Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
I remember it like it was yesterday.
That's probably because I watched it yesterday. And again today.
The clip of Michael Jordan's game-winning shot against Utah in the 1998 NBA Finals has over 582,000 views on YouTube. I think I alone have accounted for at least 1,000 of those views.
I don't even need to have the volume on when I play the video (though I always do anyway). I know Bob Costas' play-by-play word-for-word.
"Malone is doubled. They swat at it and steal it."
Now Jordan is dribbling the ball up the court. The score is 86-85 Utah with under 20 seconds left.
"Here comes Chicago, 17 seconds," Costas bellows. "Seventeen seconds from Game 7, or championship number six."
You can hear the excitement in the building as everyone at the Delta Center waits to see what MJ is about to do.
With the clock at ten, Jordan finally makes his move. He pushes off and gets free for a split second.
"Jordan, open ... Chicago with the lead! Timeout Utah, 5.2 seconds left. Michael Jordan, running on fumes, with 45 points."
I think Costas just summed up my entire childhood.
Think about it. Jordan was so powerful at his peak that Bryon Russell became a celebrity .. just for falling down in front of him.
If you've turned on a television at all in the last week, you probably know by now that Sunday is Jordan's 50th birthday. SportsCenter is honoring "His Airness" with a countdown of his top 50 plays.
I'd like to present my own tribute to the great No. 23. Get ready to be wowed, folks.
- Kevin Durant has won the NBA scoring title three years in a row. Not bad, right? Jordan did that seven times in a row between 1986 and 1993. The only reason the streak wasn't longer was because Jordan decided to play baseball for a year in between (Jordan came back to win the scoring title three more times after his brief baseball career).
- It didn't take long for the Portland Trail Blazers to realize they made a huge mistake by not drafting Jordan at No. 2 overall in the 1984 NBA Draft (Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon was taken with the first pick). Jordan produced a stunning 28.4 ppg during his rookie season. The last rookie to come within five points of that average was Allen Iverson in 1996-97 (23.5 ppg in his first season with the Sixers).
- LeBron's better than Jordan, you say? Well, I could point out the obvious and remind you that Jordan has won five more championships than LeBron but that would be too easy. How about this? LeBron has averaged 30 or more points twice in his career. Jordan's done that a whopping eight times in 15 NBA seasons.
- I've talked about "the blowup factor" in a few previous articles. For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, blowing up is when you take your game to new heights. Insanely, utterly unimaginable heights. Jordan demonstrated his blowup potential by going over the 60-point plateau five times in his career including a breathtaking 69-point effort against Cleveland on March 29, 1990. Only Wilt Chamberlain (who was about a foot and a half taller than everybody else when he played) has racked up more 60-point games than Air Jordan.
- Jordan just didn't have bad games ... ever. In 930 games as a Chicago Bull guess how many times opponents held Jordan under 10 points? Just once (that was Jordan's first game back from a foot injury that cost him most of the 1985-86 season). In 179 playoff appearances, Jordan has never been held to single-digits.
- You probably already know that Jordan's career scoring average (30.1 ppg) is the highest in NBA history. But did you know that Jordan's 37.1 ppg average in 1986-87 is still the highest scoring output anyone has produced since Chamberlain averaged 44.8 ppg for the San Francisco Warriors in 1962-63? Well, now you do.
- As incredible as Jordan's 1986-87 campaign was, you could make the case that his 1988-89 season was even more impressive. That year Jordan averaged 32.5 ppg, 8.0 apg and 8.0 rpg. In all of my research I couldn't find another player who has ever averaged 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists per game all in the same season.
- I assume because there was nothing better to do, Jordan decided to go on a triple-double binge late in the 1989 season. Between March 25 and April 6 of that year, Jordan logged an unbelievable streak of seven games in a row with a triple double. Jordan, who registered 28 triple-doubles in 1,072 career regular season games, could have had 11 straight triple-doubles if not for his dreadful outing against Detroit on April 7 (40 points, 11 assists and a pathetic seven rebounds).
- MJ wasn't too cool for the dunk contest. He won it two years in a row in 1987 and '88. Come on, LeBron. Man up and show us what you've got.
- In Jordan's worst season he averaged a mere 20.0 ppg. Bill Russell, an 11- time NBA champion and a 12-time All-Star, never scored more than 18.9 ppg in a single season.
- People always write off Jordan's stint with the Wizards as a failure but really, he was still pretty darn good. Jordan became the first player 40 or older to score 40 points in a game when he went off for 43 against New Jersey in February of 2003. Jordan is also the oldest player to complete a 50-point game at age 38 (51 against Charlotte on December 19, 2001).
- Jordan was especially dominant in the playoffs. In fact, six of the ten highest scoring averages for a single playoff series belong to him including an absurd 45.2 ppg average against the Cavaliers in the 1988 Eastern Conference first round.
- MJ's offense is what we remember him for but he was also one of the greatest defenders to ever play the game. Jordan, a nine-time first team All-Defense selection, led the league in steals three times in his career (only Chris Paul has led the league in steals more times than Jordan). One time he had eight steals in one half against the Boston Celtics (November 9, 1989).
- 31,786 of Jordan's career points came while wearing the No. 23. Jordan scored 457 points with 45 on his back during the 1994-95 season (he couldn't wear 23 because the Bulls had retired his number after the 1992-93 season). Jordan played one game as No. 12 after his jersey was stolen before 1990's Valentine's Day matchup against the Magic (Jordan scored 49 in that contest). MJ also wore No. 9 when he played for the Dream Team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
- Jordan appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the 50th time this past week. That's 12 covers more than Muhammad Ali has garnered in his career and 26 clear of Tiger Woods' 24 cover appearances.
The shot, the flu game, the shrug, Space Jam: it all adds to the legend that is No. 23.
Bobcats rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist admitted that he lost to Jordan in a game of one-on-one just a few weeks ago. Jordan is 50. Kidd-Gilchrist is 19.
I guess age really is just a number. Happy Birthday, MJ.
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