Thursday, June 12, 2014

Musings and Observations from the Original Cramp-Gate

The following is from P1 Jordan Newsom who can be found on Twitter here.  The rest is self explanatory.  Enjoy.  

Over the last week, I have become obsessed fascinated with the lesser-known Game 4 of the 1997 NBA Finals. The precursor to the famous (erroneously named) “Flu Game”, where Michael Jordan hung 38 on the Utah Jazz while battling a severe bought of food poisoning. At the time, it was believed to be the flu, but it became known later on that bad pizza was the culprit.

Why have I become fascinated with this game? Because of LeBron James, of course. The NBA world revolves around LeBron, so when a faulty air conditioner in San Antonio forced his body to shut down in the form of a full body cramp, the haters took to Twitter to call him out, claiming that the G.O.A.T. (MJ, not LeBron) would never tap out because of cramps. As the equal and opposite reaction law played out, the LeBron apologists also jumped onto Twitter to try to prove that yes, MJ was human too.

Fast forward to Bob Sturm’s Twitter feed that included a Grantland writer, an author of a book about Michael Jordan, and Keith Olbermann, all of whom contested that MJ did get cramps in Game 4 of the ’97 Finals and even asked out of the game during crunch time.

Bob has posted the full video of Game 4, here, in order to prove that this was not the case. I have since watched the game twice in full and become fascinated with many aspects of the game, the series, and the players involved. Given that I was 15 at the time of this game and my basketball consciousness didn’t really start until the Dirk era began, I didn’t really know anything about this game or series other than what happened in Game 5, and who won the series. Below are one hundred observations about that Game 4, backed by 17 years of hindsight. Feel free to watch along while you read to enhance the weirdness of the experience.

1.     Marv Albert is a tiny, tiny man, who has yet to be introduced to a tailor.
2.     Prior to player introductions, the Utah Jazz bear mascot comes scaling down a rope from the rafters with a set of sparklers shooting from the top of his head. Apparently this was an attempt to get into the head of the Bulls players as the menacing bear rained fire down onto the heads of players and coaches. Mark that down as one many things you could do back in the 90’s that you would never be able to get away with now.
3.      Unfortunately, the bear made it out unharmed.

1st Quarter:
4.     John Stockton: 6’1, 170 lbs. Jeff Hornacek 6’3, 190 lbs. Not a misprint. AND they were a very good defensive team!
5.     Karl Malone is an uncontrollable beast. Yes, I know he was the MVP that year and one of the greatest scorers of all time, but you forget what it looked like to watch him do it. He’s basically a slightly smaller LeBron. He can shoot from anywhere, post up, pass, rebound, and defend almost any position.
6.     The Utah Jazz pick-and-roll offense looks an awful lot like what San Antonio has been running the last couple of years. It’s beautiful to watch when run by super-efficient teammates like Stockton and Malone or Parker and Duncan. Of course, it helps to be stacked with perimeter shooters as well.
7.     I know Jordan has checked into the game, but only because I double checked the box score. So far, M.I.A. with 4:30 left in the first quarter.
8.     And…. As soon as I type that, he has a beautiful turnaround J over Bryon Russell.
9.     Still, the entire Bulls offense looks disinterested. Scottie Pippen has yet to take a shot.
10.  The same Scottie that drained 7 three pointers in Game 3.
11.  Greg Ostertag grabs an offensive rebound out of the hands of Malone, turns back toward him and looks off both Malone and a wide open Hornacek on the three point line and decided to go up with it with both Rodman and Jordan on him. How do you think that turned out?
12.  That’s the kind of move where Greg Popovich will sit you for the rest of the game.
13.  I’m talking to you, Tiago Splitter.
14.  I’d love to tell you what the score is, but they only post it during timeouts for a total of two seconds.
15.  Can’t wait to go see the new Travolta-Cage movie, Face Off.
16.  Michael Jordan’s confidant, Ahmad Rashad, says that MJ was trying to pace himself in Game 3 so that he wouldn’t be worn out in the fourth, but that he’s clearly going all out in this game. I think Ahmad and I have different definitions of what ‘going all out’ looks like.
17.  Ahmad does tell us that Dennis Rodman has gone to the locker room with about two minutes left in the first quarter with an upset stomach….more on that later.
18.  Bison Dele sighting. Repeat, Bison Dele sighting.
19.  Speaking of Dele, the Bulls have a strange roster. Their starting SF Pippen (6’8) was taller than their starting PF Rodman (6’7), and the other SF Kukoc (6’10) was taller than the backup C Dele (6’9). Still, that overall length and versatility has proven to be a huge asset over the smaller Jazz lineups.
20.  Karl Malone’s passing is killing Chicago, however at the end of one, the score is only Chicago 16, Utah 21.
2nd Quarter:
21.  I’ve got to get me a Velo from Philips Magnavox. It’s like the power of a computer, in the palm of your hand. Or like the first generation of the Nintendo DS, I’m not sure.
22.  Hornacek and Malone have all but five of the team’s 21 points so far.
23.  Bill Walton was clearly at the top of his game in this era. Very critical, but still keeps a very analytical perspective and gives real insight into what the player he’s laying into should be doing differently.
24.  The Jazz were basically running the NBA version of the Chip Kelly offense. Every possession is an opportunity to pass, and every pass has a minimum of three options for where to go with the ball. 
25.  Scottie just hit his first field goal with 8:24 left in the 2nd Q.
26.  So. Many. White. Guys.
27.  This looks like a hell of a rec league pickup game with all the white guys with knee braces, overly hairy legs and business haircuts.
28.  Then there’s the most country guy of them all, Karl Malone.
29.  Warning: this next comment will be about how things were better back in the day:
30.  Things were better back in the day. The refs let the teams play. You’re not seeing ticky-tack calls. You’re not seeing super star calls. They’re just calling what’s there and if a player doesn’t like it, the refs don’t care. They don’t put up with any talking. Just go back and play.
31.  Conversely, it is odd to not see anyone throwing their palms up like Tim Duncan, or throwing their head back to draw a call when they were never touched like Dwayne Wade.
32.  There’s a Molson beer commercial with Rick Moranis and he says to his buddy that you can’t drink the beer on TV because it’s illegal. Is that for real?
33.  Jim Gray reports that Jazz had to call a timeout because Greg Ostertag came into the game and didn’t know who he was supposed to guard. Turns out it was Tony Kukoc, who just drained two wide open three pointers. Oops.
34.  I don’t know how people could watch games without knowing what the score is and how much time is on the clock. I know that it’s within 1:30 left in the game and that Chicago is winning, by a few points, but that’s really all I know at this point.
35.  They finally post the clock for the remaining :45, but still no score listed. Are they worried about it covering part of the action? Or just didn’t have the knowledge that this was something the consumers wanted?
36.  I’ll be damned if Bryon Russell didn’t almost rim in a shot at the buzzer from ¾ down the court. That could have been huge for Utah’s momentum.
37.  At the half, MJ is 5/11 from the field with 10 points, 1 rebound and 3 assists.
38.  Malone cooled off and started deferring too much even when teammates weren’t hitting their shots. Currently sitting at 3/8 shooting, 9 points, 3 boards, 3 assists.

3rd Quarter:
39.  I wonder how much money it would take to convince LeBron to get the Karl Malone toilet bowl haircut and grow a goatee. He would seriously look like Malone’s clone at that point.
40.  And then he could grow the fro out and look like a Hulk-sized Ron Washington.
41.  Luke Longley is just a tick above being as useless as Shawn Bradley. He puts in more effort, but not much more.
42.  Give me Luke Walton over Luke Longley.
43.  Just kidding.
44.  Rodman’s reputation precedes him as Malone knocks him down, scores, then jumps over Rodman and grazes his head with his foot, yet it’s Rodman that gets the technical because he put his hand out and tried to keep Malone from country-stomping his rainbow colored head into the court.
45.  Doesn’t help that Rodman has zero points and only three rebounds midway thru the third.
46.  Utah takes a four point lead, and it’s almost too hard to listen to the audio because the roar of the crowd is so loud.
47.  Ostertag throws Scottie Pippen to the floor, Scottie chest bumps him, and somehow it’s a double technical on both.
48.  Per Jim Gray, Jerry Sloan just told him during the break that it wasn’t even a hard foul, according to his standards.
49.  Dick Bavetta goes Dick Bavetta…. On a fan. He just kicked a fan out for an oversized Dennis Rodman sign that he had.
50.  Magic number of the third quarter is 6: Utah has 6 turnovers and 6 points off 9 Chicago TOs. Utah’s bench has 6 points. Chicago has 6 free throw attempts.
51.  Can’t wait til after the game so I can watch Men Behaving Badly and Wings.
52.  Steve Kerr can play some pretty damn good one-on-one defense.
53.  End of the third quarter: MJ still has 10 points. Malone now has 15.
4th Quarter:
54.  Injury update: Jeff Hornacek comes back from the locker room with a busted lip. No word of any Gatorade/Gatorlode mix up, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
55.  Unrelated: MJ is having a terrible game. Now 5 of 16 from the field. Been stripped multiple times with his back turned.
56.  I have heard of Robert Parrish, but couldn’t tell you anything about him. I feel an odd bit of shame for that, but again, I don’t know why because I don’t know who he is.
57.  John Stockton is putting on a show so far in the fourth with some amazing passes and very good defense.
58.  Seven plus minutes left in the game: Money Time for Jordan.
59.  Utah all the sudden just went really flat. Stockton throws the ball under the basket with no Jazz player within literally 10 feet, then on next possession puts up a fade away at the end of the shot clock and gets it blocked by MJ. Bulls up by 2.
60.  I’m now convinced that LeBron is a Karl Malone clone. If LeBron were born in 1963 instead of 1984, he would have been told that he’s a power forward. He’s faster than Malone, but other than that, what can he do different or better for that matter?
61.  I’m not sure that the 2014 Heat would be able to win one game against the Jazz. Maybe one against Chicago, but it would just be a nightmare matchup against Utah. Everything Utah does well, Miami is bad at.
62.  Plus the depth of either Utah or Chicago would suffocate Miami. These teams go a legit 10 deep, and Miami goes 3.5 deep at best.
63.  San Antonio would be an interesting matchup against these two teams. They have the depth. They have strengths in positions that they would need to be strong at to contend. Spurs vs Jazz could be very similar to the Mavs/Suns battles in the mid 00’s.
64.  Why does Bryon Russell keep getting the ball? And why does he keep shooting? Jazz fans currently booing him as he heads to the bench.
65.  Stockton wants this bad. Just nailed a three from at least 4 feet off the three point line.
66.  With 1:45 remaining and Chicago up by four, Stockton strips Jordan and goes the distance. Jordan grabs the ball off the glass, but Stockton draws the foul instead. Competition at its greatest.
67.  Stockton an amazing 92.9% free throw shooter in the 4th quarter of the ’97 playoffs, however he just missed a big one there.
68.  Jordan decides an 18 footer while being double teamed is a good idea, then Stockton pulls the rebound down and launches a pin point full court pass to Malone for a layup over Jordan. Jazz up by 1.
69.  You gotta have some big balls to be willing to throw a full court pass with less than a minute in the game that you are losing. Jordan never thought that pass was coming his way in a million years.
70.  Jordan in the 4th: 6/11 for 12 points. No assists.
71.  Stockton in the 4th: 1/3 for 6 points. 5 assists.
72.  Chicago has blown all of their timeouts. Utah up by one with 44 sec remaining.
73.  Jordan defers to Kerr after being hounded by Russell. Kerr misses a three and Utah gets the rebound.
74.  It’s pretty amazing how LeBron gets laid into for not being like Mike enough, yet Michael is doing the exact same stuff that LeBron gets killed for.
75.  If Kerr hits that shot, MJ showed amazing trust in his teammate. Misses it, and he was being too passive and should want the ball in his hands in these moments.
76.  Somehow Chicago lets nearly ten seconds run off the clock before fouling, but who’s going to question Phil Jackson, right?
77.  So Utah’s owner, Larry Miller, just showed up to Game 4 of the Finals with :20 left because he doesn’t believe in working on the Sabbath. Got it. So, why show up at all? Would he have shown up if his team wasn’t about to win? Besides, it’s not exactly working when you are sitting in a leather recliner watching your team in person rather than watching at home.
78.  Now Larry Miller is in the building, but watching the game on a monitor in the hallway instead of walking an extra thirty yards to watch from courtside.
79.  Malone with two clutch free throws to put the Jazz up by two.
80.  MJ’s three to tie rims out. Utah runs down and gets a wide open layup. That’s game.
81.  Crack reporter, Ahmad Rashad, asks Stockton if this win gives the team confidence heading into Game 5.
82.  Stockton’s response: “Um, maybe. It’s better than losing?”
83.  Felicia Rashad still holds up, by the way.
84.  Larry Miller looks like a kid trying to waive down his favorite athletes for an autograph. They have no idea who he is.
85.  After watching this game, it’s clear that Roland Lazenby (author of the 2014 book, Michael Jordan: The Life) never watched this game. Otherwise, he never would have quoted Bulls trainer Chip Schaeffer as stating that the team was accidentally given Gatorlode, a post-game carb loading drink, instead of Gatorade.
86.  Do some of the research, like I have, and you will find quotes from others (like MJ’s friend and body guard) stating that the Gatorlode mistake did happen, but it happened in Game 5. Compounding the pain that Jordan was going thru from already having the flu… or food poisoning…. Or whatever.
87.  Yes, Rodman reportedly left in the first quarter with an upset stomach. Something he had done three other times that postseason as his way of showing his displeasure with being told to stop shooting and just go rebound and play defense.
88.  In fact, I found this article from the day before Game 5 calling for Chicago to outright cut Rodman during the Finals!
89.   Let’s say someone did give Michael the Gatorlode in Game 4, which supposedly is like eating a baked potato. That’s not going to give you full body cramps, like LeBron had. Might it give you gas? Okay. That’s about it.
90.  Let me know when you find a quote from another player after Game 4 complaining about stomach pains or cramps or Gatorlode.
91.  There’s no chance LeBron catches Karl Malone for career points scored. Durant might have a chance though.

92.  92 Thru 100. Bottom line: Game 4 of the ’97 Finals was a great game in one of the great series in NBA history. Was it an example of when MJ got cramps and tapped out of a game? Absolutely not.

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