Season by Season
1996 to 1997
NBA Turns 50; Bulls Drive
Chicago players, coaches and fans celebrate after the Bulls captured their fifth title.
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls did it again in 1996-97, beating the Utah
Jazz for their fifth title of the 1990s and ending what had been a harmonious
season for the Jazz on a most discordant note. Karl Malone led Utah
to a franchise-record 64 victories, but the Mailman was unable to deliver
a championship in the Jazz's first trip to the NBA Finals.
The Bulls, led by scoring champion Jordan (29.6 ppg), versatile Scottie
Pippen (20.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg and team-highs of 5.7 apg and 1.88 rpg) and
rebounding king Dennis Rodman (16.1 rpg), glided through the regular
season to a 69-13 record, matching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for
the second-best record in NBA history. Only three losses in their final
four games, by which time the Bulls already were focused on the upcoming
playoffs, kept Chicago from unprecedented back-to-back 70-win seasons.
The Bulls easily outdistanced the field in the Eastern Conference, winning
the Central Division by 13 games over the improved Atlanta Hawks, who
added Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo (3.30 bpg, second
in the NBA behind Shawn Bradley's 3.40) to ballhawking Mookie Blaylock
(a league-leading 2.72 spg) and came up with very stingy defense. Surprising
Charlotte, in its first year under Coach Dave Cowens, and resurgent
Detroit finished with 54 wins apiece, two games behind Atlanta.
• The NBA' 50 Greatest Players appeared at the All-Star Game.
Malone and the Jazz help the spotlight in the Western Conference, although
Utah point guard John Stockton's string of nine consecutive assists titles
came to an end. Stockton was beaten out by Mark Jackson, who split the
season between Denver and Indiana, 11.4 to 10.5 apg. The Jazz, however,
did not miss a beat as they blended youngsters like center Greg Ostertag,
forwards Bryon Russell and Shandon Anderson and guard Howard Eisley into
the playing rotation along with veterans like Malone, Stockton, Jeff Hornacek
and Antoine Carr, and came up with their best season ever. Malone captured
MVP honors by ranking in the top 10 in scoring (27.4 ppg, second), rebounding
(9.9 rpg, tied for 10th) and field goal percentage (.550, sixth) as the
Jazz posted a 64-18 record and outdistanced Houston and its veteran trio
of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley by seven games in
the Midwest Division.
The Seattle SuperSonics, led by Gary Payton (21.8 ppg, 7.1 apg) and
Shawn Kemp (18.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg), edged the Los Angeles Lakers, rebuilt
around free agent addition Shaquille O'Neal (26.2 ppg and 12.5 rpg but
limited to 51 games due to injuries), by one game in the Pacific Division.
In the playoffs, however, Houston unseated defending Western Conference
champion Seattle in a seven-game thriller in the Conference Semifinals
before losing to Utah in six games in the Conference Finals.
THE NBA AT 50
A highlight of the season came during the All-Star Weekend at Gund
Arena in Cleveland, where the NBA's 50th Anniversary celebration culminated
in a moving on-court appearance by virtually all of the players honored
as the NBA's 50 greatest of all time.
NBA History Season by Season
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