By Vaughn McClure, Chicago Tribune reporter
7:24 PM EST, February 16, 2013
Michael Jordan probably provided about 50,000 breathtaking moments during his basketball career. On MJ's 50th birthday, we try to capture some of his high points — adding up to 50.
2 — March 29, 1982: As a freshman at North Carolina, Jordan hit a 17-foot jumper from the left wing with 15 seconds remaining, which proved to be the winning basket in a 63-62 victory over Georgetown in the national title game. Jordan finished with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting. His teammate, James Worthy, sealed the victory with a steal in the final seconds.
4 — Oct. 26, 1984: Jordan, the third overall pick in the '84 draft, made his NBA debut in front of 13,913 at Chicago Stadium, and his first career basket was a 12-footer right of the lane at the 7-minute, 27-second mark of the first quarter. Jordan finished with 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting in a 109-93 victory over the Washington Bullets. Then-Bulls coach Kevin Loughery said Jordan didn't play well and had first-night jitters. Safe to say Jordan overcame his shaky start.
6 — April 20, 1986: Jordan made Celtics legend Larry Bird look like a mere mortal on a play that remains a fixture in highlight reels. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, Jordan — recovered from an early-season broken foot — dribbled between his legs three times with Bird guarding him, got Bird off balance, then elevated for a right-wing jumper in Bird's face. It was one of Jordan's 22 field goals in an NBA playoff-record 63-point performance, but the Bulls fell 135-131 in double overtime. Afterward, Bird said it was "God disguised as Michael Jordan."
8 — Jan. 25, 1989: Jordan reached 10,000 career points on a 16-foot fadeaway that put the Bulls ahead 102-101 in the fourth quarter against the 76ers. Jordan finished with 33 points on 14-of-25 shooting, but the 76ers won 120-108. It was Jordan's 303rd game. His father, James Jordan, was in attendance and said the milestone "sort of snuck up on me. I wasn't aware of it until the announcer said it.''
10 — May 7, 1989: Three seconds separated the Bulls from advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1980-81 season, and Jordan wanted "The Shot." He shook free of harassing Cavs defender Larry Nance to take the inbounds pass from Brad Sellers. Jordan dribbled left twice to the foul line, then launched a hanging, reload jumper over Craig Ehlo that rattled in at the buzzer, giving the Bulls a 101-100 victory and a 3-2 first-round-series win. Jordan, who scored 44, catapulted into the air and pumped his fist four times after the game-winner. One can almost hear Jim Durham and Johnny "Red" Kerr screaming "The Bulls win it! They win it!"
12 — June 2, 1989: Who could forget this one: In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons, Jordan jumped into the passing lane to steal a Bill Laimbeer pass and kept the ball in play before running out of bounds. Jordan came back into play, corralled a pass from Sellers, spun his body 180 degrees in the air backward and flipped a wild shot over his head while fouled by Laimbeer. Jordan missed the free throw, but the first-quarter trick shot was well worth the price of admission — even though the Bulls lost the game (103-94) and the series (4-2).
13 — March 28, 1990: Jordan extended his tongue in his usual fashion as he stepped to the line in overtime for the second of two free throws. As he watched the ball go through the net, Jordan emphatically nodded his head after scoring his career-high 69th point. Jordan's effort paved the way to a 117-113 overtime road triumph over the Cavs. He made 23 of 37 field goals and 21 of 23 free throws. Then-Cavs coach Lenny Wilkens later complained about Jordan getting preferential treatment from the referees.
15 — April 30, 1991: The Bulls trailed the Knicks 54-50 in the second quarter of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first round. Jordan, on the left wing, drove by guard John Starks but was cut off by old friend Charles Oakley. Jordan then faked as if to bring the ball back out, pivoted and exploded back to the rim for a one-handed flush over 7-footer Patrick Ewing. Jordan, who was fouled, stared down a stumbling Ewing after the play. Knicks guard Hubert Davis' look of disbelief on the bench summed it up. The Bulls won the game and swept the series.
17 — June 5, 1991: It was a shot basketball players everywhere tried to emulate, wanting to "be like Mike." Late in Game 2 of the 1991 Finals, Jordan took a pass from Cliff Levingston, darted down the lane with the intent to finish with his right hand, then switched to his left in midair and effortlessly converted the acrobatic layup. It's difficult to say if he was trying to avoid contact because no Laker appeared to have a chance to stop him. Not to mention it was Jordan's 13th consecutive field goal in a 33-point performance, sparking a Bulls blowout and setting the tone for the franchise's first championship.
18 — Nov. 23. 1991: Known for usually backing up his constant trash talk, Jordan had an epic moment in the waning seconds of a107-100 regular-season victory in Denver. With 3.5 seconds remaining, Jordan was sent to the free-throw line because the Nuggets refused to surrender a breakaway dunk. Just before his second attempt, Jordan smiled at Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo, and the two exchanged words. Jordan obviously bragged that he could hit the free throw with his eyes closed, and he proceeded do just that. He went 7-for-7 from the line in the game and finished with 37 points.
21 — June 3, 1992: "The Shrug" instantly became a signature move for Jordan after his performance in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals. Jordan's 3-point barrage concluded with his sixth long-range bomb of the first half over dejected Blazers forward Cliff Robinson, after which Jordan looked in the direction of the TV commentators, shrugged his shoulders and extended his hands as if to indicate, "What can I say?'' He tied a Finals record for 3s in a game and set a record with 35 first-half points. Oh, the Bulls won the game 122-89 en route to their second straight NBA title.
23 — Aug 8, 1992: Jordan's soaring, kiss-the-rim dunk for his 11th and 12th points ignited the "Dream Team" in a 117-85 rout of Croatia for the Olympic gold in Barcelona. Jordan scored a game-high 22 points as the U.S. overcame a surprising early-game deficit against Jordan's future Bulls teammate, Toni Kukoc. It was Jordan's second gold medal, following the one in 1984 when he wrote a note to coach Bob Knight before the gold-medal game saying, "Coach. Don't worry. We've put up with too much s--- to lose now."
26 — Jan. 8, 1993: Jordan's 3-pointer with 5:12 left in a 120-95 rout of the Bucks put him at 20,000 points in his ninth NBA season. He was taken out 13 seconds later to a thunderous ovation at Chicago Stadium. At the time, Jordan became the 18th player in NBA history to reach the milestone, doing so in 620 games, second-quickest to Wilt Chamberlain (499). "For a guy to reach 20,000 points that quickly is unbelievable," Horace Grant said.
29 — Feb. 1, 1993: Recounting Jordan's greatest shots wouldn't be complete without an improbable buzzer-beater. Jordan had his share of half-court shots, but none prettier than the one in a regular-season game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. With four seconds left in the first half, Jordan dribbled up the court under pressure and essentially buried a half-court jump shot. The Jazz's Karl Malone lazily swiped at the ball as Jordan elevated. Jordan wowed the crowd and even applauded himself on a 37-point night in a 96-92 Bulls victory.
31 — May 17, 1993: He did it again. With 7.5 seconds left in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semis, Jordan got the ball on the right arc against Cavs defender Gerald Wilkins. As Jordan turned to make his move, Wilkins knocked the ball away. Jordan retrieved it, backed into Wilkins with three dribbles, then sent a fading jumper over the arms of Wilkins and John "Hot Rod" Williams from nearly the same spot as the Ehlo play. This shot grazed the rim and trickled through the net for a 103-101 Bulls victory and 4-0 series sweep.
34 — June 16, 1993: Only once in his career did Jordan hit 55 points in the Finals. Jordan's driving layup after a bump from Suns forward Charles Barkley in the final seconds of Game 4 — coupled with the and-one free throw — gave Jordan 55 points and gave the Bulls a commanding 3-1 series edge on the way to their first three-peat. Jordan's reaction following the clinching bucket was classic as he hopped around with his arms extended.
36 — March 19, 1995: A left-corner jumper over Pacers sharpshooter Reggie Miller with 4:06 left in the second quarter was Jordan's first field goal of the game and officially marked MJ's return from a 21-month hiatus following his father's murder and a brief stint with the White Sox organization. Jordan, wearing No. 45, was a little rusty, going 7-for-28 from the field for 19 points in 43 minutes. But his presence was felt in a 103-96 overtime loss at Market Square Arena.
38 — March 28, 1995: A pump fake sent Knicks guard John Starks flying into the air, creating just enough space for Jordan to nail a fading jump shot with 26 seconds left in regulation for his 54th and 55th points in his first game in New York since his NBA return. It stood as the most points for an opponent at Madison Square Garden until Kobe Bryant hit for 61 almost 14 years later. Jordan and the Bulls beat the Knicks that night 113-111.
41 — May 14, 1996: In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the hated Knicks, Jordan's 3-pointer gave the Bulls an 86-72 lead with 3:24 left in regulation. He jab-stepped guard Derek Harper, then nailed the shot. Afterward, Jordan looked over at film director Spike Lee and waved goodbye as the Bulls won the series 4-1. Jordan scored 35 in the 94-81 win.
43 — May 13, 1997: Jordan stole a page out of the 7-foot Mutombo's trash-talk book during Game 5 of the 1997 East semis, when Jordan's Bulls faced Mutombo's new team, the Atlanta Hawks. Jordan took a slick baseline pass from Luc Longley, dunked over Mt. Mutombo, then waved a finger in Mutombo's face — the same hand gesture Mutombo repeatedly used toward opponents he blocked at the rim. Jordan was whistled for a technical foul on the play, but Phil Jackson and the rest of the Bulls had a good laugh. The Bulls won 107-92 and wrapped up the series 4-1.
46 — June 11, 1997: It was known as "The Flu Game." Jordan entered the Finals contest against the Jazz drained by an illness, but he generated enough energy to sink a 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining, pushing the Bulls ahead 88-85. After the shot, an exhausted Jordan rested on Scottie Pippen's shoulder as Pippen practically carried Jordan to the bench. Jordan finished with 38 points in a 90-88 victory in Utah for a 3-2 series edge.
48 — June 14, 1998: The moment forever will be suspended in basketball time. As the final seconds ticked away in Game 6 of the Finals in Salt Lake City, Jordan pounded his dribble at the top of the circle against defender Bryon Russell. Jordan drove right, created space with a not-so-subtle left-handed push of Russell, crossed over and swished a 17-footer with 5.2 seconds left, propelling the Bulls to an 87-86 victory and their sixth NBA title. Jordan posed with his right arm extended after the basket, making his last shot as a Bull arguably the most memorable of his 15-year NBA career.
49 — Jan 4, 2002: Jordan joined the exclusive 30,000-point club during his two-season stint with the Washington Wizards. And he did it against his old team. Jordan needed 15 points in a home game against the Bulls to accomplish the feat. With about 5 minutes left in the second quarter, he drew a foul from old friend Ron Artest. Jordan hit both free throws and got a standing ovation. The game wasn't stopped until Jordan was fouled two possessions later. It took Jordan, 38 years old at the time, 960 games to reach 30,000, second-fastest all time to Chamberlain (941).
50 — April 16, 2003: Jordan's final NBA point, with the Wizards, was the second of two free throws with 1:45 remaining in a 107-87 loss to the 76ers. Jordan finished with 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting — almost identical numbers to his NBA debut. His last field goal was an 18-foot jumper in the third quarter off an assist from Larry Hughes. "Now I guess it hits me that I'm not going to be in a uniform anymore — and that's not a terrible feeling," Jordan told the media after the game. He finished his career with 32,292 points, third-most behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ( 38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928).
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