Michael Jordan's Ten Greatest Performances

Few professional athletes have attained the level of fame that Michael Jordan has. He is one of the few professional athletes to transcend his sport, as he has become a kind of cultural icon. His Jo

Few professional athletes have attained the level of fame that Michael Jordan has. He is one of the few professional athletes to transcend his sport, as he has become a kind of cultural icon. His Jordan Brand sneakers continue to be released each year, and rabid fans go to great lengths to secure a pair of their favourite “Jordans.” When Jordan briefly retired from the NBA to play baseball, President Clinton expressed his hopes that Jordan would return to basketball in one of his speeches. Charles Barkley has said that he has never seen people go crazy over a celebrity like they do over MJ. Indeed, though the media likes to argue whether Lebron James is better than Jordan or not, MJ’s fame and legacy are firmly rooted.

Michael Jeffrey Jordan attended the University of North Carolina, and after his freshmen season, he was already a household name. In his freshmen season, Jordan’s last second shot in the NCAA tournament, a shot that put the nail in Georgetown’s coffin, announced him to the world. He finished his collegiate career as one of the most sought after NBA prospects, and the fact that he dropped to 3rd overall in the draft continues to irk experts today.

His transition to the NBA was as smooth as it gets, as he averaged 28.2 points per game in his rookie season. He soon became the NBA’s most formidable scorer. Over his career, in which he played his best years in Chicago, he averaged 30.1 points, 5.3 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game. As a member of the Bulls, Jordan won 5 MVP Awards and led the franchise to 6 NBA Championships, redefining his position in the process. With regard to his earnings, Jordan was one of the first players to command an exorbitant salary, making over $30 million a year in each of his last two seasons with the Bulls.

This list thus celebrates Michael Jordan, as it ranks his ten best game performances. These performances are notable for a variety of reasons. Some performances are remarkable because of Jordan’s torrid shooting, and others have earned a spot on this list because of their significance in the context of a season or playoff series. Given fans’ tendency to cherish certain moments over others, this list will surely disappoint some diehard Jordan votaries and probably incite a riot on the message boards. Without further ado...

10 64 Points Against the Orlando Magic in 1993

On January 16, 1993, Michael Jordan torched the Orlando Magic, scoring 64 points in a game that went to overtime. Jordan’s 64-point performance against the Magic was his second-highest points tally in a game. Although this output came against a team that did not make the playoffs that season, Jordan had to prove to a rookie Shaquille O’Neal that he was the league’s king. O’Neal entered the league with a good deal of fanfare, and he became an instant success in terms of on-court performance and marketability. Jordan, however, put a precocious Shaq in place that night.

9 69 Points Against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1990

Jordan’s career high for points in a game came against the poor Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that he always eviscerated. After Jordan knocked the team out of the playoffs in 1989, the Cavs bounced back to have a good season in 1989-1990, making the playoffs. However, in March of 1990, Jordan had his way with the Cavs. He shot 23-37 from the field in the game that ended up going to overtime. Aside from a career high for points in a game, Jordan also had a career high in rebounds with 18.   

8 55 Points Against the New York Knicks in 1995

Jordan always had a good deal of malevolence for the New York Knicks, as he repeatedly dashed their hopes throughout his career. And though he often played his best against the Knicks in protracted playoff series, his best game against the Knicks, and one of the best of his career, came in a regular season game. After returning to the NBA (or, after being allowed to return), Jordan, who had been away from the game for 21 months, scored 55 points in his fifth game back. Jordan gutted the Knicks defense at Madison Square Garden, a tough place to play for visitors, as New York fans are notorious for their ill-will towards opponents. Baseball clearly had no effect on his shooting touch.

7 Game 2, 1986 Eastern Conference Playoffs

In game 2 of the first round of the 1986 Eastern Conference playoffs, Jordan single-handedly dominated the Boston Celtics, scoring 63 points. The 1986 Celtics had Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, and Bill Walton—a team that experts continue to extol as one of the league best all-time. Not only was the team good—they were cocky, as Kevin McHale challenged Jordan prior to the game. Jordan responded with an incredible performance, but the Bulls were outmatched; the Celtics won the game and swept the series. Had the Bulls won, Jordan’s performance would be higher on this list.

6 Game 4, 1993 NBA Finals

In game 4 of the 1993 Finals, Jordan torched the Phoenix Suns for 55 points, adding 4 assists and 8 rebounds to his scoring output. His performance propelled the Bulls to a commanding 3-1 series lead—a lead that they would not relinquish. Jordan put up similar numbers in a host of playoff games, but this performance deserves praise in that the Suns were a formidable opponent. Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson in their primes were no joke, and Barkley had a singular ability to get under opponents’ skin. But it was all business for Jordan that day.

5 Game 5, 1989 Eastern Conference Playoffs

In Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 playoffs, Jordan sent the Cleveland Cavaliers to an early vacation, recording 44 points, 6 assists, and 9 rebounds. He punctuated his performance with a last second shot over poor Craig Ehlo. After the shot, Jordan erupted with an effusive celebration, jumping in the air and pumping the air with his fist. Unfortunately for the Bulls, the team did not make the Finals that season. Jordan, however, made sure that Craig Ehlo will never be forgotten, if only for his futile defense against His Airness.

4 Game 1, 1992 NBA Finals

In game 1 of the 1992 NBA finals, Jordan came out sprinting against the Portland Trailblazers, scoring 35 first-half points and dominating his counterpart, Clyde Drexler. Of those 35 first-half points, 18 came from three pointers. He ended the game with 39 points and 11 assists, but his 35 first-half points remain a Finals record. One of Jordan’s iconic moments came in this game, as he looked over at his bench and shrugged during his first-half scoring barrage. For whatever reason, Jordan’s whimsical “shrug” became an instant classic.

3 Game 2, 1991 NBA Finals

Jordan’s performance in game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals is significant for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, he played exceptionally well, carrying his team on his back and finishing the contest with 33 points, 7 rebounds, and 13 assists. He punctuated his stellar game with one of the most iconic shots in basketball history, when he penetrated L.A.’s defense, jumped with the intention of laying the ball up with his right hand, and, in the air, switched the ball from right to left. Jordan’s performance also marked his ascension to the top of the basketball world, proving that he had surpassed Magic Johnson as the league’s best.

2 Game 5, 1997 NBA Finals

Given the fact that, prior to the game, he suffered from flu-like symptoms, Jordan’s performance in game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals is legendary. In fact, Jordan did not suffer from the flu, but rather, food-poisoning; he had intrepidly eaten bad pizza the night before—a pizza that his other teammates refused to eat. Regardless, he lit the Jazz up, scoring 38 points despite dehydration. A memorable moment from the game was when Scottie Pippen had to help Jordan walk off the court; Jordan looked sick, leaning heavily on Pippen with his mouth hanging open. What makes this performance special is not just Jordan’s sickly condition, but the context of the series, which was tied 2-2 going into game 5.

1 Game 6, 1998 NBA Finals

Chris Tucker said it best: “And you know this, man!” Indeed, though Jordan had statistically better performances in other NBA Finals games, his final performance in a Bulls uniform is his greatest. He scored 44 points to beat the Utah Jazz, propelling the Bulls to their second three-peat and sixth championship since 1991. In vintage Jordan fashion, he stripped Karl Malone with under a minute left in the game, dribbled down the floor, and methodically waited for the best moment to make his game-winning shot. He wound up isolating Byron Russell at the top of the three-point arc; he dribbled to the right, crossed back to his left (albeit with a slight shove to Russell’s right thigh), and sank the game-winning shot with under ten seconds left in the game—what  a way to cap his career with the Bulls

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Michael Jordan's Ten Greatest Performances