"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
We all know the story, a skinny and awkward 16 year old tries out for the varsity basketball team and is cut on the first day. He comes back the next year and not only does he make the team, but he is the leading scorer for the team his junior and senior seasons. In fact he not only led them in scoring, but he also led them to two state titles. He goes on to University of North Carolina and wins a NCAA national championship. After that he goes on to destroy the NBA scoring records and defies the laws of gravity on a nightly basis. But the most dramatic moment night of the illustrious career of number 23 came on June 14, 1998.
It was a warm night in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Chicago Bulls are preparing to defeat the Utah Jazz for the second year in a row, and earn their third title in a row. The Jazz were indeed a strange bunch. They all seemed to have bad haircuts, wore shorts that were a little too far north of the knee, and their nickname made no sense seeing how you were more likely to see a polar bear ride a tricycle with a Hitler helmet on down State Street before you found a decent jazz club in the land of Mormons. But on the court, if anyone was going to end the Bulls dynasty, it would be this fundamentally sound squad from the land of polygamy.
The game began a little after 8:30 eastern time, 7:30 central time, and from the start you could tell it was going to come down to the wire. The Bulls came out of the gates quickly, with long armed defensive wizard and small forward Scottie Pippen had the hot hand in the first quarter. The Jazz answered right back with the back and forth passing of Jeff Hornaceck and John Stockton. Shandon Anderson’s solid play also energized the experienced Jazz squad.
The second quarter got underway pretty much the same way the game began, just insert number 23’s name where Pippen’s had been as the leading scorer. The Bulls built up a little lead, but unfortunately for me and the rest of Chicago, the Jazz came back again and this time they took the lead. Things were really looking down as the second quarter came to a close. It was going to take some good coaching or better yet another superhero like performance from the man whom Larry Bird called Jesus in sneakers after a younger version of 23 raped the Celtics defense for 69 points.
The third quarter came, and the back and forth struggle between the team that would be kings and my beloved Bulls. Ron Harper steeped his streaky play up, Dennis Rodman kept rebounding and playing tight defense deep into the fourth quarter. The Jazz began to attempt to pull away at the five minute mark of the fourth, and then number 23 had enough. He pulled up for a pair of three pointers and had a crucial block on Jazz forward Chris Morris. The game came down to 25 seconds and the ball was in the hands of future Hall of Famer John Stockton and he did what everyone knew he would…he passed it to their superhero number 32.
Future Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone caught the ball on the left block and posts up Dennis Rodman. All of a sudden a red streak slaps the ball and takes it away. The clock is at 15 seconds, and Michael Jeffrey Jordan, born in Brooklyn, but raised in Charlotte, North Carolina brings the ball up the court. Apparently the Jazz thought that Jordan had used up all his magic against them last year as they did not double team him as soon as crossed the half court line. The Utah Jazz small forward Byron Russell slid over in anticipation, hoping to stop Jordan from doing to the Jazz what he had done to the Knicks, Pacers, and Cavaliers. Jordan drives to his right, and Russell is with him every step of the way. All of a sudden…bam. Jordan stops on a dime and crosses over to his left and pulls up for a jumper. Silence as the ball gracefully floats through the air. It is too late for Russell to jump as Jordan has just put him in the same class as John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Craig Ehlo, and Reggie Miller. Grown men who have been reduced to tears and had their dreams taken away by his greatness.