The Bulls went on to win in six games. Drexler shot 3-for-20 from long range in the series.
In late September 2001, Jordan announced that he would return to the NBA as a member of the Wizards, giving up his minority ownership share and returning to the league after a three-season break. In his two seasons with Washington, Jordan performed well, averaging over 35 minutes per game and 20 ppg combined. Perhaps most impressively, he managed to appear in all 82 games in 2002-03 despite playing at 39 years old.
Yet, by the standards of Jordan, he was disappointing, failing to guide his team to the playoffs in both seasons in a down-on-its-luck East. Plus, as Les Carpenter argues in
a Yahoo! Sports column this week, MJ doomed his legacy in DC by putting his needs ahead of those of the franchise.
Detroit won in a rout, by the score of 93-74. John Paxson played through a sprained ankle, and Scottie Pippen (just days removed from attending his father’s funeral) suffered a crippling migraine headache that limited his vision and contributed to his 1-for-10 shooting. Grant was no better, missing 14 of 17 shots from the field. Jordan was brilliant, scoring 31 points with eight rebounds and nine assists, but it hardly mattered in the blowout win. Two weeks later, the Pistons would take their second consecutive championship.
The late David Halberstam recalls the postgame fallout in his ‘Playing for Keeps’,
A year later, with much support from his team and Jackson fully in charge, this happened:
— Kelly Dwyer * * * 15. 72-10
As someone who has watched each of the 100 regular and postseason games from the Chicago Bulls’ 1995-96 campaign several times, games that the Bulls won 87 of, I can firmly say without reflex or hesitation that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were better than the team’s record indicates.
Some of the losses were just too close to dismiss. They included two defeats against a 64-win Seattle club working without Ron Harper, who had done brilliant work in the other four games of the series against the SuperSonics and Gary Payton. There were one-point home losses to both Charlotte and Indiana, the latter coming with starters playing limited minutes in the final game of the season, both coming off of chippies that barely missed in the final seconds. There was the road contest against Phoenix on the second night of a back to back after the team had lost a comeback attempt in the thin air of Denver the night before, either game could have gone either way in the final minutes. The loss against Miami on the night of the trade deadline, when Chicago didn’t know who was suiting up, and that loss against the expansion Toronto Raptors — the friggin’ Raptors — that should have gone the other way.
Eighty-seven wins in 100 tries doesn’t do this season justice. Chicago’s roster will forever on paper look to be inferior when up against teams with higher star power and that vaunted “low post center,” but Chicago went up against three of the four-best centers in the NBA in 1996 during the playoffs — Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O’Neal — and worked up a 11-1 record even with the team’s fabled hole in the middle. The hole in the middle (when in actuality was the sturdy and criminally underrated defensive center Luc Longley) was surrounded by arms and length from the outside, and I genuinely can’t fathom how the Kareems or Wilts or Parish/McHales would have been able to handle the all-around attack of interchangeable defensive parts in Harper, Scottie Pippen, Jordan, and Dennis Rodman.
The team boasted an attack on offense that barely seemed to run any plays as the ball moved and the players cut and the screens were set and the shots went in. The spacing and timing and exquisite beauty of Tex Winter’s triangle offense was never given better treatment than by these mindful, eager, veteran Chicago Bulls. It was a fascinating tutorial on how to lose yourself in the game and in its movement and hope. There’s a reason I’ve never sat down to watch ‘The Godfather,’ and yet I’ve seen Game 1 of the 1996 Eastern conference finals 40 or 50 times.
Narratives about comebacks and titles and revenge and records don’t matter in the mix of it, with the ball whipping around and the angles anticipating angles and welcoming risk. It was truly gorgeous basketball. It’s the reason I do what I do, 17 years later. It was something to soften the heart of even the angriest, cynical 15-year old punk you could find.
That season found me. And I hope, in some deluxe box set with director’s commentary and Blu-Ray capability, it will find its way into the homes of anyone that has a passing interest in basketball. Because both in terms of record and beauty, this season will never be topped.
— Kelly Dwyer * * * 14. Michael Jordan’s 55-point return to MSG in 1995
Yes, Jordan had already played four games since coming back from his exodus in Birmingham, notching wins against Boston and Atlanta but falling to Indiana and Orlando. But his comeback wasn't
really official until the "Double Nickel."
It had been
664 days since his last visit to the Garden; you knew MJ would give the arena, its inhabitants and its audience a gift to show he hadn't forgotten about them. The number was different, as Jordan entered New York wearing the unfamiliar 45, but the damage wasn't — he had 20 in the first quarter, on defenders ranging from Starks to Derek Harper to Anthony Bonner (that one didn't work out so well), 35 by halftime and 49 at the end of three.
With about 3 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Jordan — as he so often did — drove right at Starks, stopped at the free-throw line, rose, fired and splashed to give him 51 points, a new record for an opponent against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The previous record-holder?
Michael Jordan. (Duh.) Most amazingly, it wasn't an MJ make that won it; rather, the game-winning bucket came when Jordan collapsed the Knicks' defense with a drive and elevated to shoot, but instead rocketed a pass underneath to center Bill Wennington, who stuffed it home with 3.1 seconds remaining to nail down a 113-111 win.
It was a perfectly absurd, ridiculous and amazing ending to a perfectly absurd, ridiculous and amazing Jordan game. Perhaps more than anything, though, it was a stark reminder -- that even after his time away and the ignominious knocking-off-the-rust period that followed, Jordan could still be Michael Freaking Jordan. NBA teams, beware.
— Dan Devine * * * 13. MJ’s classic late-series performance against the Knicks in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals
Coming off the prior season's seven-game heartbreaker, the Knicks entered the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals series with Jordan's Bulls eager for revenge and redemption, and holding a trump card in the rematch — home-court advantage, earned by virtue of finishing three games ahead of Chicago during the regular season, ensuring that any all-the-marbles seventh game would take place in Manhattan.
Things were looking up for Riley's crew through the first two games, as they held Jordan to 37.3 percent shooting in a pair of home wins. Jordan's cold stretch continued upon returning to Chicago for Game 3, shooting just 3 for 18 from the field; luckily, every Knick not named Patrick Ewing got similarly frigid, and the combination of a huge game from Scottie Pippen and timely shooting by John Paxson kept the Bulls from a 3-zip deficit.
And then? The eruption. Fifty-four points in 39 minutes, 18 for 30 from the floor, 6 for 9 from beyond the arc, 12 for 14 from the foul line, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. He scored on everyone the Knicks tried to put in his way, almost as if they weren't even there. The monster was awake; the all-things-to-all-people, unstoppable MJ was back, the series was tied, and the Knicks were in trouble.
What do you do for an encore to dropping 54 in a pivotal playoff game on what that season had risen to the No. 1 defense in the league? Oh, just a 29-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple double, the second playoff triple-double of his career -- the
first one came against the Knicks, too, because of course it did -- at Madison Square Garden to put New York completely on its heels and set up the knockout punch, a 96-88 win in Chicago that again sent the Knicks home, unable to vanquish the big bad Bulls, and propelled Jordan toward a date with league MVP Charles Barkley's Phoenix Suns. That worked out pretty well, too. —Dan Devine * * * 12. Battles with Charles Barkley in 1993
Excellence fatigue is real – witness the Great American Ignoring of Tim Duncan throughout his career or the talk of Kevin Durant having a better season than LeBron James during 2012-13. After a while, even the best tires you out.
This is why Charles Barkley was America’s sweetheart in 1992-93. The Phoenix Suns forward was in his prime, working for a new team in new uniforms while playing in a new building in a nouveau American Sun Belt town. Even after years of controversy, the country had just learned what we now know in spades some 20 years later – that Charles Barkley can do or say just about anything, and he’s still going to come off as lovable and endearing. He also happened to put up 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game for the team with the best record in the NBA that year, and win the league’s MVP.
Jordan and Barkley had been fast friends by years at this point, fellow Nike endorsers as well who met in the 1990 and 1991 playoffs when Jordan’s triumphant Bulls downed Barkley’s 76ers both times. By the time the Bulls got to Phoenix for the 1993 Finals, they were weary and beaten after a grueling six-game series with the New York Knicks. A series that, in retrospect, was the best thing that could happen to Chicago.
It was the basketball version of warming up with three bats at the on-deck circle. Free from New York’s physical brand of defensive-minded basketball, the Bulls ran out to a 2-0 lead in the Finals after taking the first two in Arizona. Not only had Chicago stolen home court advantage, they’d doubled-down (something both Jordan and Barkley were and are familiar with) on the chance that Phoenix could steal the home court advantage back with a win in Chicago. In fact, Phoenix took two in Chicago before returning to Phoenix for the deciding Game 6.
In the waning moments of that game, with nobody but Jordan having scored for Chicago in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter, everyone in the building knew that MJ would be option number one for Chicago on his team’s final play. Instead, Jordan had the ball in his hands for fewer than five of the remaining 14.4 seconds left in the contest, all some 70 or so feet from the basket. Watch:
Jordan averaged 41 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per contest. Barkley averaged 27.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Barkley would never make the Finals again. Jordan wouldn’t play an NBA game for another 21 months.
— Kelly Dwyer
* * *
11. “Is it the shoes?”
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when sneaker commercials weren’t particularly interested in promoting the athletes involved. That all changed in the late ‘80s, when Nike teamed Jordan with Spike Lee (in character as Mars Blackmon from his debut film “She’s Gotta Have It”) to promote several variations of the now-iconic Air Jordan sneakers. The ads are about the shoes, in a sense, but also wide-ranging, more concerned with the experience and cool factor of Jordan rather than cushioned soles or attractive designs. The shoes weren’t just for basketball — they were a way into the world of Jordan. It’s no surprise that the signature sneakers have become statement pieces even after Jordan’s retirement, because they’ve always been about an image of greatness, not just function.
— Eric Freeman CLICK HERE FOR MICHAEL JORDAN'S TOP 10 MOMENTS Related Michael Jordan video on Yahoo! Sports: Other popular MJ content on Yahoo! Sports: • Watch: Favorite Michael Jordan memories • Top 50 Michael Jordan moments: Nos. 36-23, including 'The Dream Team' • Michael Jordan mysteries: Strange statues, shifting numbers and one odd song • Top 50 Michael Jordan moments: Nos. 50-37, including Nike 'marriage'