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'Utah's Best Is Yet To Come'

Franklin, this one's for you. This is for you and your fellow cab drivers around the country who listen to every basketball game like its a religion. For you, milling around the water cooler, talking about "Stockton and Malone," and "Jordan and Pippen" is not only a way to converse, it is a way of life.

It's June and your discussions of whether Ewing will help New York make a serious run for the championship are over. Talk of the surprise playoff appearance by the Pitino-lead Celtics are done. It's the NBA Finals, and once again, everyone is talking about the Bulls.

But this year something is different. This year the talk is not centered around the athletic prowess of His Airness and friends. Instead, this year, the discussions revolve around something far worse - the mentally and physically beaten Bulls. Say that three times slow - the mentally and physically beaten Bulls. Hard to believe, hard to swallow - could it be true?

Fact is, these 1998 Bulls nearly got ousted from the playoffs in a seventh and deciding game against the Indiana Pacers. The same team that has won five NBA titles in the '90s lost Game 1 of the this year's finals. Wait a minute! They did bounce back, right? They did win Game 3 by a whopping 42 points... right?

Bounce back? Are these the Chicago Bulls we are talking about here? The Bulls of yesteryear would have no need to bounce back. They were too busy dribbling forward.

This is 1998. Game 4. And more importantly this is the Utah Jazz.

"You think the Bulls will win?," I shout through the cab's plastic partition.

"No way, man. The Bulls are ready for the pluckin'," Franklin says.

Ready for the pluckin'? "Yeah, man," Franklin replies. "No way they're winnin' this year."

Intrigued, I beckon Franklin to continue. He goes on to tell me how the Bulls will have to double, even triple their efforts to shut down the best point guard in the NBA - John Stockton. "He can win the game himself!"

"And Karl Malone? He has to be good for at least 35 points a game, right?"

Right. Problem is, the Mailman himself said he has to start playing like he wants to win.

"We have to be setting the tones if we're going to win," he said after Game 2.

But that doesn't bother Franklin. "He'll come around," the cabbie declares.

But then there's Jordan. Hardly the X factor. But this is the Last Dance. The Final Frolic. Call it what you will. But that's where the real drama lies. Remember that picture of Michael hunched over in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, holding on for dear life - that was scary.

And that is what Utah has to capitalize upon.

The Bulls of old may be a thing of the past. But where are the Jazz of new? The Utah club that can take advantage of home court? The Jazz that can dethrone the un-dethronable? "They're coming," Franklin says.

A cab driver's advice for Malone? Take ito the hoop. No more jump shots. Play like you mean it. Like you played the entire season. And stop putting so much pressure on yourself. We all know you want the ring. Now go out and get it.

The yellow cab comes to a stop somewhere on the West Side of Manhattan. "Thanks for the conversation," I quip politely as I exit the automobile.

"Have a good night," Franklin says. "And remember, man, Utah's best is yet to come."

Written by Kenneth Dancyger

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