53 minutes, 22-41 from the field, 19-21 from the line, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 4 turnovers and an NBA playoff record 63 points…
Every day throughout the NBA playoffs, TSF will highlight a classic game and also an individual performance. Today, it’s Michael Jordan’s 63 points on April 20th, 1986…
After having one of the most exciting rookie years in recent sports memory, Michael Jordan missed 64 games in the next season of ’85-’86 with a broken left foot. The injury occurred 3 games into the schedule on October 29th, 1985, and after sitting out so many games Mike wanted to play because his talent as a rookie was above even a veteran NBA All-Star level. He defied Bulls doctors and front office and laced them up March 15, 1986 in an 125-116 loss to Terry Cummings, Sidney Moncrief and the Milwaukee Bucks. Mike had 12 points in 13 minutes on the floor, but the sports world was apprehensive to embrace the moment and wondered if Mike came back too soon. Imagine if he’d done so with how sports is viewed through today’s social media eyes. We saw what happened with Derrick Rose and his decision to not play, but that comparison is hollow given Rose had a much more serious injury in tearing is ACL.
Though Chicago went 6-9 in the games Jordan participated after returning, head coach Stan Albeck’s squad squeaked into the postseason with the worst record of any playoff team at 30-52.
Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Jerry Krause restricted Mike’s playing time during those 15 games. Many were critical of Mike and especially Bulls brass for even considering the great risk involved of having the franchise player return to action after such a spectacular rookie season. In fact, he was the NBA’s franchise player. It was a rookie campaign very few expected Jordan to have and in a Wilt Chamberlain type of way, in one season Michael Jordan became the league’s most coveted player. Yet, the Bulls were nowhere near the best NBA team, in a rebuilding process and looking to move up in the draft and select either Brad Daugherty or the late Len Bias (settled on Brad Sellers at number 9).
Mike didn’t care about that. He wanted to play more after team physician James Hefferon cleared Jordan to play; Albeck surely agreed, but we all know who had the final say…the Bulls front office.
Jordan played 15.5 minutes his first 6 back, 24. 75 minutes over his next 4, and 32.2 minutes during the last 5 regular season games. He scored no higher than 31 points in any of the 15 and Mike must have felt he was back in Chapel Hill “restricted” by Dean Smith. When his foot was at full strength, Jordan was ready to explode and stamp his name on the game’s history.
“The thing was, at the time, we were going through a rebuilding process, and I was practicing two hours a day and that was the thing that bothered me more than anything,” Jordan said. “If I can go through two-hour practices, as intense as I practice, then when the game came, they gave me a seven-minute window (in each half) to play.
“That’s when I felt more frustrated than anything. I felt more than anything they were positioning themselves for the draft and I didn’t feel good being part of that. I felt I was an all-out player who didn’t half-ass anything, and they wanted to move up (in the draft). I was a player, I wanted to play.”
Then the playoffs happened…
After putting up 49 in an 19 point Game 1 loss to the Celtics, everyone knew Michael Jordan was back and he was on everyone’s lips more than ever before.
In Game 2, Mike was everything. He was a new fantastical era beckoning by his lonesome. He took the athleticism and charisma of a young Julius Erving and shot the league onto another level in a mass media and marketing sense capitalizing off the popularity of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Sports has never been the same and subsequently the current Bobcats owner arguably became the greatest basketball player ever.
I remember making some food in my parent’s kitchen and hearing Dick Stockton and the boorish homer Tommy Heinson saying Jordan’s name almost every time down the floor. At the time, the late Orlando Woolridge was the Bulls star. His athleticism was crazy and seeing Jordan surpass Woolridge’s athletic prowess with skill exclusive of simply dunking and scoring was incredible to watch. Being from Philly and a hardcore Sixers and Erving fan, I wanted Jordan to score 1,000 points on Boston that day. I wanted him to score every point on Larry Bird with Celtics President Red Auerbach helping out on the double team in everything Celtics embarrassment.
When I ran into the den to watch the game with eyes and mouth wide open, I saw this:
Maybe this is why Larry Bird uttered these words:
“I didn’t think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us,” marveled Celtics ace Larry Bird. “He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
Though I was not a Jordan fan because my allegiance was Doc’s, that play made me jump off the couch and almost hit my head on my parent’s den stucco ceiling. Yes, I wanted to Bulls to win, but I didn’t care about the game as much as I cared of how many points Mike scored. The Celtics were juggernauts that season and swept the Houston Rockets to win their 16th NBA title. That series featured 7 Hall of Fame players.
This was a day that was Mike’s. These were the days where we couldn’t wait for the morning paper to hit the door and I set my alarm clock to meet my baseball coach, Tom Smiga (the paper man) at the door to hand me the paper personally. I had to check out that box score and see everything Mike did that classic day because it was the first time I’d seen a pro player score more than 50 points live. That Jordan was so young gave me a personal identification with the game and what was to eventually become of the league.
Writing this, I wish I could see Michael Jordan go off on the Celtics again…and again. There wasn’t much I could stand about Boston, the Celtics, hell the Green Monster and definitely the Garden crowd CBS showed way too much, so thanks Mike.