Great Shot! Jordan's Best Amazingly Goes One Better
By Michael Wilbon
LOS ANGELES, JUNE 6 The half-frown on Michael Jordan's face strongly suggested he couldn't understand the fuss. Jordan does what he does, often as an afterthought, and our mouths open, stupefied. There are times when screams, not words, are the only fitting reaction to his creation and Wednesday night in Chicago Stadium was one of them.
The official play-by-play says that with 7:44 left in Game 2 Jordan scored a layup. That could be the greatest understatement in basketball.
This is what Jordan did with 7:44 left in the fourth quarter: He took a pass at the foul line from Cliff Levingston, dribbled down the middle of the painted lane and rose to dunk the ball with his right hand. A simple enough move for even the average NBA player, right?
Problem. "At first I saw a clear lane to the basket and I was going to dunk the ball, but I saw long-armed Sam Perkins in the way," Jordan explained.
There was no indication Perkins would jump and attempt a block. Probably, Perkins just wanted to get out of the way and not be "posterized," which is what happens when the dunkee is humiliated by the dunker. But Jordan thought Perkins, his college teammate, would try to block the dunk, so he switched the ball from his right to his left hand at chest level.
He was coming back to earth, we thought. Maybe the whistle had blown, because Jordan had pulled his hand back, away from the rim. But no foul had been called, and Jordan leveled off. As his body floated to the right, Jordan extended his left hand, and flipped the ball off glass, with reverse spin, into the basket. "It was another example of him doing the impossible, the unbelievable," Magic Johnson said. "He changed hands, floated about five more yards and said, 'Well, I don't know, I might need to float a little further.' Then he puts it in off glass."
Johnson marveled, Jordan shrugged. "It was just instinct to change hands," he said. "It was just one of those creative things. Sometimes you never know what's going to happen."
Just one of those creative things? Only one other such spectacular shot in a game of consequence comes to mind, the time in the 1980 NBA finals when Julius Erving wrapped himself around the basket, going out of bounds while in the air in the process, and posterized Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mark Landsberger with a reverse one-hand flip off the glass.
Nothing else in sports carries the exhilaration of watching Jordan create, because every so often, usually at the most dramatic time, he does something that will never be done again.
Michael Jordan is an obsession. It started in 1982, covering the ACC when he was a freshman playing for North Carolina. After a dozen or so performances the obsession was complete. It grows each year.
If it's not an obsession, how do you explain someone moving from D.C. to Fairfax because the local cable company carries WGN. That means at least 20 Bulls games a season. Dates have been canceled to watch Jordan play expansion teams. Flights have been re-routed to see Jordan at Chicago Stadium. There have been missed weddings, funerals, family barbecues, you name it. Because you never know.
Probably, this is a sickness.
NBC's Marv Albert, a pretty astute Jordan-watcher, said before leaving Chicago for Los Angeles that Wednesday night's creation was definitely one of Jordan's top 10 moves.
That's one observer. This one goes further than that. It's his best.
Knocked down to runner-up is the move in New York earlier in the playoffs when he shook Kiki Vandeweghe with a head fake, reverse pivoted around Charles Oakley on the baseline, then went as high as he ever has for a dunk, on Patrick Ewing.
Down to second runner-up is the move in Boston Garden in his record 63-point performance when he roared down the lane and totally upstaged Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
The buzzer-beating, series-winning jumper over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo in the '89 playoffs where he hangs while Ehlo goes up, then comes down, was the most dramatic shot Jordan has hit, but it looks almost routine by comparison.
Jordan's twist-and-shout layup from Game 2 didn't carry the drama of that shot in Cleveland, or some other buzzer-beaters Gar Heard's in the famous triple-overtime Suns-Celtics game in the 1976 finals, or Jerry West's 65-foot heave that forced overtime against the Knicks in the 1970 finals. But a jump shot can only be so creative.
To pass the ball from one hand to another, while being confronted by an octopus like Perkins, then to levitate and kiss the ball off glass with a reverse spin is something to serenade.
Going into this season, the theory started that Jordan, now 28, having played more than 600 regular season and playoff games, was contributing less and less frequently to the highlight reel. Panic set in and the VCR taped whatever Jordan game was available, in case his acrobatics were on the wane.
Others said this was a fool's errand, that we had become so spoiled by Jordan's brilliance over seven seasons it now took something completely unearthly to induce screaming. That, and the fact that he was less prone to gratuitous, energy-sapping creations than he was as a kid.
Before this series with the Lakers began, Jordan was asked if the tendinitis in his knees had changed his game, if he was more bound by gravity. Maybe the dunk over Ewing was an aberration and the norm would be a game closer to the ground.
Jordan looked at the foolish questioner. "I've had tendinitis since college," he said. "The way it affects me differently now is that I take longer to warm up before games, and after a sit on the bench for a while. But I can still do what I do."
Yes, he can.
© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post Company