Amazing Game Winners: "The Shot By John Stockton" 20 Years Later
About that Famous Game Winning Shot by John Stockton
There are moments in sports that are memorable even 20 years later. One of these major events is the game winning jump shot by former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton against the Houston Rockets in the 1997 NBA Western Conference Finals. This is one of those amazing game winners. The event known as “The Shot” has become famous enough in the history of the NBA that it has been shown on TV channels such as ESPN Classic. This sports moment is very memorable for someone like me because I grew up watching this outstanding basketball player and I think John Stockton has to be in the conversation as one of the best point guards ever even though he never won an NBA Championship. So how did John Stockton and the Utah Jazz reach this point?
A Photo of John Stockton on the Basketball Court in the 1980's
The Utah Jazz was a franchise seeking a championship and public recognition
In the 1996-1997 NBA season, the Utah Jazz were determined to try and prove their critics wrong. This is a franchise that had lost to the Houston Rockets two of the last three years prior to this. They had lost to the Rockets in the 1994 playoffs and they had lost in 5 games in the first round in 1995. The Jazz won the first two games of the series in 1997 in Salt Lake City. Going into Houston with a raucous crowd, the Jazz had to once again deal with a Houston Rockets team that had star players such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Clyde Drexler. Early on in the game, the Jazz took an early 6-2 lead. The Rockets were eager to push the ball up the floor but looking back, the Jazz won this series in Game 6 partly because the Rockets were an older team that had lost a step.
The greatness of John Stockton
John Stockton proved that he was not only an excellent passer, but he was very good at driving to the basket, what is known as a “slasher” kind of player. Yes, the Utah Jazz did have star power forward Karl Malone who was a great player in his own way but Stockton’s motivation, hot streak in that crucial 4th quarter, and overall leadership is what ultimately set the stage for what is known as “The Shot.” The crowd in Houston was one of the loudest that I had ever heard in my 11 years of watching the NBA. I had started watching NBA games back in 1986 as a young kid and these old games are classics for a reason.
A brief summary of that 1997 Western Conference Final Game 6 Between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets
As the game proved, the Rockets would not go down without a fight. Clyde Drexler who scored 10 points in the first quarter made a big three-pointer early in the 2nd quarter which electrified the crowd. Eddie Johnson, the 38 year-old forward who told NBC’s Jim Gray after Game 4 that he was getting his confidence back made a three pointer in the 4th quarter which gave Houston a 90-77 lead. But slowly, the Jazz got back into the game because they picked up their defensive intensity and the Rockets according to commentator Steve "Snapper” Jones had a little bit of a letdown. John Stockton finished the game with 25 points, his last three coming at the buzzer to eliminate the Houston Rockets. Charles Barkley was seen with his head against the wall as I’m sure he was very disappointed to lose. It may have been a letdown by the Rockets that allowed the Utah Jazz to get back in the game after falling behind 87-75 in the 4th quarter due to Drexler’s hot shooting. However, with 1:55 left in that crucial 4th quarter, the Rockets had just seen Charles Barkley make two free throws to put his team up by a score of 98-91. Bill Walton remarked at the time that the game was far from over. His words would become very prophetic as a three pointer by Mario Elie missed the mark. Bryon Russell followed up with a three pointer of his own. The Rockets’ next possession saw Clyde Drexler lose the ball coming across the lane. John Stockton would score on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 98. After two free throws by Charles Barkley to give the Rockets a slim two point edge, 35 year-old Stockton cruised to the basket, taking advantage of the Rockets slower, aging front line.
A list of notable players from both teams in 1997
"The Shot" by John Stockton
The Jazz would inbound the ball at half court with 2.8 seconds left. Bryon Russell inbounded the ball, John Stockton caught it and there was no doubt as to what he was going to do with it. He was left wide open by the Houston Rockets who let a 12 point 4thquarter lead slip away. The Utah Jazz would win the game 103-100 sending them and Jerry Sloan to their first ever NBA Finals in franchise history. The Houston Rockets have not even reached anywhere near the final round since even with players such as James Harden on their team. But this Utah Jazz team that would defeat the Houston Rockets in their building that year, avenged their previous losses and showed me that they could be a good enough team to win.
When Bryon Russell threw the ball in-bounds, the catch for Stockton was far too easy. The Rockets had a huge defensive breakdown as Barkley was forced to come out and try to defend it but John was too good that day. Following that game winning shot, I will never forget how John Stockton was ecstatic with excitement as he leaped into the air and into Karl Malone’s arms eventually. In that game it is fair to say that Stockton took over the 4th quarter and finished off the game with one of the most memorable shots in NBA Playoff history.
Longer video of "The Shot" plus post-game interviews
Greatest point guard of all time in NBA history among these players
Who is the greatest point guard in NBA history?
A photo of John Stockton and Karl Malone
John Stockton is one of the Top 5 best point guards ever
John Stockton stands out to me as great enough to be on a list of Top 5 NBA point guards of all time. The list would look something like this:
- Magic Johnson
- John Stockton
- Steph Curry
- Isaiah Thomas Sr. (the one who played on the 2 Detroit Pistons championship teams in 1989 and 1990)
- And maybe DJ (Dennis Johnson)
This is not a final list of Top 5 point guards of all time but it is a list to provide some perspective on the greatness of the one and only John Stockton. He will forever be remembered by me as one of the elite point guards ever and the NBA is lucky to have had him.
Video footage of the game winning shot by John Stockton
Memorable quotes by commentator Greg Gumbel
“Drexler, lost it coming across the lane. Stockton, 3 on 2, keeps it tie game!”
“Stockton open 3 hit it! John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals!”
© 2017 Ara Vahanian