Michael Jordan and the NCAA Championship Game
A Legend in Chicago...and North Carolina
More on Michael Jordan
One Night in 82
Long before he ever pulled on his famous Chicago Bulls jersey, Michael Jordan introduced himself to the wider American public in the most dramatic way. Ultimately it would turn out to be a career defining moment, and it occurred at the end of 1982’s edition of March Madness, or to call it by its more official name, the NCAA Championship game.
In 1982, the North Carolina Tar Heels were already a top ranked team, their head coach Dean Smith was already a collegiate legend, and in Sam Perkins and James Worthy they possessed two of the best young players in the country; ultimately both men would go on to have successful NBA careers, notably with the LA Lakers. 1982 though, would mark the arrival of a bright fresh faced young man from Wilmington named Michael Jeffrey Jordan who impressed almost instantly with his skill and work ethic. Smith, watched the young Jordan in practice sessions, and was impressed enough to grant the young man a place in his starting five alongside the more established names. Jordan especially excelled during the one on one drills, leading the clearly amazed Smith to recall later: ‘We didn’t have anybody who could guard him.’
Fast forward to the final minutes of that championship game on the 29th March against the Georgetown Hoyas, and their coach, John Thompson was probably scratching his head, thinking the same thing as his counterpart, as he watched MJ hit three of North Carolina’s last five field goals, and set up the other two with a rebound and a steal. He recorded 12 of his 16 point total in the second half.
Of course, to most people such detailed stats are irrelevant, what most people remember, even to this day is the last shot launched from 16 feet out with just fifteen seconds left, to give the Tar Heels a 63-62 lead over the Hoyas and their equally impressive freshman, one Patrick Ewing. The score held, Georgetown wasted their opportunity to respond when Georgetown guard mistakenly passed to James Worthy thinking he was his team mate, Eric ‘Sleepy’ Floyd.
Ten years later, Michael returned to the scene of his first triumph in basketball for an exhibition game. At the time, he was in a celebratory mood once more, for his Chicago Bulls had just captured the second championship in as many years. He took a moment to gaze high into the rafters of the enormous Superdome in New Orleans, the only words he could utter were ‘Left corner, sixty three thousand fans.’ He also remarked that it was the shot that propelled his career.
It seems ironic that Jordan is still the face associated with that game today, because it was in fact James Worthy that was North Carolina’s star man, he scored 28 points in the final and picked up the MVP award for the whole tournament. But it was MJ that answered the Tar Heels call in the last dozen possessions, pulling down 9 rebounds, including crucially, two from missed free throws.
Setting up the Shot
Okay, so let’s rewind two and a half minutes and explain just how MJ came to hit that now very famous shot. Michael manages to hit a rainbow shot right over the looming bear like arm of Patrick Ewing to give North Carolina a three point cushion. But Georgetown soon came roaring back and retook the lead, 62-61 with just under a minute to go. The Tar Heels worked the ball up court, then opted for a time out with just thirty two seconds left.
Coach Smith gathered the team together for the huddle and considered his options carefully. He knew that his opposite number would target both Worthy and Perkins. Patrick Ewing was an intimidating presence down at the post. So Smith, being the wily old veteran of four previous finals with North Carolina decides to put North Carolina’s season squarely in the hands of a freshman, Michael Jordan. The final play commenced with Jordan exchanging passes with guard Jimmy Black, before Black whipped a cutting pass to Matt Doherty who returned it back to the guard before making the crosscourt dish to Michael who knocked down the biggest shot of his career up to that point. That shot helped set in motion an almost unmatched ability to hit pressure shots in the biggest games. For his part, MJ had managed to shake off the nervousness that had plagued him during the first half.
The Championship Game in Brief
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Later on, even when the young freshman had already transformed himself into the global megastar we all know today, he would still hark back to that famous night in 1982 to reassure both himself and his Chicago teammates whenever they encountered tight moments in playoff games. This was a fact confirmed by Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who actively encouraged his players to use visualisation techniques, as a means of achieving their goals. To put it quite simply, if MJ had missed that shot on the 29th March 1982, he probably wouldn’t have developed into the legendary player so familiar to us all today.