By Josh Cohen
October 12, 2011
ORLANDO -- I recently started reminiscing some of the most memorable game-winning shots from the 1990’s. After evaluating each occurrence, I figured I would document each of them and have all of you vote and decide which shot you find most unforgettable.
Michael Jordan’s immortalized game-winning jumper to clinch the Chicago Bulls’ sixth NBA championship in eight seasons may always be branded as the most renowned single moment in sports history.
While other treasured occurrences, including Joe Carter’s game-winning homerun to complete the 1993 World Series and Joe Montana’s touchdown toss to John Taylor in the 1989 Super Bowl, deserve praise, it is MJ’s implausible shot over Bryon Russell that continues to spellbind sports fans.
Aside from the result – another Bulls title – the mere fact that it was Jordan’s final bucket in a Chicago uniform makes this moment even more awe-inspiring.
The Knicks-Heat rivalry had developed into one of the most spirited enmities in the NBA by the late 90’s.
It essentially started during the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals – a series that was defined by a bench-clearing scuffle that resulted in impactful suspensions – and became even more impassioned the following year when the unforgettable Alonzo Mourning-Larry Johnson fracas ensued.
But, the New York-Miami feud really launched when Allan Houston silenced the crowd in South Beach with his last-second game winning running jumper to eliminate the Heat and send the Knicks to the conference semis.
It was one of only four times in NBA history that a No. 8 seed eradicated a No. 1 in the First Round (Denver in 1994, New York in 1999, Golden State in 2007 and Memphis in 2011).
It’s one of very few moments in sports history that was so momentous that it earned its own nickname.
It became recognized as the “Kiss of Death” and it was Mario Elie’s most unsullied signature moment.
Previously trailing the Western Conference Semifinals 3-1 to the highly favored Phoenix Suns, the Houston Rockets rallied back and completed one of the most extraordinary series comebacks in NBA history when Elie buried a game-winning corner 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds left in a decisive Game 7.
Immediately following the shot, Elie made a taunting kissing gesture towards the Suns bench.
It was perhaps the best execution by a team to close a game in NBA history: Unselfish, sharp and prompt.
Initially it appeared it would be 1 vs. 5, but instead Michael Jordan dished to Scottie Pippen, who slid the ball to Horace Grant before John Paxson was found wide open for a go-ahead 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals.
While it was difficult to not be shocked that MJ didn’t attempt the final shot, the Suns knew that only a 3-pointer could beat them in regulation and yet the Bulls still managed to grab the lead and win their third consecutive NBA championship.
Tie game, timeout called, 11 seconds remaining, Suns ball: Everyone in that building and watching on television knew who was taking Phoenix’s last shot of regulation.
Yet despite San Antonio’s decision to have its All-Star David Robinson act as the primary stopper, Charles Barkley drilled a straightaway series-securing jumper with 1.8 seconds left in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference Semis.
In years following Barkley’s shot, much criticism was placed on the Spurs’ execution to not force the ball out of the superstar’s hands.
It’s so remarkable that the first NBA Finals game and last one between Chicago and Utah ended practically the same exact way.
Everyone remembers Michael Jordan’s celebrated game winner in Salt Lake City to clinch the 1998 NBA championship. But what some forget is that MJ connected on essentially the same precise jumper to end Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
While the crossover wasn’t quite as striking as it was in ’98, Jordan lifted over Bryon Russell and sunk a buzzer-beating jumper from the left wing to give the Bulls a 1-0 advantage in the series.
In baseball, it’s the infrequent triple play; in football, it’s the unexpected Hail Mary touchdown; in basketball it’s the always-surprising four-point play.
When something distinctive happens in sports, it tends to stand out.
This is exactly what transpired during the 1999 Eastern Conference Semis when Larry Johnson connected on an inconceivable go-ahead four-point play in Game 3 against the Pacers.
It remains very controversial whether LJ was actually fouled by Antonio Davis, but much respect must be rewarded to Johnson for staying composed to sink the free throw.
John Stockton deserves admiration for his buzzer-beating series-clinching 3-pointer in the 1997 Western Conference Finals against the Rockets, but perhaps Karl Malone’s play-creation warrants even more eulogize.
Freed up to attempt an uncontested long-distance shot by Malone’s bullied screen on Clyde Drexler, Stockton took full advantage of the opportunity as he propelled the Jazz to the NBA Finals.
While some believe The Mailman’s pick was illegal, it generally went unnoticed and it permitted announcer Greg Gumbel to deliver an epic call. Some still aren’t sure what exactly was blurted out immediately after Stockton’s shot.
When you reflect on the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, generally names such as Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman come to mind.
But in the 1990 NBA Finals, it was an atypical, unsuspecting soldier that would prove to be the decisive hero.
Vinnie Johnson – often nicknamed The Microwave – delivered a final knockout punch in Portland as he drained a last-second game-winning jumper to award Detroit a second consecutive NBA championship.
During the championship celebration days after, Steve Kerr made an amusing joke.
He said that prior to his astounding title-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan decided he wasn’t comfortable taking the last shot with the game on the line. With innumerable laughs flowing at the Chicago parade, Kerr suggested he voluntarily rose to the occasion and offered to attempt the pressure-packed shot.
Somewhat remarkable, during that timeout prior to the Bulls’ final play, MJ told Kerr to be ready when John Stockton selects to double team Jordan. When that happened, Kerr was prepared and tranquilly sunk a game-winning jumper in the closing seconds.
Which shot stands out in your head the most from the 1990's?