Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jordan’

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It’s already been 20 years.

Was it the fact that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team had three Hall-Of-Famers on the team? Was it because of their then Sixth Man Of The Year sharpshooting southpaw from Croatia? Maybe it was due to the Bulls’ head coach at the time, who would go on to lead teams to 7 more NBA titles after 1996?

By this time, we’re quite sure that many basketball fans (and sports fans in general) have used every complementary adjective imaginable to describe the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Da Bullsas they’ve been affectionately referred to by diehard fans in the Chicagoland area, “caught an unsuspecting NBA slippin” and smacked the league in its mouth by piling up an NBA record 72 wins–a feat which many teams have tried and failed to accomplish in the past 20 years.

This NBA season (2015-16) marks the 20th anniversary of that historic Bulls team. While everyone always heaps well-deserved praise upon that team, one thing that must be mentioned is that there very well could’ve been no Bulls team (as we remember them now) at all.

In the summer of 1995, the NBA’s owners were involved in a testy labor dispute with the players, which caused the league to be placed in a lockout for a couple of months. Jordan and the Bulls were fresh off an embarrassing loss to the Shaq/Penny/Horace Grant Orlando Magic in the second round of the 1995 Eastern Conference playoffs, despite all of the hoopla surrounding Jordan’s return to the team after a 17-month retirement.

What many people also forget is that Jordan had many doubters going into the ’95 offseason. People had even questioned whether he’d be the same player that he once was from 1984-93, which were the years that built the foundation for MJ’s years as a Bull.

Dennis Rodman, the colorful power forward who left an indelible mark on pop culture as much as he did on the b-ball court, was traded from the Spurs to the Bulls for center Will Perdue. Even that took Jordan and Pippen’s approval before the deal was made, because of the bad blood between the Bulls and Rodman’s “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

There was much talk during that time that the league had moved on, because of its infusion of young talent. With fresh new stars like Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, and Chris Webber, the league felt that it was something it had to do in order to come down from the Chicago Bulls/MJ “high” that it had been experiencing for several years. This isn’t even including the fact that the Houston Rockets had won back-to-back titles in 1995–the only team to win a title at that point since Jordan’s ’93 retirement.

Since 1996, that Bulls team has become the gold standard for which NBA squads of future years would measure their regular season success. So again, we have to ask ourselves: What was it about the ’96 Bulls that was so special (besides winning 72 games and winning the title)? Was it the combination of talent and toughness? The ’97 and ’98 Bulls title teams had pretty much the same team. Was it the shoes? Given that appearances alone don’t translate to results on the basketball court, we highly doubt that. But then again, let the young’uns of today tell it, maybe so.

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Since everyone’s enjoying the weekend break between Games 1 & 2 of the NBA Finals, I figured I’d share with you my personal story of an NBA champion who all of us are quite familiar with.

Michael Jordan once said that one of his motivating factors for consistently performing at a high level on the basketball court was his cognizance of that one fan (or fans) who were able to see him play live and in person that one particular time who may never have the opportunity to watch him play in person again. Well, I was one of those folks he referred to, and as a young kid at the time of attending my first Jordan game, I must say that he did indeed put on a show that night.

MJ pulled off this vintage under the layup Dr. J-like reverse in a way that only he could at that time....Oh yeah, and it was a three-point play as well.

MJ pulled off this vintage under the layup Dr. J-like reverse in a way that only he could at that time….Oh yeah, and it was a three-point play as well.

The time and date of the game, you ask? Friday, March 27, 1998 at 7:30pm in Atlanta, GA against the Dikembe Mutombo/Steve Smith/Mookie Blaylock-era Hawks. At the time, both teams had much in common, as they were both Central Division rivals (the re-shaping of the NBA’s landscape in 2004 saw the Hawks move to the newly formed Southeast Division) who had faced each other in the previous season’s playoffs. Both teams were in a transitional period. Jordan’s Bulls were uncertain about his playing status beyond that season because of the team’s decision to severe ties with Phil Jackson at the end of that season. The Hawks on the other hand, were literally without a permanent home, as they played their last game in The Omni the previous season, and they took temporary residence in the Georgia Dome and Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum until the Phillips Arena was completed in time for the 1999-00 season.

Upon my attending the game, I knew that this game would be big in terms of its significance. The Jordan Factor by itself was monumental, but the Bulls-who would go on to win their sixth and last NBA championship later that season–played through an entire season which was nicknamed “The Last Dance” by coach Phil Jackson, so it seemed as if EVERYONE wanted to be there. My gut feeling wouldn’t let me down, as the game itself set an NBA attendance record for a single game of 62,046. True to his reputation, Jordan wouldn’t disappoint, as he scored 34 points to lead his team to an 89-74 victory.

It was cool being a part of history, as I received this memoir which commemorated the NBA's single-game attendance record.

It was cool being a part of history, as I received this memoir which commemorated the NBA’s single-game attendance record.

The program directory for the Bulls/Hawks matchup that night.

The program directory for the Bulls/Hawks matchup that night.

My ticket stub for the game.

My ticket stub for the game.

Needless to say, I had a blast watching the greatest player of all time and his Chicago Bulls go toe-to-toe with a very respectable team in the Atlanta Hawks. I want to give a shout-out to a YouTube user by the name of 79maestro who actually put in the time to go into the archives and upload Jordan’s highlights from this game in the video below. If you appreciate classic NBA highlights, and you’d like to see rare Jordan highlights, subscribe to 79maestro’s channel.

My second “Like Mike” experience took place over three and-a-half years later, on Thursday, November 1, 2001…Same time, new arena (Phillips).

After emerging from retirement for a second time, Jordan decided to take on his biggest on-court opponent yet, Father Time. At 38 years of age, despite mixed feelings from fans about his last go-round in the NBA, Jordan laced up the Nikes yet again to test his basketball might against the young whippersnappers at the time, such as Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Tracy McGrady.

Although he aligned himself with new cohorts (the Washington Wizards), Jordan’s game against the Hawks resulted in the same way that it did during the last time he faced the Hawks: another ‘W’. The 38-year-old scored 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in only his second regular season game back. Not bad for an “old man”, huh? Another YouTube uploader, by the name of Swove2204.

Oh yeah, I’ve included a couple of artifacts from this game as well.

My ticket to witness Jordan's first game back against the Hawks, this time as a Washington Wizard.

My ticket to witness Jordan’s first game back against the Hawks, this time as a Washington Wizard.

Program Directory to the Hawks vs, Wizards matchup of November 1, 2001.

Program Directory to the Hawks vs, Wizards matchup of November 1, 2001.

After reading this, you’re probably wondering, “How in the world was B.C. ‘Just Like Mike’? The answer is, we were both in the same building on 3/27/98 & 11/1/01! You didn’t think I was gonna tell you that I could take off from the free throw line, did ya?

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As we enter the 68th season of the National Basketball Association, it’s evident that the 2014-15 campaign isn’t the only thing that’s new surrounding “The League”. We’ll “Witness” veteran superstars go to “NEW” teams (LeBron James), new players (Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, etc), and new coaches (Derek Fisher) who will attempt to lead their teams to victories.

Unfortunately, not all is well in spite of a new season. Due to the fast-paced nature of the game of basketball that is definitely true for the NBA, this season’s first 24+ hours have already experienced a season ending injury to the L.A. Lakers’ prized rookie from the University of Kentucky, Julius Randle, who broke his right tibia during the teams season opener against Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets. Fans all across the NBA landscape are being deprived of watching the basketball greatness of 4-time scoring champion and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant, who is expected to miss the first month of this new NBA season. He also happens to be the cover boy of 2K Sports’s NBA 2K15 (I’m really starting to believe that the fabled “cover curse” that many athletes experience after being placed on the cover of video games is true).

In spite of the previously mentioned adversity, the show must go on. We’ve already witnessed a game winning shot from Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker to beat Jabari Parker’s Milwaukee Bucks, 108-106 to re-introduced the world to the the NBA franchise that had become a household name for much of the 90’s on into the early 00’s.

There are many questions that are left to be unanswered at this point. Will the San Antonio Spurs repeat as champions in 2015? Will legendary coach and now President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks Phil Jackson’s experience as a winner become contagious to his newly inherited team? Can Kobe Bryant, coming off of an achilles heel and knee surguries–not to mention Father Time–hold hold up physically to withstand the rigors of the 82 game NBA season? Will he surpass Michael Jordan’s all time points scored record to reach 3rd on the NBA’s All-Time Scoring list? We can’t help but to just tune in to see.

One thing that is certain is that the Western Conference looks as strong as ever, with high expectations for the Clippers, Warriors, Spurs, Mavericks, Blazers, and Thunder. These are just the teams who are named as favorites to emerge from the West come Finals time in June. While the Western Conference has reigned supreme for quite sometime now, let’s not sleep on the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose appears to be back…and better–and faster–than ever. Can his Chicago Bulls team (that also acquired two-time champion Pau Gasol from the Lakers this past summer) give their neighbors in the Central Division–the Cleveland Cavaliers–a run for their money? Let’s also not forget about the Miami Heat, who despite losing LeBron to free agency, will have what it takes to become a top four team in the East, ESPECIALLY now that the Pacers appear to be out of the conversation due to the severe leg injury suffered by their all-star forward Paul George, as well as the loss of tough-as-nails shooting guard Lance Stephenson to Charlotte.

There are many great teams that appear to be AWESOME on paper at this point in the season, but come June, the old TNT slogan rings true:

“There can only be one”.

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What is it about me that you guys don’t know?

This is what Michael Jordan asked the crowd in attendance at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts on a special evening in September of 2009. After hearing those words uttered by His Airness, you almost got the impression that even he’d be surprised by the fact that some of us had never even heard of him.

Due to the immense amount of scrutiny that he underwent over the years, it’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t at least have a clue who he was.To be honest, I’m not quite sure if there isn’t anything we don’t know about him. Perhaps one of the most famous human beings who have ever lived, it’s safe to mention that the life of Michael Jeffrey Jordan has been one devoid of boredom and predictability.

Thirty.

I’m not referring to MJ’s career regular season scoring average, nor am I referring to the age that Michael was whenever he and his Chicago Bulls won their third straight NBA title against the Phoenix Suns in 1993. While both of the aforementioned references were cool facts to know, the “thirty” that I’m referring to is the amount of years ago that he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. To the average person under the age of 25 who represent the demographic of youth who wear his famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) line of Nike sneakers, chances are high that they’ve never had the opportunity to watch him lace up the sneakers to actually play in them in during a live action NBA game. What made Jordan so unique was that his era–affectionately known as the Jordan Era–started almost immediately, in contrast to many NBA stars who entered the league after he did.

It’s hard to believe that MJ was drafted into the NBA over three decades ago, but it also makes sense because if you’re under the age of 50 and you have watched a considerable amount of basketball for a great deal of your life, then you felt as if Jordan was someone you grew up with, someone who should be enshrined not only into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but into our memory banks as well. All basketball fans have had a “Jordan experience”, and I’m no different. It was Jordan’s electric style of play, coupled with his undeniable marketability, and you have one extremely impressed 9-year-old boy who, during the fall of ’92, made a decision that basketball was his favorite sport, which would eventually become my passion to play the game of basketball, watch the game of basketball as a fan, and ultimately….write about the game of basketball.

In closing,  there isn’t much that we don’t know about the megastar. Thousands of publications, TV analysts, and barbershop regulars have proven that. I’ll keep this one simple because if you’re a lover of the game of basketball like I am, then you’ll realize we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the era that not only changed the sport, but reshaped pop culture at large.

The Charlotte Hornets' return to the NBA will spark fanfare and nostalgia among not only the people in Charlotte, but also many diehard fans across the NBA landscape

The Charlotte Hornets’ return to the NBA will spark fanfare and nostalgia among not only the people in Charlotte, but also many diehard fans across the NBA landscape

The Charlotte Hornets have that mystique about them. If you followed the NBA or were a young kid during the 90’s, then you’ll remember how wildly popular this team was. While many were fixated on the Chicago Bulls’ legendary title runs during this time, the Hornets developed quite the cult following of their own.

Does anyone remember the Starter Jacket Era? If you do, then you knew that the Hornets Starter Jackets were among the most popular jackets worn by people back in the day. Maybe it was the bright teal colored jerseys that had such an effect on fans. Maybe it was the blend of athleticism, power, and charisma that the Hornets’ 1991 number 1 draft pick Larry Johnson exuded. Maybe it was the fact that the Hornets originally took residence back in 1989 as an expansion team in North Carolina, a state that is famously passionate about not just their Hornets, but also their Tar Heels, their Blue Devils, their Demon Deacons, and their Wolfpack to name a few. The state of North Carolina has been a basketball hotbed for years, and its citizens have shown their love to the Hornets by rewarding the franchise with sellout crowds in the old Charlotte Coliseum on numerous occasions throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

Of course, the Charlotte Hornets wouldn’t have the same allure that they have now without putting names to the legend that is the Hornets. Fan favorites such as Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Mugsy Bogues, Dell Curry (father of Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry), and Glen Rice were forces to be reckoned with during the Hornets’ heyday.

Fast forward to 2014, and after witnessing heartbreak on a few occasions, the fans in Charlotte have been through more than what the average loyal fan deserves to endure. They’ve witnessed their Hornets leave Charlotte in 2002 to head to New Orleans (where they lasted until 2013, changing their names to the Pelicans), leaving them without a team for a couple seasons. They then witnessed the years of the Bobcats becoming Charlotte’s NBA team for almost a decade, but the Bobcats just didn’t seem like the Hornets.

In 2013, then-Bobcats owner Michael Jordan made the decision to change the name back to the Hornets, a decision that could prove game-changing for the future of the franchise. I feel that the Hornets return to Charlotte will spark the nostalgic spirit of not just NBA fans in Charlotte, but fans across the entire sports landscape.

This upcoming basketball season, it might be time to dust off that Hornets Starter jacket that you haven’t worn since ’95, and take it to the cleaners to wear again. The “buzz” is back.