The match came down to the closing seconds, and Michael Jeffrey Jordan had the ball with the game on the line. He started from the right of the court, dribbled towards the key and lunged into the air for a jumper from inside the circle. Craig Ehlo, the most competent defender of the Cleveland Cavaliers, leaped out to block the shot, but it seemed like he had paused his shot in the air.
It appeared to be a scene of a sci-fi movie where everything stops except the man in control of the situation. He was airborne, and as Ehlo cleared out of his path, he released ‘The Shot’. The ball nestled through the bucket, his fists pumped in jubilation and the Chicago Bulls had won the fifth match of the best-of-five series against the Cavs. Jordan had just changed the fate of two NBA franchises. It was the season of 1989, and two years later in 1991, Bulls would win the first of the five NBA titles, while The Cavs were yet to reach an NBA final.
Back in 1986, when Jordan had yet to become a global icon and when he had a close-cropped head of hair, he put on an unforgettable show in Boston Garden. He had played only 18 regular-season games in his second year of NBA, after breaking a small bone in his foot in Bull’s third game of the year, and was encouraged to sit down the end of season to recover well for the next, but he didn’t agree. He came back, led the Bulls to the 1986 NBA playoffs and then gave a performance of the ages against Boston Celtics.
He set a playoff record of 63 points against NBA’s best opposition ever. The Celtics won the game 135-131 in double overtime, but Jordan left everyone awestruck.
Teammate John Paxson recalls the memories of that match: “Michael was doing so much and so well, I found myself just wanting to stop and watch him — and I was playing.”
Even the opposition was left astonished.
Celtics’ ace man Larry Bird marvelled his heroics thus saying, “I didn’t think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us. He is the most exciting and awesome player in the game today. I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
There are too many buzz-beaters in Jordan’s career to enumerate and too many brilliant plays to count, but one move during the 1991 NBA finals, where the Bulls were striving for their first NBA title, steals the limelight.
It was the second game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Jordan had got the ball out high and started to move down the lane with the ball in his right hand. As Jordan dribbled and eluded the defender, he took a leap of faith and jumped to score, but was confronted by Lakers’ forward AC Green, who moved into the lane to block his path. Other players would have called for charging and perhaps turned the ball over, but the greatness of Michael Jordan didn’t permit it.
He adjusted in the air, shifted the ball to his left hand, twisted his body to avoid contact and amazingly scooped the ball into the net past Green. The shot seemed to sap the life from the Lakers, who had won the first game at Chicago Stadium but lost this one 107-86. The Bulls went on to win the next three in Los Angeles to wrap up their first NBA crown.
Michael’s career has been a bumpy ride. He retired from the game abruptly after winning three consecutive titles with the Bulls in 1991, 1992 and 1993 to pursue a career in baseball. However, he failed miserably and came back to the Bulls in 1995.
Many said that he would be rusty and won’t be able to deliver again. But just five matches into his comeback, he was unstoppable in the game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 22, 1995. He fired 55 points and set up Bill Wennington for a dunk that gave his team a last-minute victory.
If that wasn’t enough, he led the Bulls to a record 72 wins in the 1995-1996 regular season. Another moment of glory came when he was ravaged by flu in the 1997 NBA final and still led his team to victory over the Utah team.
Jordan retired again in 1999, but came back for two seasons in 2001 and 2003 to play for the Washington Wizards; those stints proved to be less-than-prolific enough to match the greatness of the NBA superstar. He also worked in a movie named ‘Space Jam’ as himself, which highlights his love for the game and his bad decision to join baseball.
His biography on the NBA website states, “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2014.