Marc Zumoff was the halftime host for Sixers games from 1982-1994 before becoming the play-by-play voice of the team in 1994. During those years, the team transitioned from perennial contender and champion to a rebuilding phase centered around All-Star forward Charles Barkley.
The Barkley-led Sixers ran into Michael Jordan's Bulls in the second round of the 1990 and 1991 playoffs, losing both series 4-1.
The ‘90-‘91 teams were clearly built around Charles and his abilities in the low post," Zumoff said to NBC Sports Philadelphia. "They surrounded him with shooters - Johnny Dawkins, Hersey Hawkins, Mike Gminski. Rick Mahorn was there to do some of the physical and defensive work. And they were actually a pretty good team. They won the Atlantic in '90, they won 53 games. And they actually played pretty well against Jordan and the Bulls in the regular season those two years, '90 and '91.
"Of course, the playoffs were a different story. I remember the goal, as a Sixers fan, was for the Sixers to win and for Mike to score 50. I remember that '90 playoff series, he averaged, I want to say, well over 40 a game in that playoff series. And then in '91, Mike was on a mission because they had lost to Detroit in the Conference Finals each of the previous two years and the Pistons were kind of fading. By the time '91 came, the Sixers were just a small impediment to Mike on the way to his first title.
Barkley was traded to Phoenix in 1992, leaving the Sixers devoid of a superstar. That was all supposed to change when the team drafted Jerry Stackhouse third overall in the 1995 draft. Like Michael Jordan, Stackhouse was a massive star at North Carolina, and he was one of the players given the "Next Jordan" label entering the NBA.
Jordan sent a message when he faced off with Stackhouse for the first time on an NBA court, on Jan. 13, 1996 at The Spectrum.
"This is [Chicago's] mission season, the 72 wins," Zumoff said. "Stackhouse, of course, was the third pick of the draft. The Sixers had designated him as the savior for the franchise. And I guess somewhere along the line, Jerry said something about being able to play Mike, either beat him one-on-one or hold his own one-on-one, I don't remember what it was.
"Jordan, in this game, it was this amazing laser focus. First of all, he had five threes in the game. And this was an era where they didn't take a lot of threes. He made five threes, so that was startling. And it seemed like every time he made a basket - and the Sixers' bench is just to my right - he's constantly looking at the Sixers' bench. And of course, the big thing for Sixers fans was to see a win and Mike to score 50.
"Well, they lost the game and he actually had a chance to score 50. And the thing I remember is that the game was in hand and Phil Jackson took him out after three quarters. So they didn't get to see him score 50. He only had 48. And I say only 48 because the game was really over after three quarters."
As we know, Stackhouse did not become the franchise player for the Sixers. And he didn't have to endure comparisons to Jordan for very long in Philadelphia.
"Let's put it this way: He didn't have enough time in Philly to really have to bear that weight," Zumoff said. "Because the next year, Allen Iverson is drafted. And then there was the whole thing about those two being the backcourt of the future and trying to make it work. And it didn't work. Because the year after Iverson was drafted, he and Stackhouse had that fight in practice. And then shortly thereafter, Stackhouse is traded to Detroit. He had the ability to get out of town and not have that pressure on him and play for a different team.
"Do I think the pressure was on him? I think anytime you follow a guy like that at North Carolina and they're hyping you and some of them were calling him the next Jordan, yeah, I think he's got to feel some of that."
Like most players of his era, Iverson grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. But Iverson also wanted to go at Jordan. And Iverson got that opportunity on March 12, 1997, in front of a raucous crowd in Philadelphia, with Zumoff on the call.
All eyes are on Mike and Allen this night," Zumoff said. "Allen's a rookie. The Bulls had a couple of guys in Ron Harper and Randy Brown who could make Allen work, so they didn't necessarily have to put Jordan on him. But on this one particular play, the ball's on the left wing and Iverson executes a dribble handoff with Clarence Weatherspoon and now Jordan is switched onto Allen.
"And I remember from the documentary that he did on Showtime, Allen had bragged to some people that he would like to take Jordan. Now was his chance. And I had one of the best seats in the house, because I'm courtside and this one-on-one is taking place at the basket that's closest to me. And I could hear through my headset the crowd really getting into it.
"So Allen has the ball and he fakes the crossover, then he does it for real and Mike is literally left cross-legged - like he's almost nailed to the floor. And Iverson moves to his right, hits an 18-footer, and the place goes crazy.
Jordan won 10 scoring titles and six championships in 13 seasons with the Bulls. Zumoff had a front row seat when Jordan crossed paths with the Sixers. Here are his recollections of what made Jordan so dominant in those years:
"There was no perceptible weakness in his game," Zumoff said. "He could shoot, he could put in on the floor, he was wildly athletic, he rebounded when he had to, he had remarkable vision and he could lock you down defensively when it was time to do so.
"I always say this about Michael Jordan. He is perhaps the greatest confluence of talent and desire to be great that I have ever seen in any player in any sport.
"I know NBA players will never admit to being intimidated, but think about this: You're a player, even in the ‘80s, and Michael Jordan enters your league. And you're watching him light up the Celtics, on their floor, in a playoff game, scoring 63 points literally by himself. And Boston's in the middle of that title run, three titles in six years. So he had an aura that clearly preceded him. Even if you were a veteran player in the league, you knew when Mike was on the floor with you."
The Bulls had two separate championship three-peats with largely different rosters built around Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The first version included Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson and Bill Cartwright. Following Jordan's minor league baseball sabbatical, the second version featured Ron Harper, Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley and one of the NBA's all-time defensive menaces in Dennis Rodman. Zumoff prefers the second, more defensively dominant iteration.
I was a huge Dennis Rodman guy," he said. "I realize he had his obvious quirks. But especially with Rodman, they were defensively dominant. Jordan, Pippen, Rodman - each of those three could have ultimately shared Defensive Player of the Year in the time they were together.
"In fact, I remember one highlight. ... The Bulls are killing the Sixers. And at one point, Phil Jackson decided he wanted to trap. And there was a Sixer player who had the ball and he was in the left corner in his own frontcourt. And suddenly Mike and Scottie came together to double team him. And they literally swallowed him up. It was like they put him in a jail cell. I think the Sixers ultimately gave the ball up on a 24-second shot clock violation.
"When you consider Rodman could guard anybody, and Pippen and Jordan could just about guard anybody, those three on the court at the same time, I think that made them the better of the two three-peat teams.
While he still averaged 20 points per game at age 39, Michael Jordan finished his career on a mediocre Wizards team that missed the playoffs in 2003. His final game was at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers brought in former Bulls public address announcer Ray Clay to do his famous pregame introduction of Jordan one last time. You know the one: "From North Carolina. 6-6. Michael Jorddddaaaaaaannnnn."
After the pregame pomp and circumstance, Jordan's final game was mostly unmemorable, until the end, when the Philadelphia crowd demanded to see Jordan one last time.
"The game itself is not much of a game," Zumoff said. "The Sixers are blowing out Washington. Doug Collins is the coach of the Wizards and he takes Jordan out of the game sometime in the second half. Because it's Jordan's last game, the crowd wants to get Jordan back into the game. And we didn't think it was going to happen because Jordan's still on the bench with two minutes to go. So, finally there's a pause and Collins puts Jordan back into the game. And Larry Brown, who really has a sense for the moment and of course, he's a North Carolina guy, he has Eric Snow foul Jordan intentionally.
"My memory of Jordan at the free throw line is this blinding display of flashbulbs like nothing I've ever seen before. It's like there were fireworks in the stands. And Jordan makes the free throws, he comes out and there's another standing ovation. It was quite a tribute. And I'm just privileged to have been there for the final game of the greatest player ever to play."
Part of Jordan's legacy is just his sheer fame at the time he was starring in the NBA. He wasn't just a great player - he was also a worldwide celebrity. Zumoff learned that firsthand when he went to New York City to interview Jordan during MJ's heyday.
As I mentioned, I was the halftime guy in the ‘80s," he said. "So, I take my crew to Madison Square Garden and we're going to interview Michael Jordan for some halftime features. So, at MSG there are these huge freight elevators that you have to take from the arena floor, which is several stories up, to the ground floor. So, we're like a couple of hangers-on and we ride the elevator with Mike. And next to Michael there is this well-dressed, fine-looking woman. And she's wearing like this big fur coat. Suddenly, without warning, the coat comes off, she's got next to nothing on and she starts singing to Jordan. I'm looking at her and I'm thinking she must have been planning this event for weeks.
"She figures she has this one shot to impress him, I guess. Maybe she thinks he can get her a recording contract, maybe she thinks he'll ask her out on a date, who knows? And then I'm looking at Mike and he's got this sheepish grin and trying not to stare. And this is the crazy thing - this has to be one of hundreds of similar things that probably happened to him throughout his career.
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