SALT LAKE CITY — There was a reason so many fans were excited on Wednesday when the Utah Jazz announced the team was bringing back their purple mountain jerseys: They were the attire for the greatest era in Jazz history.
The mountain logo was worn when the Jazz went to two NBA Finals series. It was worn when Karl Malone lifted two MVP trophies. It was worn when John Stockton hit two game-winning shots in the playoffs — including a pretty memorable one in Houston.
The best moments in team history occurred in those jerseys — but it was more than that. Those mountains were part of NBA history as a whole. The Jazz's mountain logo court served as the stage to some of the NBA’s defining moments — even if some of them were heartbreaking to Jazz fans.
Here are some of the most iconic moments and games — some joyous, others painful — that defined the era.
1997: Western Conference semifinals, Game 5 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
“I look back at it now with fond memories of it. Back then, it was misery,” said Kobe Bryant. “It helped shape me.”
At the time, it was simply a rookie being a rookie. With the season in the balance, Bryant air-balled four shots in the fourth quarter allowing the Jazz to win the series four games to one. One of the greatest scorers in the game’s history credits that night in Salt Lake City as one of the defining moments in his career.
After arriving back in Los Angeles following the season-ending loss, Bryant went to a local school and shot until morning came. He spent the rest of the offseason the same way. Five championships followed.
1997: Western Conference Finals, Game 1 vs Houston
"This is the good part of my job,” then-NBA commissioner Davis Stern said. “Being here before you extended family of 20,000 fans.”
The Jazz would go on to win Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, but the big moment came before the tip when Stern presented Malone the NBA Most Valuable Player trophy.
1997: Western Conference Finals, Game 6 at Houston
“John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals,” Greg Gumbel declared as Stockton, Malone and Jeff Hornacek embraced at center court.
Not much else needs to be said. This was the best moment in Jazz history, and it's one of a handful of shots in league history that ended a series in a walk-off.
1997: NBA Finals, Game 3 vs. Chicago
“One of the most exciting moments in Jazz basketball history,” said Craig Bolerjack, then a KSL TV broadcaster, as the Utah team took the court for their first-ever home Finals game.
That excitement never really ended as the Jazz built up a 24-point lead en route to an eventual 104-93 win — the first Finals victory in team history. Chicago players and coaches plugged their ears during introductions due to the loudness of the arena, causing Phil Jackson to bring earplugs the next game. Sure, it was for the balloon popping and the fireworks, specifically, but that helped the legend of the Jazz's famed home crowd grow.
1997: NBA Finals, Game 4 vs. Chicago
"I know you guys get tired of hearing all the Malone-Stockton stuff,'' Malone said, "but out of all the great passes John has thrown me, I'll remember this one for the rest of my life. It had to be the perfect pass. And I think, to some people, it looked simple. We take it for granted sometimes. We really do.''
That pass: A full-court heave that flew just past Michael Jordan and into the waiting arms of Karl Malone, who laid it up to give Utah the lead with under a minute remaining. The play left Stockton jumping in celebration, and it helped declare the Jazz as a legitimate threat to the Bulls. That threat made the Bulls' heroics that followed mean that much more.
1997: NBA Finals, Game 5 vs. Chicago
"We had opportunities," Stockton said. "We had a nice lead and we even had a nice little run there early in the fourth that we felt we could build on and didn't take advantage of it. This is a championship, and close doesn't count."
On their home court, the Jazz had a chance to pull to within one win of the Finals. Michael Jordan was ill — really ill. That opportunity for the Jazz, though, turned into one of the most iconic moments in NBA history.
Jordan had been diagnosed with a stomach virus or food poisoning and was visibly ill before, during and after the game. He needed help walking off the court during timeouts and was given fluids and cold towels at halftime. Despite all that, he led the Bulls to the improbable win. His 38 points helped erase a 16-point Jazz lead for a 90-88 victory and once again reinforced his legendary status.
1998: NBA Finals, Game 6 vs. Chicago
“Here comes Chicago,” Bob Costas said. “Seventeen seconds. 17 seconds, from Game 7, or from championship number six. Jordan, open — Chicago with the lead!”
For Jazz fans, there will always be the wrongly disallowed Howard Eisley 3-pointer, the wrongly allowed Ron Harper bucket and, of course, the push-off. But all of that led to the NBA's most famous shot happening in Salt Lake City.
1999: First round, Game 4 at Sacramento
“You should have stayed with him!” Reggie Theus said as Stockton’s game-winner was released.
With 0.7 seconds left, John Stockton hit a game-winning jumper to help the Jazz stave off elimination with a 90-89 win over the Sacramento Kings. The Jazz would then go on to win Game 5, beating the Kings three games to two. While Utah would lose in the next round, the playoff battle was later singled out by Chris Webber as helping Sacramento grown into the “Greatest Show on Court” era.
2001: First round, Game 5 vs. Dallas
“I remember when Malone missed that last shot. I was running around the full court like we won the championship, but that was a first-round series,” Dirk Nowitzki said.
The first-round series served as an introduction of sorts to two of the greatest players of the last two decades. It was Nowitzki’s and Steve Nash’s first trip to the playoffs and they overcame losing the first two games of the series, and then a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit in Game 5 to come back and win.
The series was also a coming-out party for animated Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. During the series, he blew a kiss to head coach Jerry Sloan, yelled at Jazz game management employees, and bought 400 lower-bowl tickets to the decisive Game 5 to give to Utah-based Mavs fans.
2003: First Round, Game 5 at Sacramento
"It was very nice," Stockton said. "It's kind of tough to sit there and enjoy when you know what the score (is) ... but it was very, very nice."
With 5:01 left and the Jazz down by 18, Sloan pulled Stockton out of the game — his final game. As Stockton ran to the bench, the crowd rose and cheered. And, for nearly a minute, those fans — Sacramento Kings fans, mind you — kept cheering, giving Stockton a farewell standing ovation. It was a moment that showed just how much the duo of Stockton and Malone had meant not to just the Jazz franchise, but to the NBA as a whole.