The Jazz-Rockets rivalry was going on throughout the 1990’s in the NBA. Houston, led by Hakeem Olajuwon (later joined by Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley), while Utah was relying on the unstoppable duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
The teams faced each other four times in the NBA Playoffs during the decade (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998). In all four instances, the winning team was the eventual Western Conference champion and played in the NBA Finals.
The first time teams met in 1985, when in 5 games the Jazz beat the Rockets , led by the “Twin Towers” Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, relying on Stockton, Adrian Dantley, and shot-blocking giant Mark Eaton (who won the shot-blocking title and set all-time league records for total blocks (456) and blocks per game (5.6)).
Next time, the teams would meet in 1994 and 1995, two years when Hakeem Olajuwon was virtually unstoppable, as the Jazz lost 4-1 and 3-2 respectively in those two years.
In 1997 the teams met again. The Jazz were still being led by Stockton and Malone, while the Rockets added Charles Barkley to the squad.
The teams battled for six games, eventually the Jazz defeating the Rockets at their home court, with John Stockton making a crucial 3-point shot at the end of the regulation. This was the first time the Jazz ever advanced to the NBA Finals.
Such memories last a long time, if not forever. Here’s how the former Jazz players remember them, in their own words:
John Stockton: I am just glad it went in. It’s very exciting. We knew we weren’t out of the game, we knew guys wouldn’t give up. Nobody gave up, and all we had to do is get back into the game, they might have tightened it up a little bit, but I am just happy we got that done. Nobody thought we can beat Houston.
Karl Malone: It’s unbelievable. What we’ve been through as a team… Everybody stuck together, believed in each other, it’s just awesome. Totally awesome. When the ball left John’s hand and it looked good, so I didn’t know how to react. But I am so proud of the guy, I really am. Everybody just hung together. And we said we’ve got to win it here, it would be so much sweeter to win it here, because they’ve knocked us out a couple of times.
The Jazz would go on to the NBA Finals, eventually losing to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in six games.
The same pattern was destined to repeat, as in 1998 the Jazz beat the Rockets again in the playoffs (3-2), went right into the finals, dismantling San Antonio (4-1) and the LA Lakers (4-0) along the way. And just like in 1997, again the Chicago Bulls led by Jordan defeated the Jazz 4-2.
This post is part of EXNBA’s “Courtside Stories” series. Check out our other series below:
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