Thursday, April 21, 2011

"God Disguised as Michael Jordan"

Derrick Rose's sensational performances in this year's NBA playoffs have drawn inevitable comparisons to Michael Jordan's early days with the Bulls a quarter century ago, when Jordan was already a superstar but not yet considered the greatest player the game had seen. It was 25 years ago yesterday, on April 20, 1986, that Jordan dumped 63 points on the Boston Celtics for a playoff record that still stands. The account below is excerpted from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     Michael Jordan was already known as the most exciting basketball player in the world when he suffered a broken foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, his second with the Bulls. He missed 64 games, then returned just in time to help the Bulls eke out the last playoff berth. The closing weeks of the regular season presented an interesting spectacle, as new general manager Jerry Krause imposed strict limits on how many minutes Jordan could play in each game.
     “I was scared to death,” Krause explained. “I didn’t want to go down in history as the guy who put Michael Jordan back in too soon.” Meanwhile, Jordan kept begging coach Stan Albeck to let him play more. “I didn’t want to watch my team go down the pits,” he said. “I thought I was healthy enough to contribute something.”
     In the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics, Jordan contributed something. He scored 49 points in Game 1, but the Bulls lost 123-104. In Game 2, he sank two free throws (his 53rd and 54th points of the game) to send the game into overtime. Then he scored seven more points in overtime, including a three-point play that gave the Bulls a 125-121 lead with 1:39 left. Two baskets by Boston forced a second overtime. Late in the second session, Jordan dunked over Robert Parish—giving him 63 points for the game, a new playoff record, and tying the game yet again. But despite his heroics, the Celtics finally prevailed 135-131.
     Jordan had scored 104 points in two games against a team that was being touted as the best of all time. “I didn’t think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us the past two games,” said Boston forward Larry Bird, who was soon to receive the Most Valuable Player award for the third consecutive year. “He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
     The Celtics swept the best-of-five series in three straight, despite Jordan's 131 points (43.7 per game), and went on to take the championship. Jordan and the Bulls would be heard from again in the near future.

Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert

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