TSF Greatest Playoff Moments 5/7/89: Michael Jordan finds redemption against the Cleveland Cavaliers with “The Shot”
I guarantee you that kid cried in the car.
Everyone remembers the moment they were won over by a player or team. You gave your unconditional stamp of approval — come hell or high water, that was you boy or squad. Future failures were only speed bumps on the road to immortality.
Michael Jordan — who I was a fan of, but not at a fever level — won me over when he disposed of the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers with what has become known as “The Shot”.
That’s were the world stood for this high school junior — knee-deep in Public Enemy and hoops — heavy into the books as well. While most of the world was in deserved awe of Michael Jeffrey Jordan, I refused to drink the Kool-Aid, I was a huge Dominique Wilkins fan and that’s where my allegiance stood. I may be the only kid in Philly who owned with those red, white and yellow Brooks Nique rocked. Mike was worthy of every accolade he’d received up until that point.
I just wasn’t driving the bandwagon.
The Bulls won 47 games and still finished fifth in the NBA’s Central Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference while the Cleveland Cavaliers finished tied for the league’s second best record at 57-25. The Cavs were 4-0 against the Bulls in the regular season, including a victory in their regular season finale where they sat starters Brad Daugherty, Ron Harper, Larry Nance and Mark Price. The Cavaliers went into the postseason as the third seed in the Eastern Conference behind Detroit and Atlanta.
Before his stints with the Clippers, Bulls and Lakers, Ron Harper was Cleveland’s answer to Jordan. Harper was Jordan’s athletic equal and well capable of going shot for shot with Chicago’s scoring machine.
The teams met in the first round with the Cavaliers expected to make quick work of the Bulls. Jordan’s supporting cast included a young Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, Craig Hodges, Brad Sellers and center Bill Cartwright.
Chicago stole Game 1 with a 95-88 victory, the teams would see-saw the next three games with a decisive Game 5 in Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum.
In Game 4, Jordan scored 50 points, but missed two free throws in the closing moments to open the door for the Cavs to escape with a 108-105 overtime win.
Chicago seemed unaffected by the magnitude of the moment, hanging with Cleveland tooth and nail. Jordan gave the Bulls a 99-98 lead with 6 seconds remaining. Three seconds later Craig Ehlo scored on a layup to put the home team up 100-99 with three seconds left in regulation.
After weaving through traffic. Jordan received the inbounds pass flanked by Ehlo, Harper and Nance. By this time there was only Ehlo left on Jordan — who took two left-handed dribbles toward the center of the free throw line. Jordan and Ehlo elevated simultaneously, but Jordan seemed to hang suspended long enough for Ehlo to float by and get off the well-contested jumper.
Once victory was realized, Jordan exploded with emotion which we had not seen from him as an NBA player. The iconic shot of him leaping and pumping his fists before being swallowed by a sea of teammates was the birth of what would become one of the NBA’s great dynasties.
The shot of Ehlo collapsing is always a comical sight. I wonder of he was escaping a frantic Jordan or was it out of sheer disappointment.
From that moment MJ had me, sure a dunk would have been a more dramatic ending, then again, maybe not.
Although the opening photo is not a frontal view of Jordan — which probably showcased his signature tongue — highlights the intensity of the moment. Shoulders are squared and locked, his head and torso are in direct alignment with the basket. Nothing was going to divert Jordan in that moment, not Ehlo, not the missed free throws, not even the screaming kid in the orange shirt.
It may be the moment that propelled Jordan into a galaxy that has very few visitors. Although he was two seasons away from his first championship, his career eventually became an overflowing cornucopia of awards, scoring titles, championships, movie deals, championships, iconic status and championships. The Air Jordan shoe line is a soundtrack of its own — producing a heavy rotation of remixes for those who missed out on the original cut.
I bought in to the Jordan phenomenon that day and like you, I’ve been buggin’ out ever since.