GENE SISKEL RATES MICHAEL JORDAN'S BEST PERFORMANCES IN NEW YORK
Thumbs Up for Jordan
The late Gene Siskel wasnít only passionate about films but about the Chicago Bulls and the NBA as well. As a longtime Bulls season ticket holder, the world renowned film critic and astute basketball observer was witness to many memorable Michael Jordan moments. Siskel wrote several articles for NBA publications, including this one from the 1998 All-Star Program on M.J.ís top five Madison Square Garden performances.
Here's a formula for excitement: MJ + MSG = WOW. Translation:
Michael Jordan at Madison Square Garden equals Major Thrills. More often than not, when Jordan plays the Knicks in their home arena, he turns Seventh Avenue into the Great Mike Way.
In honor of Michael's visit to the Garden for the 48th All-Star Game, and in the spirit of the 69th Academy Awards to be held next month in Los Angeles, I have been asked by the NBA to select the best performance by Michael Jordan in a leading role in Manhattan.
The league selected five nominees and sent me the game tapes. I screened them at home. Here is my game-by-game analysis that leads to the way I marked my ballot. First, per tradition, Jack Valenti ... I mean David Stern, will explain the voting procedure:
"Whatever Gene votes for, wins." Thank you, David.
The nominees are:
November 8, 1984
Michael, a rookie, in only the seventh game of his professional career, drops 33 points on the Knicks, leaving midway through the fourth quarter to a standing ovation from an awe-struck New York crowd, as the Bulls cruise in a blowout, 121-106.
After missing his first shot, an easy lay-up, MJ cans his next five straight, including such highlight-reel candidates as stealing an inbounds pass and driving for a rim-rocking jam as well as driving along the baseline en route to a double-clutch, over-the-shoulder, reverse dunk. Jordan also drains open shots, including one in front of a frozen Bernard King at the top of the key. A game announcer mentions how impressed he is by Jordan's ability to hit open shots from about 15 feet, saying that his scouting report noted Jordan's athleticism but not his cool shot-making. The previous night in Detroit, Jordan had been held scoreless in the first two periods but finished the game with 25 second-half points.
Keeping his tongue in his mouth -- when did that start?-- he repeatedly evokes memories of Julius Erving, particularly when he elevates a foot inside the free-throw line, floats to the hoop, and jams hard.
NBA notables who saw the game up-close include muscular Knicks guard Ernie Grunfeld, who is guarded briefly by Jordan and is attending the 1998 NBA All-Star Game as the Knicks' general manager.
November 1, 1986
In the Bulls' first game of the year and Michael's first full season since his broken left foot sidelined him for 64 games, MJ shatters the Garden scoring record for Knicks opponents. He rings up a glittering 50 points, beating Rick Barry's and Quintin Dailey's 44.
Amazingly, Jordan doesn't shoot well from the field, missing his first eight shots and ringing up only three free throws in the first quarter. In the second period, Jordan gets creative, driving from the charity stripe and scooping the ball into the basket, prompting Madison Square Garden TV announcer John Andariese to ask partner Greg Gumbel a question that will vex play-by-play men for more than a decade, "How do you describe that?" TGFV, John. Thank God For Videotape.
Jordan nails a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter from approximately the same spot as his NCAA Finals winner for North Carolina. During Jordan's 21-point fourth quarter, he begins toying with new defender Rory Sparrow, prompting the announcers to say, "He looks forward to playing here. This is his favorite arena, he says in the press book. He's a great showman and knows that the fans here are most appreciative."
One footnote. Jordan's competitive zeal is revealed with just two seconds left in the game as he shoots his final free throws. He makes the first, putting the game away as the Bulls now lead by four. But before shooting the second, he silently mouths to himself, "Let's go!" (I'm lip-reading). Let's go? He already had 49 points. Well, go he does, and he does get his 50.
April 19, 1988
Psychologists talk about two kinds of events in our lives: character-revealing and character-defining, the latter occurring far less often. One's response to receiving too much change is character-revealing; one's response to war is character-defining.
Without comparing sports to war, this would be a character- and career-defining game for Michael Jordan as he scored 47 points and led the Bulls toward their first 50-victory season, denying the Knicks a playoff berth, 121-118.
This year was a watershed year for Michael. He was named MVP for the first time for both the regular season and the All-Star Game, leading the league in scoring, and -- most impressively for a scorer -- also was named Defensive Player of the Year. This was his valedictory performance in front of the influential New York media who would vote for those awards.
Jordan put on a dunking clinic throughout the contest, reaching his apogee on a rim-rocking stuff as he hit a board -- crashing
Patrick Ewing in the head with his knee and then his hip. ("Welcome to Air Jordan. We'll be cruising tonight at an altitude of seven feet.") How good was Jordan this night? Said Ewing after being poster-ized, "He was simply amazing. Nobody could stop him tonight."
MJ shot 18 for 27 from the floor, faking drives and hitting open 17-footers, flying over defenders to the hole, and whipping around others along the baseline as well. A particularly impressive hustle sequence occurred in the third quarter as Jordan drives toward the bucket, passes back to a wide-open Dave Corzine, who misses a 15-footer, which Jordan then rebounds in a crowd and stuffs. "He's just killing the Knicks," said announcer Marv Albert. After another flying dunk, Marv marvels, "He's angry."
Jordan poured in 11 points in just over three minutes early in the fourth quarter to guarantee the victory. "Michael Jordan was as great as I have ever seen him," said then-Knicks coach Rick Pitino. "You can't stop Jordan. He was like Superman, and I didn't have any Kryptonite." True that; all he had was Rookie of the Year
Mark Jackson on MJ.
Character-defining? Before the Tuesday night game, Jordan had been sick since Friday with the flu, not practicing Monday and not falling asleep until four in the morning of game day. The pattern: When Jordan suffers before the game, his opponents suffer during the game.
June 2, 1993
In a critical Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, a game that the Bulls needed to win if they hoped to advance to the NBA Finals, Chicago faced a New York squad that had won 27 straight games in the Garden.
Jordan would have a mostly poor shooting night, making only four of his first 14 attempts, but his eventual triple-double, a playoffs rarity, is crucial to the Bulls' drive toward their third consecutive NBA championship.
Jordan had scored 54 points in Chicago in Game 4 against the Knicks and told reporter Ahmad Rashad before this game that he hoped to distribute the ball better, seeking to generate at least 10 assists. He ended up calling his shot, so to speak, finishing with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists -- pouring in 17 consecutive Bulls points during a 14-minute span in the second half.
This game, which four year later still has many die-hard Knicks fans, including Spike Lee, screaming, "Foul!," is most noted for Knicks forward Charles Smith missing four consecutive, potential game-winning layups at the end of regulation. Jordan swiped away one, and
Scottie Pippen blocked the last two, during a series of "no calls" by the refs.
Regardless, Jordan never had a triple-double in a bigger game than this, and so despite his uneven shooting, it qualifies for consideration among his best Manhattan melodramas.
March 28, 1995
The famous "double nickel" game as Michael rolls a pair of fives, racking up 55 points, in only his fifth game and first Garden appearance after his 17-month retirement. Jordan scores nearly half of the Bulls' points in their 113-111 victory, getting the game's final assist by passing the ball to center
Bill Wennington, who cruises unguarded to the basket for a stuff.
Jordan showed he was back in top form when he poured in 55 points at MSG in just his fifth game back from his 17-month retirement.
Jordan so demoralizes Knick guard
John Starks, assigned to defend Superman, that Starks, following Wennington's basket, drops an inbounds pass with just three seconds left in the game and boots the ball back over the center stripe -- this less than a minute after Jordan dropped the game-winner, a fallaway jumper, over a befuddled Starks from about 16 feet.
Says Jordan boldly after the game: "I think he forgot how to play me. I got a lot of easy shots." Jordan breaks his own nine-year-old record (see November 1, 1986 game above) for most points scored by an opponent in the new Garden, hitting 21 of 37 shots from the field.
"Michael always gets pumped up at Madison Square Garden," said then Knicks announcer Marv Albert, after Jordan had hit his first six of seven shots, adding, prophetically, "He's going for the throat. He wants 50 to 60." Jordan typically distributes the ball early in games to his teammates, building their confidence. But on this night, in the off-Broadway opening scene of the second act of his basketball career, Jordan humiliates Starks early and often, driving around him with ease.
Can you tell where this is leading?
And the winner is ... the envelope please ... rip, rip ...
March 28, 1995
The 55-point game. In addition to all of the shot-making and that winning assist, what sets this game apart is that it alone restored confidence in the NBA among a fan base that had been mourning the passing of an era, with the retirements of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. So hungry was the public for Michael's return that the TNT broadcast of the "double nickel" became by far the highest-rated, regular-season game in TNT history. Michael was back in the house; all is right with the world.
And now, in his acceptance speech, Michael would like to thank all of the "little people" along the way who helped him get to where he is, particularly 6-5 John Starks, one of many players who couldn't guard him.