This day in sports history: Michael Jordan sinks Georgetown, launches legacy as a global icon

Jason Owens
·5 min read
(Yahoo Sports)
(Yahoo Sports)

Yahoo Sports is digging into the archives, taking a look back at the moments that shaped sports.

When he woke up on the morning of March 29, 1982, Dean Smith was already a legend.

The North Carolina head coach had tallied a 468-145 record in Chapel Hill. He’d led the United States to a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics. He’d been to six Final Fours. He’d led the charge to desegregate sports in North Carolina, signing Charlie Scott as the first black scholarship athlete at UNC in 1967.

He was a giant of the game, one of its great teachers who commanded the respect of his peers and those beyond the basketball world.

He had everything.

Everything but a national championship.

In 20 seasons as the head coach at North Carolina, Smith ran a program that was the epitome of success. Except for that one little thing.

Then a freshman named Michael Jordan arrived.

University of North Carolina basketball player Michael Jordan shoots the winning basket in the 1982 NCAA Finals against Georgetown University.
University of North Carolina basketball player Michael Jordan shoots the winning basket in the 1982 NCAA Finals against Georgetown University. (Getty Images)

Jordan’s freshman year

The Tar Heels entered the 1981-82 season as the No. 1 team in the country, led by 1981 All-ACC forward James Worthy and reigning ACC tournament MVP Sam Perkins. Jordan joined the roster as a star recruit. But he wasn’t the star of the team, especially on a veteran roster coached by Smith.

The Tar Heels lived up to their lofty expectations during the season, holding on to the top ranking for the first nine weeks of the season and never dropping lower than No. 2. Worthy and Perkins earned spots on All-America teams as UNC regained the No. 1 ranking heading into the NCAA tournament with a 27-2 record.

By then, Jordan had carved out a role not typically seen by a freshman in Chapel Hill. He was Carolina’s third-leading scorer — behind Worthy and Perkins, of course — averaging 13.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

Legendary Final Four

When UNC made it to New Orleans for the Final Four, it ran into Phi Slamma Jamma, a Houston team starring Clyde Drexler that brought a freshman named Hakeem Olajuwon off the bench.

In a game featuring four future Hall of Famers, North Carolina prevailed, 68-63, led by Worthy’s 25 points and 18 from Jordan.

But that wasn’t their toughest test. That would come on Monday night in the Superdome.

Jordan meets Patrick Ewing

UNC was met by a fellow No. 1 seed led by an All-American and its own imposing freshman star. The Georgetown Hoyas also boasted future Hall of Fame coach John Thompson.

But freshman center Patrick Ewing was the star of the show, having earned All-Big East honors along with being named the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference. With All-American Eric “Sleepy” Floyd in the backcourt, the Big East champion Hoyas were a formidable foe.

The game lived up to the hype.

Georgetown opened a 33-31 halftime lead. Neither team managed a significant advantage with the largest lead of the game extending to four points. The lead changed hands 13 times.

Michael Jordan and Dean Smith's legacies are forever intertiwned. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)
Michael Jordan and Dean Smith's legacies are forever intertwined. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)

Worthy, Ewing duel

Ewing dominated the paint, outplaying Perkins to the tune of 23 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks while Perkins tallied 10 points and seven rebounds.

Worthy looked like the consensus first-team All-American that he was, pouring in 28 points on 13-of-17 field-goal attempts.

But when the game came down to crunch time, the ball found its way into the hands of a freshman, a preamble to an iconic career.

MJ launches his legacy

With 32 seconds remaining, North Carolina inbounded the ball in the frontcourt coming out of a timeout, trailing 62-61. Matt Doherty and Jimmy Black passed the ball back and forth at the top of the key while Ewing manned the post, ensuring nothing easy would come inside.

But as Ewing guarded the paint in a 1-3-1 zone, Jordan floated open on the left wing without a defender nearby. Black spotted Jordan open from the opposite side of the court and floated a pass over the top of the Georgetown defense.

Jordan gathered the pass and launched an 18-foot jumper without a dribble or hesitation. It was a massive moment for a 19-year-old kid in front of 60,000-plus fans on college basketball’s biggest stage. The shot found nothing but the bottom of the net.

Georgetown botches last chance

The game wasn’t over. Georgetown inbounded the ball with 14 seconds remaining trailing, 63-62. Shooting guard Fred Brown advanced the ball over halfcourt and picked up his dribble at the top of the key. Worthy snuck into his peripheral vision, and a confused Brown tossed the ball over his right shoulder directly to his opponent.

Worthy dribbled into the UNC frontcourt, where he was fouled by Eric Smith with two seconds remaining. Worthy missed both free throws, but it was too late for Georgetown. A desperation heave from beyond halfcourt fell well short.

Legacies intertwined

Jordan finished the game with 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals — and the first of many legacy-defining shots. At the same time, he secured the legacy of a coaching icon as Smith finally won his first NCAA championship.

Smith would go on to secure another national title in 1993 before retiring in 1997 as the all-time wins leader among NCAA coaches, a record that has since been surpassed.

Jordan? Well. We don’t need to tell you what Jordan did from there.

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