The Best Game I've Ever Seen by Jack McCallum
On the morning of May 7, 1989, a Sunday, I had breakfast with the Chicago Bulls at a suburban Cleveland hotel, probably a Marriott. It was a simpler time, you see, more mingling between the superstars and the unwashed, ink-stained wretches back then.
Michael Jordan, fresh off his third-consecutive scoring title and at the top of his one-on-one powers, was loose and confident. But his demeanor belied the mission of the day -- beating a strong Cavaliers team (Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper, Larry Nance, Craig Ehlo, the "team of the '90s," as Magic Johnson described them) -- that was playing on its home court in a decisive Game 5 Eastern Conference first-round playoff game. The Cavs had beaten the Bulls six times during the regular season, and Jordan had missed a free throw that had cost Chicago Game 4.
Some four hours later, Jordan and his teammates began a game that was tightly played throughout. The crowd was loud, and the Cavaliers led 100-99 with about seven- or eight-seconds left. Brad Sellers of the Bulls inbounded at sidecourt after Chicago coach Doug Collins had called a timeout. Everybody knew Sellers was going to try to get it to Jordan, who already had 42 points, but Ehlo, a scrappy 6-foot-7 guard, had a reputation as a "Jordan stopper." Cue laugh track.
Jordan made a mad dash for the pass, like a kid trying to get loose during a playground game of tag. He got it, took a couple frantic dribbles, and, with Ehlo right on him, double-pumped in a 15-foot jumper to win it. But you know that part. You've seen it -- what? -- a thousand times.
In a career filled with iconic moments, for some reason this one, which occurred in a first-round game and did not lead to a championship, ranks with any of them. Why? Perhaps because it won the game and beat the buzzer. Perhaps because we remember Jordan's exultant leap. And perhaps because we remember Ehlo's "what-just-happened?" expression of pain, not the last time the Cavs would be tortured by His Airness.
I also remember Jordan alongside of Collins after the game. Somebody asked Collins what the final play was called.
"That was the 'get the ball to Michael and everybody get the f--- out of the way' play" answered Collins.
Jordan cracked up.
What's neat is that I can remember playing that shot out a million times in my backyard. Certain things stick with you your whole life, certain lessons learned, certain stories played out, and somehow these stories become bigger as we grow older. I remember watching that game. I remember thinking about how clutch a performer Craig Ehlo was by making two go ahead shots at the end of the game....but too bad for him, Jordan was too!