Celebrating Michael Jordan vs. the Nets

20485564_5bc583281d1As someone who came to basketball in the early 1990s, Michael Jordan was undoubtedly the greatest professional athlete I ever saw and is the greatest basketball player to ever walk the Earth. With his induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame this week, I thought NAS could honor his airness by listing some of his greatest career accomplishments against the Nets.

While the Nets certainly won’t strike many as one of Jordan’s great foes during his career, he’s actually had a number of career highlights against them. Some of the personal bests achieved by Jordan against the Nets include most free throws in a game (26), most defensive rebounds (15), most steals (10), most steals in a quarter (6) and most free throws made without missing (15). Some of these highlights, and many others against the Nets, may rank among some of the best games of his career. Here’s the NAS list. Those who have focused their fandom on  Jordan and the Bulls (and Wizards) may like to quibble and we welcome the input.

#5 March 16, 1996 – Owning the Glass

Jordan proved why he would do whatever it took for his team to win a game. With Dennis Rodman ejected for headbutting a referee earlier in the game, Jordan took over for the rebounding specialist, grabbing 15 defensive boards (a career high) and 16 total for the game. Jordan also added 37 points and 3 blocks, negating Chris Childs’ first-career triple-double in a 97-93 victory in New Jersey. The post-game focus was on Rodman, with now Nets president, then NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Rod Thorn, telling Rodman, “You do not hit an official, that’s for sure.” Jordan, on the other hand, ensured another victory  for his team that was already without Scottie Pippen who was sitting out with an injury.

#4 April 29, 1998 – Shooting Down the Season

The Nets gave the 62-win Bulls everything they could in the first two game of their first-round playoff series in 1998, forcing an overtime in game 1 but losing, and falling five points short in game 2. So for game 3, in front of a sold-out crowd in New Jersey, Michael Jordan showcased why he was the best around, putting the Nets away once and for all by scoring 38 points on 16-22 shooting. The Bulls would win 116-101, sweeping the series, but Jordan had positive words for the Nets organization afterwards, saying to Don Unger, one of the Nets’ owners, “You’ve got to keep this group of guys together. We’re breaking up and this team here can be the team of the future.”

#3 February 21, 2003 – 40 at 40

Jordan becomes the first player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in a game at age 40 when he nets 43 for the Wizards in 96-86 victory against the Nets at the MCI center. With the Wizards trailing by a point, Jordan dropped in a layup with 34.4 seconds left on the clock. He then grabbed the rebound on a Jason Kidd missed three-pointer with about 25 seconds left in the game to seal the victory for Washington. Jordan went 18-30 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line, grabbing 10 rebounds and 4 steals in the process. Afterwards, Jordan said of the game. “My effort’s always going to be young. My love for the game is always going to be young. My body may say 40, but those other things will be young and that was an example of that tonight.’”

#2 February 16, 1991 – His Airness

In a 99-87 Bulls victory over the Nets in Chicago, Jordan’s final stat line may have appeared somewhat pedestrian considering the great things he accomplished over the span of his career: 26 points on 11-26 shooting , 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. However, it’s one specific play of Jordan’s during the game that became one of the more iconic ones of his career. With under 2 minutes left in the third-quarter, the Bulls up 77-65, Jordan got the ball, drove left past Drazen Petrovic, and got air just inside the key near the low block. He flew past Mookie Blaylock, and then split by Derrick Coleman and Chris Dudley, all in mid-air, getting underneath the basket and laying it up on the other side with his left hand. The crowd went wild, and most notably, the Nets bench went wild. Slam writer Bryan Crawford last week wrote of the play: “I missed the game that night but I saw the highlights on the evening news and my jaw hit the floor. It’s the most supernatural thing a man has ever done since walking on water.” Look at around the 6:15 mark of the following clip to see it.

#1 February 26, 1987 – A New High (For a Little While)

Jordan set a then-Bulls record which he would topple a few times later in his career, scoring 58 points, the most by a Chicago player in a regular-season game. The Bulls romped the Nets 128-113. With the Chicago crowd chanting for Jordan to hit 60 points, he took himself out with 2:44 left. Jordan also shattered the team’s record for free throws in game, hitting 26 of 27 from the line. Jordan said: “I knew the fans wanted me to get 60, then 63, and maybe 70. But the bottom line is, that by scoring more points I’ll always have to shoot for more and more, and there’s a lot more to the game.” Michael Jordan would eventually set a personal best of 69 points in a March 20, 1990 game against the Cleveland Cavs.