The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat squared off in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were the heavy favorites over Alonzo Mourning and Co., and the Bulls took a commanding 3-0 lead to begin the series.
After Game 3, Mourning guaranteed the Heat would win Game 4. Not only did the center make good on his promise by leading Miami to an 87-80 win, but he also elbowed Pippen in the head and gave him a huge knot on his forehead.
That turned out to be a massive mistake by Mourning, who woke Jordan up.
Michael Jordan got angry when Alonzo Mourning elbowed Scottie Pippen
In the Bulls’ 1996-97 championship VHS, Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr talked about how Jordan took his energy to a different level after Mourning hurt Pippen. MJ wasn’t going to let his best teammate of all time get injured and not do anything about it.
“Alonzo Mourning was doing a lot of talking the entire series,” Kerr said. “And when he elbowed Scottie and Scottie got the bump on his head, I think Michael kind of took it personally.” Jackson added: “That set Michael off. So he came back into practice after that weekend on Tuesday. He said, ‘Guys, this one is a personal test. We come out there in Game 5, I want this game to be a grudge match.'”
Game 5 of the Bulls-Heat series was at the United Center in Chicago. The bump on Pippen’s head was gigantic and ugly. However, he only played six minutes after suffering a foot injury, leaving it up to Jordan to finish Miami off.
Michael Jordan scored 28 points in Game 5
Jordan didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in Game 5. He shot 11-of-31 from the field and had four turnovers as well. However, His Airness finished with 28 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals, and two blocks in 42 minutes of action to lead the Bulls to a 100-87 win.
Thanks to Dennis Rodman, Mourning was a shell of himself in Game 5. He put up 13 points and had seven turnovers in 37 minutes. Rodman got under Mourning’s skin, something Jordan appreciated.
“Dennis gets into Alonzo Mourning’s head now,” Jordan said. “Alonzo’s weak in the mind. He has to know how to be tough and overlook those types of things. Alonzo’s an intimidator, but sometimes the intimidator can be intimidated. The bully can be bullied.”
After the Bulls defeated the Heat, they faced the Utah Jazz in the 1997 Finals. Despite not being 100%, Pippen played in all six games of the Finals, and he and Jordan crushed Karl Malone’s MVP season.
Bulls won 1997 Finals
Malone won the 1996-97 MVP over Jordan, who wasn’t happy he lost to the Mailman. Superman used that anger to lead the Bulls to a six-game series win over the Jazz for Chicago’s fifth championship. Jordan averaged 32.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists en route to winning his fifth Finals MVP.
In Game 5, Jordan scored 38 points and played 44 minutes despite dealing with food poisoning. It’s one of the greatest performances in NBA history. The image of an exhausted Jordan falling into Pippen’s arms is an iconic sports image that Bulls fans will likely always cherish.
Jordan and Pippen finished their careers with six championships. Meanwhile, Mourning won one title in 2006 with the Heat, thanks to Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. Jordan, Pippen, and Mourning are each in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The threesome will likely always be linked because of what happened in 1997 since Mourning’s elbow on Pippen woke Jordan up and motivated him to demolish Miami.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference
RELATED: Michael Jordan Knew Scottie Pippen Would Get Destroyed for the Rest of His Life After Refusing to Go Into a Playoff Game: ‘That’s the Kind of Situation That Sticks With You’