Michael Jordan Took Offense at THIS Player for Winning the 1996–97 MVP Award: ‘That Fueled a Fire in Me’

After losing the 1996-97 MVP Award to this Utah Jazz legend, Michael Jordan found motivation in defeat. His response? A burning determination to win his Fifth NBA Title.

Updated on Apr 15, 2024  |  11:07 PM IST |  51.8K
How Did 1997 MVP Snub Fueled Michael Jordan and the Bulls to Win Their Fifth NBA Title
Michael Jordan (PC: Getty Images)

Many consider the 1996-97 NBA MVP Race one of the most competitive MVP campaigns in NBA history. Leading up to May 1997, a tug-of-war between then-four-time champion Michael Jordan and Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone for the MVP honors ruled the basketball media for weeks. 

As both Jordan and Malone put up insane numbers and showed fierce competitive spirit, fans, and experts were split on who deserved to take home the MVP trophy. With four MVPs and four finals MVPs to his name, Jordan was a well-established option, while the ‘Mailman’ was still looking to win his first. 

With both men averaging nearly thirty points and five assists per game, voting for the right candidate was getting tougher by the week. When the winner was eventually announced, the story soon became controversial, thus serving as a precursor for the Bulls vs Jazz rivalry.          

Karl Malone Wins the MVP Award

When NBA Commissioner David Stern announced Karl Malone as the 1996-97 MVP, the basketball community got divided based on their pick for the award. Despite averaging 2.2 ppg less than Jordan, Malone was ahead in rebounds, field goal percentage, and assists. 

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The Mailman even joked about edging out Jordan, saying, “I thank Michael for letting me borrow it for one year.” Malone received 986 points and 63 first-place votes, just 29 points more than Jordan, who had received 957 points and 52 first-place votes from a panel of respected Sports Writers and Broadcasters. 

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The twenty-nine-point differential still stands as the second closest MVP voting in league history behind Magic Johnson’s (636) 22-point win over Charles Barkley (614) during the 1989-90 season. Interestingly enough, that season, Jordan finished third with 564 votes.  

Winning his first MVP trophy 12 seasons into his career was a well-deserved achievement for Malone, who carried the Jazz into the 1997 Playoffs with 64 wins. Though many viewed Malone’s victory as a long time coming, many others, including the former MVP himself, regarded the decision as questionable.   

Jordan’s Candid Reaction

Recalling the Snub during episode nine of ESPN’s The Last Dance, Jordan stated, “I’m not saying that he wasn’t deserving of it; all I’m saying is that fueled the fire in me.” He continued, “I said, Okay. You think he’s the MVP. Okay, fine. no problem”.  


Being the 1995-96 MVP, Jordan and the Bulls were THE team to beat. Having finished the regular season with a 69-13 record, the Bulls were the best team in the best conference and had a confident leader in Jordan. Jordan led the league in Points per game (29.6), total points scored (2431), field goals (920), and win share % (18.3), among other metrics. 

Based on his overall performance leading into the playoffs, Jordan believed he was the deserving candidate. But seeing Malone lift the MVP trophy was enough motivation for the Brooklyn-born to add another NBA trophy to his accomplishments. 

Having made it to the 1997 NBA Finals with only two losses to their name, the Jordan-led Bulls bested Utah’s Malone-Stockton duo with a 4-2 victory. The two franchises met once again in the 1998 Finals, where the same scenario played out, thus earning the Bulls their second three-peat. 

Michael Jordan and Karl Malone made their NBA debuts just one year apart and went on to have legendary careers. Both players defined the legacy of their respective franchises and showed that self-belief is the key to success despite the challenges. The contributions of Jordan and Malone are etched in basketball history and will be remembered for decades to come.

ALSO READ: 10 Weirdest Michael Jordan Facts That Sound Fake But Are True

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