It was not easy to narrow down Jordan’s 50-point games, as he did it 39 times in his career. Eight of those games were in the playoffs, and he scored 60-plus five times. For our purposes, we aren’t touching any of his 60-point games -- we can save those for his 60th birthday. We narrowed the list based on the importance of the game, the quality of the opponent and of course the flair Jordan exhibited in the moment.
Honorable mention: 55 points, 1st Round, Game 2 vs. Bullets (1997)
If Jordan’s career had ended in Utah with that picture perfect follow-through to clinch title No. 6, this would have moved into the top five. Unfortunately, the storybook ending was ruined by a stint in Washington (insert political zinger here).
Jordan scored 55 points in leading the Bulls to a 2-0 lead over Washington. Despite sweeping the series, all three games against a young Bullets team were close. Jordan called them a team of the future, and although that never played out, it was the last time Jordan scored 50 with the Bulls.
No. 5 -- 51 points vs. Hornets (2001)
The next time Jordan scored 50 was in his comeback with the renamed Washington Wizards. Two days after scoring a career-low six points against the Pacers, Jordan exploded for 51 against a helpless Hornets team. Impressively, he made only nine free throws and zero 3-pointers, hitting 21 field goals to reach the 51-point mark. It was his last 50-point game and at age 38 he became the oldest player to score 50-points in a game.
No. 4 -- 51 points vs. Knicks (1997)
The Brooklyn-born Jordan always enjoyed playing against the Knicks (this list is evidence enough). He scored 50-plus four times against New York, more than any other team.
But what truly makes this game memorable is the context. Jeff Van Gundy is now a widely respected coach and game analyst, but in January 1997 he was midway through his first full season as a head coach of the Knicks. As the new guy, Van Gundy broke the unwritten rule of facing Jordan – don’t say anything to provoke him.
“Van Gundy went on WSCR-AM 670 and called Jordan a ‘con man’ for the way he befriended the likes of Van Gundy’s flawed center Patrick Ewing and then destroyed Ewing and his team on the court. Van Gundy meant it as a compliment, and some of the subtext had to be that he wished Ewing had the same ruthlessness, even if he didn’t have Jordan’s talent.”
Throughout his career, Jordan took any source of motivation he could, and this was more than enough to suffice. He made five 3-pointers and shot a surgical 12 of 14 in the fourth quarter. In the final minute, with the Bulls up five, Jordan hit a jumper to seal the game and pass the 50-point mark. He then proceeded to express his feelings to Van Gundy, screaming at the Knicks bench while staring the coach down.
Scoring 50 against the Knicks was a habit, but this instance was MJ’s last in the regular season as a Bull.
No. 3 -- 54 points, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Knicks (1993)
The Bulls' toughest test during their first “three-peat” came from the Knicks. In the second round of the 1992 playoffs, the fourth-seeded Knicks took the Bulls all the way to a seventh game. In 1993, New York reloaded and finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks won the first two games of the series, the only time the Bulls trailed 2-0 in a series during their championship seasons. Even after a blowout win in Game 3, the Bulls had concerns over their star. Jordan shot just 32 percent in the first three games of the series, but in Game 4, he was unleashed.
John Starks draped Jordan, just as he had in the previous games in the series, but this time it was to no avail. Jordan equaled his playoff record six 3-pointers in a game en route to tying the series at 2. The Bulls closed out the series in six games.
[MORE: Full coverage celebrating Michael Jordan's 50 birthday]
No. 2 -- 55 points, Game 4, NBA Finals vs. Suns (1993)
The Bulls had shocked the Suns by taking both games in Phoenix to open a 2-0 series lead, but MVP Charles Barkley’s team won a grueling triple-overtime Game 3 to make it a series.
Game 4 was a battle between the stars. Barkley had 32 to spur his team on, but the Suns defense was no match for Jordan. He relentlessly attacked the basket, getting to the free-throw line 18 times. In the closing seconds, with the Bulls up one point, Jordan drove and hit an acrobatic runner while being fouled by Barkley. The basket clinched the game and gave him his only 50-point performance in the NBA Finals.
His 41.0 points per game average in the 1993 Finals is still an NBA Finals record.
No. 1 -- 55 points vs. the Knicks in the "Double Nickel Game" (1995)
The idea that an athlete could quit a sport and simply resume his career at an elite level without as much as a day of training camp was unprecedented. But in February 1995, Jordan released a two-word statement that flipped the sports world on its head: ‘I’m back.'
In his fourth game back, Jordan hit a buzzer-beater in Atlanta to give the Bulls a one-point victory over the Hawks. Averaging 24.8 points in his first four games back, he had shown that he had not lost his touch. But in his fifth game back, he would show that he was still the best player in the game.
Jordan poured in 55 points, as his old nemesis Starks could do nothing to stop him. Jordan may have been wearing ‘45’, but the name on the back had not changed, and neither had his sense of drama.
Now simply known as the “Double Nickel Game,” Jordan’s 55-points against the Knicks is our No. 1 game because of what it symbolized. The greatest the game had ever known had been out of the game for 18 months, first retired and then playing minor league baseball. But against his team’s greatest rival, at the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” Jordan raised his game above everyone to steal the show.
Most remarkably, his greatest play in that game wasn’t a basket, but a game-winning assist to Bill Wennington for a dunk with 3.1 seconds left.
He stole the show with 55 points, and then shocked everyone again to seal the win.