BY SCOTT PHILLIPS and ELI KABERON
Happy 50th birthday, Michael Jordan! Poor Scholars has spent the week celebrating the birth of ‘His Airness’ and staff members Eli Kaberon and Scott Phillips exchanged emails about Jordan and his legacy.
Poor Scholars’ Michael Jordan birthday week coverage:
Instagram Weekly Top Ten: #MichaelJordan By Max Robson
Top Ten Michael Jordan Commercials By Rambo Nomolos
Unlikely movie sequels: Space Jam 2 By Troy Phillips
Poor Scholars Podcast Episode 2 By Pat Flynn and Scott Phillips
An open letter to Mike By Danny Hazan
Eli and Scott’s Michael Jordan email exchange:
We were extremely fortunate to grow up in Chicago when Michael Jordan was playing for the Bulls. I don’t want to speak for you, but I know that my love for basketball started with watching those amazing squads. That passion has led to a career in writing about the sport.
Anyways, with MJ’s 50th birthday coming this Sunday, I was wondering – what do you think was his greatest game, and why. I looked it up: MJ played in 1,072 regular season games, 179 playoff games, 13 All-Star games and one freedom battle for the Toon Squad during his career. There are so many Michael Moments to go through, it’s hard to pick just one.
But tell me, which one of those games do you feel topped them all, and then I’ll tell you why you’re wrong?
This is very, very tough for me as a Jordan diehard. I was fortunate enough to see Michael play an extraordinary amount of times thanks to Chicago Bulls season tickets via my Dad’s work from ’92-’93 through December 2007 when as family we saw Scott Skiles’ last game as Bulls head coach before my Dad changed jobs. Obviously I have some personal biases — Game 1 of the ’97 Finals
, among many others — but for me it’s the clinching game of Game 6. The Bulls needed him to make plays to win, and he came through on both ends of the floor in the game’s finals minutes. Rodman was done, Pippen’s back was fried and the team was old. I think that’s his signature game.
Now, let me know what you think his best performance is?
Also, what is your underrated MJ stat? I think 9 first-team all-defense (a record shared with Gary Payton) never gets talked about.
You brought up two of the three performances I was thinking of, but you missed the most obvious of MJ’s classics – dropping 63 versus the ’86 Celtics in the Boston Garden during the first round of the playoffs. Remember, Jordan had only played in 18 games that season because of a broken foot, and the ’86 Celtics were arguably the best team the NBA had ever seen up to that point. They had five players who would eventually be enshrined in Springfield. Mike tore them up like they were fourth graders. The crossover, three times through the legs, fade away and swish with Bird in his face (2:52 in that video) is one of my favorite Michael moves of all time. Some call this game a coming-out party for Michael, but regardless of when it took place in his career, this may be his defining game.
In terms of underrated stats, you bring up a good one. I knew you were right, but still had to double-check it because it’s so ridiculous. I have one for you: From the start of the 1990-91 season (Bulls first title) through the end of the 1997-98 season (their sixth title) – and not counting the year and a half Jordan played baseball – Chicago never had a three-game losing streak. Let me repeat that: With Jordan in uniform, for six-plus seasons in the ’90s, the Bulls never lost three games in a row, be it regular season or playoffs. Crazy.
However, with the talk of the Dynasty-Era Bulls, I wonder what your Jordan preferences is: high-flying, attack the rim MJ from the first three-peat, or mid-range J, fade away, occasional dunking MJ from the last three?
Those ’86 Celtics were ridiculous. It’s also hard to put that three losses in a row stat into context.
I definitely prefer high-flying, attacking MJ. I grew to appreciate Jordan’s baseline turnaround and the little tricks and manuevers he used to confuse helpless defenders in the post in his later years, but people forget some of his elite in-game dunks. The dunk on Mel Turpin
, dunks on Mutombo
, Ewing, and all of the great centers.
But as important as MJ was on the floor, he’s made a significant cultural impact away from the game of basketball. What’s Jordan’s biggest contribution to society outside of basketball?
MJ made so many contributions off the floor it’s hard to pick just one. However, I’m going to quote Mars Blackmon and say it’s gotta be the shoes. A few years ago, I wrote a story about people who collected custom J’s and spent thousands of dollars to get limited-edition kicks that they would never actually wear. That’s just crazy. Nobody is doing that for LeBron’s sneakers or Kevin Durant’s. In fact, I’d bet that nearly a decade after he last played, Jordan’s are still the #1 shoe for current NBA players.
So we’ve covered games, moments, eras, off-court contributions. Last question for you: What does MJ do from here? Keep running the Bobcats? Join the PGA Senior Tour? Make Space Jam 2? Dominate YMCA leagues? He’s the most competitive person the word has ever seen. So what is 50-and-older Michael do to keep himself going?
Good final thought, Eli. Jordan obviously loves his motorcycles and has his own racing team and I see him staying with the Bobcats for a while. Basketball will always be in his life, I’d imagine. Other than that: Running around with Oak, hitting golf courses, and riding motorcycles is MJ’s calling.
Happy 50th, MJ.