23 to remember
Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, has left us with a veritable treasure trove of memorable scenes and snapshots from his transcendent career. Although it's impossible to catalogue all the great memories of His Airness, here are my 23 favorite Michael Moments:
1. THE PERFECT ENDING
Bulls at Jazz, '98 NBA Finals, Game 6
MJ strips the ball from Karl Malone, then hits the game-winning jumper with 5.2 seconds left to stun the Delta Center crowd and clinch the Bulls' sixth title of the '90s. The image of Jordan holding his form as his final shot hits nothing but net is the perfect cap to his glorious career.
2. THE FLU GAME
Bulls at Jazz, '97 NBA Finals, Game 5
Severely weakened by a stomach virus, Jordan sucks it up and scores 15 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter, including a crucial 3-pointer with 25 seconds left, to give the Bulls a pivotal 3-2 series lead. Barely able to stand at the finish, he gets a helping hand off the court from Scottie Pippen.
3. THE GARDEN PARTY
Bulls at Celtics, '86 Eastern Conference playoffs, Game 3
In his second year in the league, MJ pours in an NBA playoff-record 63 points (in a double OT loss) in historic Boston Garden to announce his arrival among the game's legends. In one memorable sequence, he isolates Larry Bird on one wing, then fakes him several times before coolly nailing a jumper over him.
4. TAR HEEL HERO
North Carolina vs. Georgetown, '82 NCAA Championship Game, New Orleans
Jordan, a skinny freshman with hair, hits a 16-foot jumper with 15 seconds left to give North Carolina a 63-62 victory over the Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas before 61,000 fans at the Superdome. It's the first of countless "pressure" shots Jordan would go on to sink in his unparalleled career.
5. THE SHOT I
Bulls at Cavaliers, '89 Eastern Conference playoffs, Game 5
With Chicago trailing by a point with three seconds left in the final game of a hard-fought series, Jordan, who would finish with 44 points, hits a hanging, double-clutch 18-foot jumper over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer. The jubilant Jordan pumps his fist several times at the stunned Cleveland crowd before being mobbed by his teammates.
6. TEARS OF JOY
Bulls at Lakers, '91 NBA Finals, Game 5
In one of basketball's most memorable locker room scenes, a weary Jordan clutches the championship trophy to his chest and cries tears of joy as his father, James, stands by his side. It has taken him seven long years, but Jordan, who tallies 30 points and 10 assists in the clincher over the Magic Johnson-led Lakers, has finally captured his holy grail.
7. SAY IT AIN'T SO
The first retirement, October 6, 1993
Still grieving over the murder of his father, James, earlier that summer and weary of life in the spotlight, MJ shocks the sports world by suddenly announcing his retirement from the NBA. Sitting before a phalanx of TV cameras and reporters, Jordan, still in his prime at age 30 and coming off a third straight NBA title, tells the hushed media group, "I have nothing left to prove."
8. THE DOUBLE NICKEL
Bulls at Knicks, March 28, 1995
In just his fifth game back after an 18-month retirement, MJ electrifies Madison Square Garden by pouring in 55 points (a "double nickel" as Knicks superfan Spike Lee would later dub it), many over rival John Starks. For his finishing touch, Jordan sets up the game-winning hoop by dishing the ball to Bulls center Bill Wennington, who dunks it with 3.1 seconds left to give Chicago a 113-111 win.
9. THE JAZZ STINGER
Jazz at Bulls, '97 NBA Finals, Game 1
Jordan outshines regular-season MVP Karl Malone by scoring 31 points -- the most critical coming on a game-winning 18-foot jumper over forward Bryon Russell at the buzzer -- as Chicago rallies to take the opener, 84-82. Jordan's heroics set the stage for a Game 6 clinching victory, when he would pass the ball to Steve Kerr for the game-winning shot in a nearly identical situation.
10. DID YOU SEE THAT?
Lakers at Bulls, '91 NBA Finals, Game 2
Jordan caps a 15-for-18, 33-point performance with an acrobatic masterpiece. Driving the lane, he brandishes the ball with his right hand as if preparing to dunk. While in midair, however, he suddenly switches hands and scoops a shot in from the left side as the Chicago Stadium crowd, the NBC audience and the players themselves look on in amazement.
11. THE SHRUG
Blazers at Bulls, '92 NBA Finals, Game 1
MJ scorches Portland for a playoff-record 35 first-half points, including six three-pointers, as the Bulls go on to a huge rout. After one trey, Jordan, who would finish with 39 points, looks toward the sideline, turns his palms upward and shrugs, as if to say, "What can I tell you? I'm in the zone."
12. SLAM DUNK!
'88 All-Star Saturday, Chicago
Jordan wins his second slam dunk title, outdueling Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins with a jam only Air Jordan could dream of. Starting at the far end of the court, Jordan runs the length of the floor, lifts off from just inside the foul line and slams the ball home as the Chicago Stadium faithful roar in delight. The final score: a perfect 50 -- and yet another frame for the Jordan highlight reel.
13. THE RAGING BULL
Bulls at Knicks, '93 Eastern Conference finals, Game 5
Still seething over criticism of his late-night gambling trip to Atlantic City earlier in the series, Jordan gets his second career playoff triple-double with 29 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists to lead the Bulls to victory. In the closing seconds, with the Bulls leading 95-94, he combines with Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant to block four consecutive layup attempts by New York's 6'10" Charles Smith.
14. BYE, BYE, BAD BOYS
Bulls at Pistons, '91 Eastern Conference finals, Game 3
Ending three years of frustration at the hands of the despised Bad Boys, Jordan scores 14 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, and as the lone defender back, thwarts a late-game Detroit fast break, helping Chicago take a 3-0 series lead. The Bulls go on to sweep the series while the Pistons refuse to shake hands.
15. THE SHOT II
Bulls at Cavaliers, '93 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 4
Four years after slaying Cleveland with The Shot, Jordan again shoots down Cavs fans, this time with a last-second series clincher over Cleveland defensive specialist and self-proclaimed Jordan stopper Gerald Wilkins. Again, MJ exults before the Cleveland faithful.
16. THE COMEBACK
Bulls at Pacers, March 19, 1995
A day after announcing an end to his retirement (with a two-word press release saying only, "I'm back"), MJ returns to the Bulls for an NBC showdown at Indiana. Jordan, looking bulkier than ever and wearing jersey No. 45, tallies 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals, but Chicago loses in OT, 103-96.
17. LOST MAGIC?
Bulls at Magic, '95 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 1
Jordan, still rusty after his long layoff away from the NBA, allows Orlando's Nick Anderson to steal the ball from behind with 10 seconds left as the Magic rallies for a 94-91 victory. Although Orlando would go on to win the series, Jordan would use this rare failure as motivation to work himself back to the top of his game.
18. SORRY, CHARLIE
Suns at Bulls, '93 NBA Finals, Game 4
With his good pal Charles Barkley threatening Chicago's hopes for a three-peat, Jordan pumps in 55 points to give the Bulls a crucial 3-1 series lead. The crusher for Phoenix comes when, with 30 seconds left and Chicago leading 106-105, MJ scores on a drive through the lane, draws a foul and hits the free throw.
19. FATHER'S DAY
Sonics at Bulls, '96 NBA Finals, Game 6
On Father's Day, Jordan scores 22 points to help the Bulls clinch their fourth NBA title in six years. It's MJ's first championship without his slain father, and in the Bulls locker room after the game, he lays face down on the carpet, hugging the game ball and sobbing as he remembers the man he once called "my best friend."
Bulls at Cavaliers, March 28, 1990
In the most prolific night of his career, Jordan soars over and around the Cavs for a career-high 69 points (shooting 23-of-37 from the floor and 21-of-23 from the foul line) in a 117-113 overtime win. Just to prove his all-around greatness, he also adds 18 rebounds, six assists and four steals.
21. GOOD AS GOLD
Gold medal game, '92 Barcelona Olympics, August 8, 1992
Jordan scores a team-high 22 points as the U.S. routs Croatia 117-85 to win the gold medal at the '92 Games in Barcelona. Afterward Jordan, draped in a U.S. flag to cover his Reebok sweats, takes the medal stand to collect a second gold medal to pair with the one he earned in '84.
22. FIELD OF DREAMS
White Sox at Cubs, April 7, 1994
To the delight of 37,825 fans who pack Wrigley Field for this Windy City exhibition, Jordan goes 2-for-4, including a run-scoring double, as the starting right fielder for the White Sox. Although MJ would eventually give up his big league dream, he proves he can indeed make it in the Show -- even if only for a day.
23. THE STAR OF STARS
'98 NBA All-Star Game, New York
With the Big Apple buzzing over an MJ-Kobe Bryant showdown at guard, Jordan shows he's not yet ready to pass the torch. Bryant, billed by some as "the next Jordan," scores 18 points but Jordan racks up 23 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals to earn his record third All-Star MVP award. Kobe and the rest of the NBA's young guns will have to wait.