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Michael Jordan's 12 best days on the basketball court

Sam Smith looks back at Michael Jordan’s 12 best days on the basketball court, the significance of the No. 12 being the number Jordan wore in a 1990 game in Orlando when his jersey was stolen. Otherwise, he wore No. 23 and briefly No. 45 upon his return in 1995.
"Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone as Malone was attempting to effectively put the game away with a one point lead on the Jazz’ previous, and what would be, final possession," recalls Sam Smith. "Jordan drove full court and hit the famous pull up over Bryon Russell."
(Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

Los 12 mejores días de Michael Jordan sobre la cancha de baloncesto

12. May 25, 1991

Jordan and the Bulls finally slay the dragon as they take a 3-0 lead in the conference finals over the nemesis Pistons, who’d knocked them out of the playoffs the three previous seasons and had become Jordan’s white whale. Jordan had 33 points and the game saving defensive play against Joe Dumars on a run down from behind, leading to the Pistons famous walk off following the Game 4 sweep.

Michael Jordan turns 50 Michael Jordan turns 50 | From the archives:
-- Jordan enters HOF in 2009
-- First two titles, 20 years later: 1991 & 1992

11. June 16, 1993

Jordan scores 55 points to give the Bulls a 3-1 Finals lead in what becomes a six game series with John Paxson’s winner. Jordan sets the all-time NBA Finals scoring record in the series, averaging 41 points, and more delicious because it’s not only against big talking buddy Charles Barkley, but Jordan was guarded by Dan Majerle, a favorite of Jordan Bulls foil Jerry Krause, who always would tell Jordan about Majerle’s great defense.

10. Feb. 12, 1985

In the first game after the famous 1985 All-Star game snub when Jordan allegedly was the victim of a freeze out by Isiah Thomas and pals, the Bulls hosted the Pistons and won in overtime. Jordan had 49 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and four steals, all team highs, while Thomas had a quiet 19 points and shot five for 15. It would be the first of many Jordan duels with Thomas and the Pistons and an early peek at Jordan’s driving motivation against various slights, perceived and otherwise.

9. March 28, 1995

Jordan completes his dramatic comeback from almost two years in retirement to play baseball with 55 points in Madison Square Garden in his fifth game back, then assisting to Bill Wennington on the winning basket. For the biggest stage and the most media, Jordan once again saved his best in ending the questioning about whether he could be as good as he once was.

Michael Jordan "It was afterward Larry Bird famously said it was 'God disguised as Michael Jordan,' as Jordan established himself as the game’s greatest scorer since Wilt Chamberlain," Sam Smith writes of Jordan's 63 point effort against the Celtics.
(Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images)

8. June 3, 1992

Jordan’s shrug after making his sixth three pointer in the first half on the way to 35 first half points and a domination of the Trail Blazers that led to a six game Finals win for the Bulls’ second title. Although Jordan was voted MVP that season, some were saying Clyde Drexler did more for his team. And it was by having Drexler, the Trail Blazers felt they could pass on Jordan in the 1984 draft for a center. Jordan always was one never to forget and always anxious to make his case. And points.

7. Feb. 7, 1988

Jordan’s unofficial acceptance of the mythical torch of league excellence and showmanship from Dr. J as Jordan dominated All-Star weekend. He won the slam dunk contest with a Dr. J-style dunk taking off from the free throw line and then led the Eastern stars to victory with 40 points, the second most ever in an All-Star game to Wilt’s 42 in 1962. Jordan even gave the East a rousing pep talk at halftime demanding they take the game seriously and try to win or leave. Doc Rivers called his one of his favorite moments as a player.

6. June 11, 1997

Jordan’s 38 points and game-winning three pointer while playing 44 minutes despite a devastating case of food poisoning from room service pizza in the pivotal Game 5 for a 3-2 Bulls Finals lead. Though one has to ask who orders pizza in Utah. The Bulls then returned to Chicago to wrap up their fifth championship as Jordan passed to Steve Kerr for the winner.

Michael Jordan "There may never have been a more frequently shown first round playoff series winner," writes Sam Smith of Jordan's 1989 buzzer beater in Cleveland. "But that win effectively launched the Bulls’ championship run."
(NBAE/Getty Images)

5. April 20, 1986

The most prolific playoff scoring game ever, Jordan’s 63 points against the team many regard as the best ever, the 1986 Celtics. It was afterward Larry Bird famously said it was “God disguised as Michael Jordan,” as Jordan established himself as the game’s greatest scorer since Wilt Chamberlain.

4. March 29, 1982

The first Shot, in the NCAA championship game between North Carolina with Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins and Georgetown with Patrick Ewing and Sleepy Floyd. Jordan’s jumper from the left wing with 17 seconds left gave North Carolina a one-point lead. Georgetown’s Fred Brown then famously threw a pass to Worthy that effectively ended the game. Jordan had 16 points while Worthy led with 28.

3. June 12, 1991

Jordan finally gets that first, elusive title critics in the 1980s who said he was too selfish and too much a scorer said he never would get. He celebrated in tears with his father, James. Dominating on court rival Magic Johnson throughout the series, Jordan had the famous switch hands layup in Game 2, the final shot to send the game into overtime in Game 3 and the seminal trust moment in Game 5 when Jordan passed repeatedly to John Paxson to thwart the Lakers’ pressure tactics. Jordan would score 30 points in Game 5 to average 31.2 in the series. But he also had five steals, two blocks and 10 assists and would average 11.4 assists in the series and become the versatile threat that would prove unbeatable in every Finals the rest of his career.

Michael Jordan "Jordan finally gets that first, elusive title critics in the 1980s who said he was too selfish and too much a scorer said he never would get," writes Sam Smith. "He celebrated in tears with his father, James."
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

2. May 7, 1989

The Shot to win the first round series over the Cleveland Cavaliers. There may never have been a more frequently shown first round playoff series winner. But that win effectively launched the Bulls’ championship run. Magic Johnson had labeled those versatile Cavs the team of the 1990s and they were 6-0 over the Bulls that season. The Bulls then would go onto the conference finals. But the talk had been if they’d lost in the first round the team could be broken up. Little remembered was Jordan missing two late free throws to lose Game 4, thus making Game 5 also another famous atonement.

1. June 14, 1998

The shot to win the 1998 championship against the Utah Jazz. Has there ever been any better conclusion to a career (he didn’t really come back to play for the Wizards, did he?). Maybe Ted Williams’ home run in his final at bat. But it wasn’t just Jordan’s final shot. Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone as Malone was attempting to effectively put the game away with a one point lead on the Jazz’ previous, and what would be, final possession. Jordan drove full court and hit the famous pull up over Bryon Russell.

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