March 28, 1995
Well, everybody knows this game. And I know there are other shorter versions of this game which are also excellent. Considering the circumstances, it is an extraordinary game even for Jordan's standards. Also, it's the game in which he declared he's "really" back. So I wanted to make another version with more replays, more context, a post-game interview with Jordan, quotes, articles and so on.
Since almost everything has already been said about this game, I'll just point out a couple of quick things. First off, it should be mentioned that Riley's 94-95 Knicks was the #1 defensive team in the NBA, measured by points allowed per possession.
The only player who was able to score 40 or more points against the Knicks that season was young Shaq (41). Other than him, only 3 players managed to score 30 or more points at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks in the entire regular season. And here comes a guy who hasn't played basketball for 18 months, scores 55 points on 21-37 shooting (57%) in just his fifth game, commits only two turnovers, and dishes out the game winning assist. Just too good to be true by any standards.
One other thing is that there's a crucial play towards the end of this game which is not included in most of the highlights. Jordan is about to sink another jumper over Starks 1:20 to go in the game. Ewing comes out to double and manages to block the shot with his fingertips.
It's very important because after the game Jordan said that play was on the back of his mind and as soon as he saw Ewing coming out to double him in the last play, he knew his man would be wide open. Knowing that provides more context for the final assist and makes it even more special.
Post game notes & quotes:
NEW YORK -- Message delivered. Message accepted.
Michael Jordan, in only the fifth game of his comeback, used the NBA's biggest stage to offer some irrefutable evidence that he still is the game's best - hands down, no doubt about it.
It was a game for the ages.
It was a game that at least 100,000 people will probably swear they saw at Madison Square Garden. In the end, it was Jordan who made a remarkable play that gave the Chicago Bulls a victory.
Jordan's pass to Bill Wennington for an uncontested dunk with 3.1 seconds to play on Tuesday night lifted the Bulls over the Knicks, 113-111. Jordan scored 55 points on 21-for-37 shooting, but it was his pass that won it.
The 55 points also established a new high for points scored in an NBA game this season. The previous high was 53 points by Willie Burton, but Jordan needed only four games and eight practices to beat that total.
Some statement, huh?
"I just let my game go, let my game come to me," he said. "I forgot how to make a statement."
"It was a statement that Michael Jordan is back to play basketball," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "That's one thing we can count on."
With the score tied, 111-111, and the final 10 seconds ticking away, Jordan drove into the lane against John Starks, drew New York's defense to him, then spotted Wennington alone underneath the basket. Wennington caught the bullet pass and stuffed the ball through the net.
Jordan said he was thinking shoot-first, but couldn't because of the Starks-Ewing double-team. "In the huddle," Bulls guard Steve Kerr said, "we decided to clear out and let Michael go. We put four shooters on the floor in case they tried to double-team Michael. Michael made his move, Ewing double-teamed and he threw it down to Bill. When he caught it, it didn't take a shooter to make that one."
"On the play before, I seemed to have Starks beat, Patrick came in to help and made the play," Jordan said. "I knew that. But I'd be lying if I said I came out to pass the ball. I came out to score. This time when Patrick came, I was able to make the pass and he was open."
The Knicks still had one last chance to answer, but it slipped away. Anthony Mason inbounded at midcourt to Starks, but as he went to make a spin move around Jordan, Starks slipped and lost control of the ball. It trickled beyond midcourt, and when Starks retrieved it he was called for a backcourt violation with 1.3 seconds to play.
"A lot of times when we came in here, I wanted to go out and do well and I was too enthusiastic and I was tense," Jordan said. "This time, I had low expectations for myself."
"I knew I wasn't that far away. As much as I practiced, I needed to play games. I guess it took four games to get a rhythm down."
It was almost as if Bulls picked up where they left off during the 1993 playoffs, the last time the Knicks had played against Jordan. Patrick Ewing (36 points) carried the Knicks down the stretch and almost carried them back, but just like he has done so many times, Jordan found a way.
All the Knicks could do afterward was shake their heads and regroup. None of them was surprised by Jordan's heroics.
"That's Michael Jordan. That's why he's the best," Starks said.
"I tried. I tried to throw everything I had at him. It was a matter of time before he played one of those games like you just weren't there."
Ewing, who had stepped away from Wennington and toward the ball on the winning play, had little to say after the game. Little except praise for Jordan.
"He's a great player _ the best in the game. And he proved it tonight," Ewing said.
Said Charles Oakley, "Everybody who played against Michael knows what he can do. Nothing's changed."
Charles Smith lamented the fact that Jordan, who has now played five games since coming out of retirement, waited until the Knicks game to look like his former superstar self.
"Now, he decides to play well?" Smith said. "I think it's all a joke that he's not playing well and he comes to the Garden and drops 50. He carried the whole team."
The game was the hottest ticket in town since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Seats were said to be selling for as much as $1,500.
Fans came carrying posters welcoming back Knicks forward Anthony Mason, playing his first game at the Garden since a five-game suspension. But there were plenty of No. 45 Jordan jerseys in the crowd, too, and Jordan drew gasp after gasp once he began raining down jumpers.
"It's been a far bigger event than I wanted it to be," Jordan said. "It's been absurd, to an extent. It's almost embarrassing. I mean, I've been treated great, but. . . ."
He's been treated as a god. His comeback has been bigger than Elvis', bigger than almost anyone's.
"No, I'm not surprised," said Coach Pat Riley, looking out at the hundreds of media members during his post-game news conference. "That's why all of you are here. Some players simply transcend every aspect of the game. No one in the history of this game has had the impact that he has had. He got it started the other night against Atlanta, sort of building up to New York."
MAD ABOUT MICHAEL // Chicago fans `figure best is yet to come'
by Greg Boeck, March 30, 1995. USA TODAY
His comeback is only five games and 12 days old, but Michael Jordan already has outdone the original.
Yes, the shaved head and wagging tongue are familiar.
But "Michael Madness" has lured media from Japan and Australia, put Jordan jerseys on the backs of rival Indiana fans, sparked unheard-of applause from normally cold-shouldered Boston fans, produced a rare sellout in Atlanta and paralyzed Chicago since his NBA return on March 19.
Still, who would have expected Jordan's 55-point performance for the Chicago Bulls against the New York Knicks Tuesday - the most by a player in a game this season?
Everybody's talking about Jordan: From corporate board rooms to mailrooms, from posh New York eateries like the "21" Club to pizza parlors, from the streets to the subways he was Topic A in New York Wednesday.
"He's very charismatic, very positive," says Dee Patton, a systems analyst who bet a New York bagel on the Knicks. "Everyone's happy to see him doing well. It's wonderful to see someone excel to that degree."
Adds Courtney Callahan, a free-lance writer: "He's the antithesis of O.J. And maybe that's what people like most - they want a sports hero to come out like a gentleman."
They also like the way he shoots, hustles, passes and brings energy and graceful sportsmanship back to the game. "Jordan is unbelievable. He's the best ever," says John Tabert, an electrician from Old Ridge, N.J.
In Chicago, where the Bulls play Boston tonight and Philadelphia Saturday, radio station WMAQ asked listeners Wednesday to vote on whether Jordan "should be proclaimed King of the World." Results: 41% said yes.
The world is watching.
Steven Tick, of Los Angeles-based Murray's Tickets, says the broker has had inquiries about tickets to Bulls games "from everywhere: Vienna, Sweden, Australia." The cost: starting at $200. "People love a comeback," says Tick.
Jordan is so hot that tickets to Tuesday's game were said to be fetching up to $1,500 outside Madison Square Garden. And courtside seats were dotted with awestruck celebrities.
The Bulls' five remaining road games - New Jersey (April 5), Cleveland (April 9), Detroit (April 12), Miami (April 17) and Milwaukee (April 23) - are sold out.
But that doesn't stop fans from calling or stopping by ticket offices searching for admittance.
Bruce Trout, the Detroit Pistons' box office manager, says his office gets 50 to 75 calls a day about tickets.
People are watching even if they can't get in the arenas. The Bulls-Knicks telecast on Turner Sports was watched in an estimated 3.2 million homes, the most for any regular-season game in Turner's 11-year association with the NBA.
Even teammates are caught up in Michaelmania. "We have Superman on our team," says Bulls guard Steve Kerr.
It's all taken Jordan by surprise.
"This is far bigger an event than I wanted it to be," Jordan says. "Initially it's fun; you feel wanted; you feel respect. Then it became absurd, a little embarrassing for me."
The Knicks' John Starks might have felt embarrassed himself, trying to guard Jordan. But he's realistic: "That's Michael Jordan. That's why he's the best. I tried to throw everything I had at him. It was a matter of time before he played one of those games like you're just not there."
Jordan clearly felt relieved. Tuesday's game came on the heels of Saturday's 32-point game in Atlanta, where he nailed the game-winning shot. Until then, he had made more news off the court than on the floor - where he looked rusty, at times out of sync with his teammates and often tired.
"It's a statement that Michael is back to play basketball," says Bulls coach Phil Jackson of the 55 points.
"Statement?" asks Jordan. "I forgot how to make a statement. I'm just trying to get myself back in a rhythm and not chase the game. I guess it took four games to get the rhythm down. I was nervous it'd take longer."
For fans, Tuesday's effort comes as a vindication.
"We have people here who don't really prefer Michael Jordan," says Rochelle Randall, who works at the Chicago Title and Trust accounting firm. "They think he is arrogant for thinking he could go and play baseball and then come back and play basketball when he wants to. But he backed up his talent with his 55 points."
Says fellow accountant Maxine Towers: "Awesome, awesome, awesome. Now, those people are saying, `OK, OK, OK.' "
And they pray for more.
Andre Spaulding says customers at the candy shop he manages in Chicago's State of Illinois building were abuzz about the future. "It set a very nice tone for the playoffs," he says. "They said he hadn't lost his step. They figure the best is yet to come. Nobody would be surprised now by a 62-, 63-point game."
For fans of other teams, that's not an appetizing thought.
Patrick Ward, a public relations executive in New York, is concerned if the Bulls meet the Knicks in the playoffs.
"He's going to psyche them," says Ward. The Knicks could fall "to the Michael mystique."
Personal loyalties are almost secondary, however.
"It's nice to see finesse back after watching all these arrogant young guys trying to make up for the talent they lack," says Charles Bollerman, of Flushing, N.Y.
While Jordan is uncomfortable with all the hoopla surrounding his return, he's enjoying the hoops. He shoots on off days and is getting to know his new teammates - seven weren't part of Jordan's three title teams - with one-on-one games.
"He looks like he's really in the mix," says coach Jackson.
"I missed the challenge," said Jordan. "I have a renewed appreciation for getting back to the level I was at. I'm not afraid of the work it'll take.
"I knew I could still do it; but when, I couldn't say. . . . I'm starting to get the hang of this," Jordan says, grinning.
So, is a repeat performance in store tonight?
"I don't know. That's the fun thing about it," says Jordan. "You don't know what I might do."