Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14, 1998: The Last Shot

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - It was the perfect final sequence, the perfect way to end the career of the most extraordinary basektball player of all time. If you break down Michael Jordan's final two possessions as an NBA player, you can see a little bit of everything that made him a brilliant player for 14 seasons. It starts with the Bulls down 3, 86-83, in the closing seconds of Game 6 of the finals.

Ability to get to the rim
When Jordan got the ball at the top of the key, he easily could have hoisted up an attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer. Instead, he drove, getting around Bryon Russell, avoiding John Stockton, and shooting over Antoine Carr. Nobody was stopping him from getting that layup.

Basketball IQ
Jordan showed his basketball smarts on that offensive possession, knowing it would be easier to get a 2 and a stop than it would be to get a 3. On the next defensive possession, he showed it again. As Karl Malone set up on the low block, Jeff Hornacek cleared the area. Jordan, guarding Hornacek, started to follow him, but stopped, knowing Hornacek would never get the ball and catching the Jazz off-guard.

Defensive ability
There's a reason Jordan made the All-Defensive team 9 times. Stockton had to have thrown 100,000 passes to Malone over the course of their hall-of-fame careers. He knew how to feed the post, and Malone knew how to get a pass. Jordan swept in and almost effortlessly took the ball away from Malone, getting the one defensive stop the Bulls needed right when they needed it.

Bending the rules
All great athletes know how to get around the rules, or how to flat-out break them without being caught. When Jordan pushed off Russell on his final possession, at first nobody noticed. Later, after replays made it obvious, nobody cared.

Sense of the moment
One final jump shot to clinch a championship - really, did anybody expect Jordan to miss? Even the most passionate of Utah fans had to know that shot was going in. Add to that the rumors that Jordan would retire after the season and yah - it was going in. No questions asked. And then the pose, holding his follow-through for a second or so longer than necessary. Jordan knew that was his last shot. He knew how big the moment was. So he milked it for a little while longer.

All in all, it was the perfect end to a storybook career, one that ... wait. What? You say he came back to play for the Wizards? Are you sure? Hmmm. Well, can we just pretend that never happened? It makes it much easier that way. Thanks.

June 14, 1994: NEW YORK - Rangers fans had been waiting for 54 years. What was another 2 seconds? As the puck was cleared down to the other end, signalling the end of Vancouver's final scoring opportunity in Game 7, the fans in Madison Square Garden erupted, thinking the Rangers had just won the Stanley Cup they so desperately craved. But what's this? A whistle? Icing!? How could the ref call icing at a time like this? No matter. A faceoff win, a final buzzer, no officials getting in the way this time. The Rangers had their 3-2 victory and their Stanley Cup, and the celebration lasted into the night.

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