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Michael Jordan was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and he routinely made the playoffs his own personal showcase. He was the king before The King, and he was always at his absolute best when the games truly mattered. His Airness has raised the bar so high in terms of postseason play that even coaches use MJ stories to inspire their own players, as we at Soapbox reported here. Long story short, Steve Kerr wanted his superstar, Kevin Durant, to find his open teammates, much like Jordan did in game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals when he kept feeding an open John Paxson.
Now, Jordan’s postseason career is one long highlight reel, but these 5 moments are arguably the most iconic, with each one able to inspire playoff success.
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The Shot, College Edition
Jordan was a fabulous freshman for the North Carolina Tar Heels, electrifying US college basketball with his high-wire act and winning the ACC Freshman of the Year award. But he was way more than just an aerial acrobat, and he showed that in the 1982 NCAA title game. With the Tar Heels trailing 61–62, the then 19-year-old freshman nailed a jumper on the left wing, which proved to be the game winner. With that one shot, Jordan proved that no one is neither too young, nor too raw, to rise up to the nerve-wracking pressure of the playoffs, let alone a one-off title game.
In 1991, Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their first NBA Finals, against Magic Johnson and the formidable Los Angeles Lakers. The Bulls lost game 1 in heartbreaking fashion, but came back to utterly dominate game 2, with His Airness pulling off one of the greatest moves in NBA history. Bearing down at the middle of the lane, Jordan rose up holding the ball in his right hand for a one-handed jam. Seeing the 6-9 Sam Perkins coming in, Jordan switched the ball to his left hand mid-air, then laid it in softly. It was, as Marv Albert said, matter-of-factly, “a spectacular move by Michael Jordan,” and it signalled the arrival of Number 23 on basketball’s grandest stage. It also showed that there is always a place for a little creativity even in the burning cauldron that is the postseason.
Ranged against rival Clyde Drexler, himself a very talented and athletic two-guard, His Airness made it known right in game 1 that he was the alpha and the omega of the 1992 NBA Finals. Jordan delivered perhaps the greatest half in postseason history, scoring 35 points anchored on 6 triples — in an era when the three-point shot wasn’t the weapon that it is today. After burying his 6th trey, Jordan turned to the broadcast table and infamously shrugged his shoulders, as if expressing his disbelief. If anything, MJ’s reaction is proof that not everything needs to make sense in the playoffs. Sometimes, players must just go with the flow, and strike once the iron gets hot.
Letting It All Out
Aside from The Move, the 1991 NBA Finals gave the world another iconic MJ moment: His Airness seated at his locker and embracing the Larry O’Brien Trophy while crying. Winning the championship was a fitting coronation for the world’s greatest player, and it was a culmination of seven years of hard work filled with failure, near misses, and heartbreaks. With the mission finally complete, Jordan could let all his emotions out, and that moment is a perfect reminder of what is truly at stake in the postseason.
The Final Shot
The top-of-the-key jumper Jordan nailed to clinch the Bulls’ third three-peat was described as “extraordinary’ by The Independent. Basketball fans (other than the perpetually suffering Utah Jazz fans) would most definitely agree as His Airness held that beautiful follow-through just about a split second longer, as if willing the ball to go in — and in it went — while waving good-bye at the same time. But the plays prior set the stage: a gorgeous lay-in to cut a three-point deficit to one, and then a perfectly timed steal off of fellow Hall-of-Famer Karl Malone. That sequence showed that the key to the postseason is doing whatever it takes, and Jordan certainly did everything for the Bulls.
Jordan’s greatness on the grandest of stages is truly undeniable as he often pushed boundaries and exceeded expectations. Come playoff time, nothing seemed impossible when MJ was playing. Lottoland recalls the inspirational philosophy Jordan followed: “Never, say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion”. Such confidence was on display every time His Airness stepped on the court, and it certainly helped him excel in the postseason where he was always at his best.
Now, Number 23 boasts of a few more iconic postseason moments that didn’t make the cut, and some of the most following include The Shot (against the Cavs), The Shot II (against the Cavs again!), The Shot III (against the Jazz), the head-to-head vs. Xavier McDaniel, the Flu Game, and the whole “God disguised as Michael Jordan” game. Just look them up and marvel at Jordan’s greatness.