Jeff Hornacek had the unfortunate task of attempting to try to guard Michael Jordan. For two straight years, Hornacek’s Utah Jazz met Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, and Jordan came out on top. Trying to guard the NBA’s best player is an extremely daunting task. Just ask Hornacek himself.
Jeff Hornacek’s NBA career
Jeff Hornacek was the perfect complement to John Stockton and Karl Malone. Hornacek was a steal for the Phoenix Suns in the 1986 NBA draft. He was selected late in the second round and had much more of an impact than the Suns’ first-round pick William Bedford, who was taken sixth overall.
Hornacek, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, played his college ball at Iowa State and went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA. His first six seasons were spent in Phoenix where he averaged 13.7 points and 5.4 assists per game. He made his lone NBA All-Star appearance of his career during his last season with the Suns when he averaged 20.1 points, 5.1 assists, and five rebounds per game.
In 1992, Hornacek was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in a package for Charles Barkley. Less than two years later, he was sent to Utah where he spent the final seven years of his career. With the Jazz, Hornacek averaged 14.4 points and four assists per game.
Hornacek thrived in Utah
Although Jeff Hornacek’s two years with the Philadelphia 76ers were his best statistically, his best fit was with the Utah Jazz. In Utah, Hornacek would be the team’s third option offensively despite being arguably their best shooter.
Playing with John Stockton and Karl Malone allowed Hornacek to focus more on what he did best – shooting and playing defense. He didn’t have to worry about being the main man on offense. Despite being Utah’s third option offensively, Hornacek still put up better than 14 points per game. It was a dropoff from the 18.1 points per contest he averaged during his 132 games in Philadelphia.
With the Jazz, Hornacek, Stockton, and Malone helped Utah become a perennial winner. During the 1997 and 1998 seasons, the trio helped guide the Jazz into the NBA Finals. Both times they faced Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Jazz came up short in both seasons, but Hornacek played a key role in both seasons to help them win the Western Conference.
Hornacek had the tough task of guarding Michael Jordan
Stockton’s core of John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Jeff Hornacek were getting up there in age when the Utah Jazz met the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons. Hornacek was assigned to guard Michael Jordan. Hornacek wasn’t nearly as athletic as Jordan, so he had to try to use his experience in trying to contain him.
“You know, the biggest thing was I was just trying to make him shoot jump shots,” Hornacek said in an article in The Desert News. “If he’s going to beat you by making 15 jump shots, then he beat you. You don’t want to let him go to the free-throw line, which was almost impossible because I think he averaged about 10 free throws a game, you know, and maybe catch him out and make that he’s off a little bit from the outside. But that rarely happened and the one big key was don’t make him mad.”
He said defending Jordan was not only difficult because of Jordan’s athleticism, but because he was so determined. “You know, with Michael, it’s a competitiveness, his ruthlessness,” Hornacek said. “I would probably guess that there’s never been a game, pickup game, he’s lost because it didn’t matter if it was practice or a game. He was playing it full out because he hated to lose. And I think those traits are what made him the superstar he was.”