockton sunk the immortal shot, some details have grown a bit murky in our minds. To set the record straight, here are some facts surrounding the Jazz-Rockets playoff games and “the shot” that capped them off.

  • Game 6, not game 7. Though the drama of “the shot” was unmistakable, the situation wasn’t quite as dire as people may claim. Though the game is sometimes remembered as the seventh in the series, it was the sixth. That means that a loss would have been detrimental but not devastating. The Jazz still had one more chance to win the series.
  • The lead-up to “the shot.” The memory of the final basket sticks in our minds, but it was preceded by a series of plays that made the victory possible. The Jazz were 10 points behind with just three minutes left in the game. They scored 17 points in that last three minutes, paving the way for Stockton’s final shot to tip the scales.
  • Hall of Fame line-ups. Though most people had a sense that they were dealing with serious talent in the Jazz-Rockets match-up, time would underscore that fact as several of the star players were inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. This includes Stockton and Karl Malone from the Jazz as well as Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler from the Rockets.
  • Rough play. The Jazz-Rockets 1997 series was exciting, but not genteel. According to the Rockets, some of Stockton’s blocking moves were illegal. Barkley retaliated, admitting later that he aimed to hurt Stockton by trying to “separate a shoulder or break a rib.”

And if you need a little refresher on the legendary shot itself, watch it here and relive one of the most thrilling moments in Jazz history.