What more could Michael Jordan do?
He already had led the Chicago Bulls to four championships, winning Finals MVP honors each time. He owned nine NBA scoring titles, four MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals and a host of additional honors and records, yet the 1997 NBA Finals would provide a platform for him to add to his amazing story.
Jordan had been dethroned as MVP by Utah's Karl Malone during the 1996-97 regular season, but the Finals matchup between the Bulls, a league-best 69-13 in the regular season, and Jazz, a franchise-best 64-18, gave MJ an opportunity to reclaim his position as the game's premier player. And he wasted no time in making his case, capping a 31-point effort by hitting a 20-foot jumper over Utah's Bryon Russell as the buzzer sounded to give the Bulls an 84-82 victory in Game 1. The fact that Malone had missed two free throws with the score tied at 82 and 9.2 seconds left on the clock underscored the Jordan/Malone sub-plot that would weave its way through this series.
Game 2 belonged to Jordan. While Malone struggled, shooting 6-for-20 from the field en route to 20 points, Jordan tallied 38 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and handed out nine assists as the Bulls posted a 97-85 victory to head to Salt Lake City with a 2-0 series lead.
Buoyed by the raucous crowd at the Delta Center, the Jazz bounced back to dominate Game 3, coasting to a 104-93 win behind 37 points by Malone and 17 by Greg Foster. In Game 4, the Jazz rallied to outscore Chicago 12-2 in the final 2:42 -- the big play being a 50-foot pass from John Stockton to Malone that set up two go-ahead free throws -- and pull out a 78-73 victory, evening the series at two wins apiece.
That set the stage for Game 5, and another chapter in the legend of Michael Jordan. Sick with stomach flu, Jordan had hardly slept the night before and there was doubt in some minds whether he would play -- but no doubt in his. Fighting off exhaustion and dehydration, Jordan played 44 minutes and scored 38 points, including a clinching three-pointer, as the Bulls erased an early 16-point deficit and won 90-88.
Jordan followed that effort with 39 points and 11 rebounds in Game 6, but it was a shot he didn't take that sealed the Bulls' victory. With the score tied at 86 and 26 seconds left to play, Chicago called a timeout to set up a play. During the huddle Jordan told teammate Steve Kerr to be ready in case the Jazz double-teamed Jordan on the ensuing play. That's just what happened, and Jordan managed to swing the ball around to a wide-open Kerr, who calmly nailed a 17-footer. The Bulls went on to win 90-86, claiming their fifth championship in seven years, with Jordan the NBA Finals MVP every time.