MJ turns 50: Jordan's top 10 moments

MJ turns 50: Jordan's top 10 moments
February 17, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Justin ONeil

No. 10 – The Tar Heel Title: NCAA Championship Game (1982)

Dean Smith was already a legend by 1982, but a title still eluded the North Carolina head coach. He had been to the Final Four six times, but never was able to cut down the nets until a freshman guard hit a game-winner in 1982.

Michael Jordan had broken into the starting lineup on a loaded Tar Heels team- a rarity for a freshman. In the title game, facing a Georgetown team led by Patrick Ewing and Sleepy Floyd, the Tar Heels trailed in the final seconds until Jordan hit a corner jumper with fifteen seconds remaining to put North Carolina ahead. On the next possession, Fred Brown’s infamous turnover to James Worthy sealed the title.

Jordan became a worldwide icon after leaving North Carolina, but he already had an accomplished resume before even stepping foot on the court at the Chicago Stadium. He was the ACC Freshman of the Year, the 1984 Wooden and Naismith College Player of the Year, and helped the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team to a gold medal.

No. 9 – Getting Big Air: 1988 All-Star Dunk Contest (1988)

Knocking the dunk contest has become an annual ritual for sports pundits -- waxing on that the current game/event du jour doesn’t compare to the past. But in this case, there is no doubt that the duel between Jordan and Dominique Wilkins was the peak of the dunk contest. Jordan was defending his title, and with a competitive streak that is legendary, he didn’t want to lose in front of his home town crowd.

Twenty five years later, with both now in the Hall of Fame, controversy over the Jordan winning continues. It might crazy, though, considering few people will remember a year from now who won the 2013 dunk contest. But in 1988 Jordan and Wilkins were two of the premiere players in the game, competing in an All-Star contest like it was a playoff game and making a lasting impact on the contest.

No. 8 – Owning Ewing: Game 3, First Round Playoffs (1991)

Ewing’s Knicks were still a year away from threatening the Bulls as a legitimate contender. The Bulls won 61 games and were the top seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks had slumped to the eighth seed. The series was barely a contest, with the Bulls sweeping New York easily.

The lasting impression was Jordan’s dunk on Ewing. After escaping a double team on the baseline, Jordan attacked the basket and violently dunked on his off-court friend Ewing. Jordan never shied away from attacking the basket, even against Ewing, who is sixth all-time on the career blocks list. There are many memorable dunks in Jordan’s career, including several over Ewing, but the dunk during the 1991 playoffs stands out above all others.

No. 7 – 63 in ‘86: Game 2, First Round Playoffs (1986)

Jordan played just 18 regular season games in the 1985-86 season, having broken his foot three games into the season. There was talk of holding the franchise player out for the entire season, as there was no reason to rush back a player for a non-contender. But the competitive Jordan returned in March, and the Bulls snuck into the playoffs by one game.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, they were matched up against one of the all-time great teams in the Boston Celtics. Boston had won 67 games, had the league’s three-time reigning MVP Larry Bird and a roster with five future Hall of Fame players.

After scoring 49 in a losing effort in Game 1, Jordan somehow raised his game to an ever higher level in Game 2. He scored 63 points –- an NBA playoff record -– while playing 53 minutes in a double overtime loss. The Bulls were swept in the series, but Jordan had shown he was the most dangerous player in the game. Bird summed it up best after the game:

"I didn't think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us," marveled Celtics ace Larry Bird. "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."

No. 6 – Winning for Dad: Game 6, NBA Finals (1996)

In his first full season after returning from retirement, Jordan led the Bulls to an NBA record 72 wins. He won his fourth MVP trophy, and was joined on the NBA all-defensive first team by fellow Bulls Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.

The Bulls lost only three games in the playoffs en route to their fourth title. But what made the title even more special was what it meant to Jordan. His father had been murdered in 1993, and when Jordan retired for the first time it was with the knowledge that his father had seen his entire career.

On Father’s Day in 1996, the Bulls clinched their title, and Jordan’s comeback was complete. The emotional Jordan openly wept on the Bulls locker room floor and dedicated the title to his late father. The sight of Jordan on that locker room floor still gives chills to Bulls fans.

No. 5 – The move: Game 2, NBA Finals (1991)

The Bulls had narrowly lost Game One against the Lakers, with Jordan’s would-be game-winner rimming out in the final seconds. In Game 2, the Bulls showed that their Finals jitters were gone. They blew the Lakers out by 19 points, and Jordan had a near flawless game. He scored 33 points on 15-18 shooting, including 13 straight in the second half. Jordan also outplayed Magic Johnson as a playmaker with 13 assists.

But of course Jordan saved the best for last. In the fourth quarter, he made the famous switching hands layup to put the icing on the cake. One of the most famous shots in NBA history, it brought the crowd at the Chicago Stadium to their feet and even stunned Johnson.

After the Game 1 slip up, the Bulls won four straight to clinch their first title.

No. 4 – The shrug: Game 1, NBA Finals (1992)

The Bulls and Trail Blazers had the best regular season records in both 1991 and 1992, so the matchup between the teams was anticipated as a clash of the titans. Each team was led by a high-flying, high scoring shooting guard, and many speculated that Clyde Drexler was Jordan’s equal.

That thought was quickly put to rest in Game 1. Jordan scored a NBA Finals-record 35 points in the first half, including a record six three pointers. The Trail Blazers did prove to be a tough test, but the Bulls rallied from a 17 point deficit in Game 6 to win their second title.

No. 3 – The Flu Game: Game 5, NBA Finals (1997)

Jordan had better statistical games in the NBA Finals, but none more impressive than his performance in what has become known as “The Flu Game.” With the series tied at two games apiece, the exhausted Jordan pushed the Bulls to a crucial win.

Despite his illness Jordan scored 38 points, including a go-ahead three pointer in the final minute, to take the series lead. He played an amazing 44 minutes, and the image of Scottie Pippen embracing an exhausted Jordan has become iconic memory of the series.

No. 2– The Shot: Game 5, First Round (1989)

Jordan had already won his first MVP award in 1988 to put him on par with Bird and Magic Johnson as the top players in the game, but his team lagged behind the other superstars. In 1989 the Bulls finished as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and faced the favored Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. The Bulls had knocked the Cavaliers out of the playoffs the season before, but the third-seeded Cavaliers were thought by many as the team of the future in the East.

The Bulls had a chance to clinch the series in Game 4 at the Chicago Stadium, but Jordan missed a free throw at the end of the game and the series shifted back to Cleveland. Craig Ehlo gave the Cavaliers the lead with three seconds remaining, but Jordan got the last word.

The game-winner went in just as the clock went to zero, and Jordan leapt into the air in celebration, as Bulls Head Coach Doug Collins celebrated wilder than any of his players. The Bulls went on to upset the Knicks in the next series and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual champion Pistons.

No. 1 – Freezing Time: Game 6, NBA Finals (1998)

The Bulls dynasty came to a perfect end in June of 1998. The team had struggled at times in the regular season and needed a fourth quarter comeback in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs against the Pacers to advance to the NBA Finals.

Just like in 1993, the Bulls failed to close out the series at home in five games, and had to win on the road. Early in the game, Pippen injured his back on a dunk, limiting him to 8 points in 26 minutes. But even without his sidekick, Jordan was able to keep the Bulls in the game into the final minute.

With 40 seconds remaining and the Bulls trailing by 3 points, Jordan drove and cut the lead to a single point. On the ensuing Jazz possession, he doubled Karl Malone, stripped “The Mailman” of the ball and picked up the loose ball. And in his most iconic moment, he hit the free throw line jumper to give the Bulls the lead and their sixth title.

Almost by himself, Jordan led the Bulls to victory in the game. He scored 45 of his team’s 87 points while playing 44 minutes, closing out his career in Chicago in the most Jordan-esque style. It ended up not being his final shot, but in the eyes of Bulls fans he closed he career that night in Utah.