Celebrating Michael Jordan's 50th Birthday with His Top 50 Career MomentsFebruary 17, 2013
Celebrating Michael Jordan's 50th Birthday with His Top 50 Career Moments
Michael Jordan turns 50 on All-Star Sunday, Feb. 17, which has recently led to all sorts of brilliant career retrospectives on the man known as "Air Jordan."
His Airness, he of six NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVPs, five regular-season MVPs, three All-Star Game MVPs, a Defensive Player of the Year Award and the 1984-85 Rookie of the Year Award, deserves all of the platitudes.
He's a man who finished with the league's highest all-time points-per-game average (30.12), the most seasons leading the league in points (11), the most seasons leading the league in points per game (10) and the most games with at least 30 points (563), along with the highest-ever playoff scoring average (33.45 PPG).
Needless to say, picking out the 50 greatest highlights of his career wasn't exactly easy.
The moments featured here are weighted primarily in two categories: how important the moment was at the time (e.g. was it a game-winning shot?) and how important the moment was to his legacy.
Enjoy the top 50 moments of basketball's "Greatest of All Time".
Honorable Mention: Malik Sealy Falls for Jordan's Fake (Nov. 25, 1996)
It goes to show how impressive Michael Jordan was when a move like this falls just outside being a top-50 moment in his career.
Early in the 1996-97 regular season, Jordan's Chicago Bulls took a trip out west to face off against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Bulls up four points, Jordan posted up against the Clippers' Malik Sealy. Jordan initially held the ball out with his right arm extended, inviting Sealy to reach around for the steal.
When Sealy took the bait, Jordan spun to his right, causing Sealy to lose his balance. Jordan turned back around for the wide-open mid-range jumper and drained it, giving the Bulls a 76-70 lead in a game they'd go on to win, 88-84.
50. Jordan Hits His First Game-Winning Shot (Nov. 10, 1984)
It only took Michael Jordan eight games into his rookie season before he drained his first game-winning shot.
The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls were tied at 116 late in the fourth quarter on Nov. 10, 1984. With 20 seconds remaining, the Bulls inbounded the ball to Jordan, who quickly crossed the half-court line.
The Pacers immediately sent a double-team Jordan's way, causing him to pass to an open teammate at the top of the three-point arc with 13 seconds left. The teammate sent the ball right back to Jordan, who drove past his defender and just outside the paint to the right of the free-throw stripe.
Jordan pulled up for the 12-footer with Pacers all around him and drained the game-winner. With only four seconds left, the Pacers couldn't even get a game-tying shot attempt off in time.
49. Jordan's First 60-Point Game (March 4, 1987)
Seeing as how Michael Jordan had five 60-point games in his career (spoiler alert!), you're going to see all five featured here.
This game, a regular-season matchup against the Detroit Pistons, was Jordan's first career 60-point regular season game. He repeated the feat less than two months later against the Atlanta Hawks.
Here, against Detroit, Jordan scored 24 of the Chicago Bulls' first 26 points in the final quarter. He finished with 61 points on 22-of-39 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks.
The Bulls emerged victorious in overtime over Detroit, 125-120.
48. Wins the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest (Feb. 7, 1987)
Michael Jordan lost the 1985 Slam Dunk Contest to Dominique Wilkins, but with Wilkins sidelined by injury in 1987, Jordan would not be denied again.
He broke out a nasty one-handed windmill jam to start things off. Later, he took off from the bottom of the free-throw arc and stuck his tongue out for another monster slam.
In the finals, Portland's Jerome Kersey was all that stood between Jordan and his first dunk contest title. To ice the competition, Jordan started running from the opposing baseline, jumped from the free-throw line and finished off his kiss-the-rim jam.
His rematch against Wilkins in the next dunk contest ends up getting most of the hype, but his performance in 1987 wasn't much less impressive.
47. M.J. Scores 42 with the Old Air Jordans (March 8, 1998)
During his last game at Madison Square Garden in a Chicago Bulls uniform, Michael Jordan decided to go retro.
Jordan strapped on a pair of 1984 Air Jordan I's and went to work against the New York Knicks, finishing with 42 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Roughly 6:45 into the video, Jordan pulls off an unbelievable off-the-glass and-one layup. Even the referees couldn't help but laugh in astonishment.
Thanks to Jordan's heroics, the Bulls ended up winning the game by a score of 102-89.
46. Jordan's Point Guard Era (March 1989)
On March 11, 1989, Chicago Bulls coach Doug Collins plugged Michael Jordan in as the team's starting point guard. Jordan responded with 15 assists, and the job was his for the rest of the season.
In this clip, from March 21 of that year, Jordan ties his career high with 16 assists against the Los Angeles Lakers. He would break that record three nights later, dishing out 17 dimes in a win against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Jordan was just as unstoppable a point guard as he was a shooting guard. His turnover numbers soared once he took over full-time ball-handling duties, but his scoring figures didn't dramatically dip.
It was as if Jordan had grown bored dominating opponents offensively each night and needed a new challenge. As usual, Jordan delivered in spades during his short-lived time as the Bulls' point guard.
45. Jordan's Final All-Star Appearance (Feb. 9, 2003)
All weekend leading up to the 2003 All-Star Game, Michael Jordan kept refusing his teammates' offers to give up their starting spots for him.
Finally, right before the game, Vince Carter convinced Jordan to start in his place, as this would be Jordan's 14th, and final, All-Star appearance.
He received a standing ovation at halftime that seemed to last forever, with many of the players on the court just as excited as the fans.
Jordan finished with 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals, but Kevin Garnett (37 points) was named MVP of the game.
44. Jordan's Final NBA Points (April 16, 2003)
The final game of Michael Jordan's illustrious career came on April 16, 2003, against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers blew out Jordan's Washington Wizards that night, 107-87, causing Jordan to ride the bench for nearly all of the fourth quarter.
He wasn't about to go out without one final curtain call, though. With just under three minutes remaining, Jordan subbed back into the game.
The Sixers' Eric Snow fouled Jordan quickly, sending him to the free-throw line for the final two points of his career. Jordan finished with 15 points that night and 32,292 for his entire career.
43. Kobe Bryant's First Time Guarding Jordan (Dec. 17, 1996)
Kobe Bryant often generates comparisons to Michael Jordan these days, but he was no match for His Airness as a rookie in 1996.
The first time Bryant matched up defensively against Jordan in a December 1996 contest, Jordan absolutely eviscerated him.
With Bryant guarding him closely, Jordan stepped hard to his right, and Bryant bit. Jordan then spun to his left toward the baseline, right past Bryant, and went in for the easy one-handed jam.
Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers held Jordan to only 10-of-32 shooting that night, but Jordan still finished with 30 points and nine rebounds in a 129-123 overtime win.
42. 'Space Jam' (Nov. 15, 1996)
No list of Michael Jordan's career highlights would be complete without a nod to the best athlete-starring kids movie of all-time: Space Jam.
In the movie, Jordan parodied his decision to retire from basketball to pursue a baseball career. This time, he had the help of Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes characters.
Evil space aliens known as the "Mon-stars" steal the basketball talents of NBA greats like Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley, causing Bugs Bunny and the gang to recruit Jordan for one final basketball game.
Being a kids movie, you can only guess what happens next: Jordan comes back and finishes with the game-winning dunk, earning his friends' talents back from the Mon-stars.
The movie finished its opening weekend in November 1996 as the No. 1 movie in the United States, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. It finished with a worldwide total gross of just over $230 million.
41. Jordan Scores His 20,000th Point (Jan. 8, 1993)
Heading into a Jan. 8, 1993 showdown against the Milwaukee Bucks, Michael Jordan needed to score 35 points to reach 20,000 in his career.
He did so midway through the fourth quarter of the 120-95 blowout, becoming the 18th player in NBA history to reach that benchmark at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times.
According to the Times, only Wilt Chamberlain achieved the milestone in fewer games (499) than Jordan (620).
At the time, Jordan was coming off back-to-back NBA championships, and he would win his third straight title later that year. If there was any doubt about Jordan's Hall of Fame worthiness, it was permanently erased in 1993.
40. Now Introducing...No. 12? (Feb. 14, 1990)
On Valentine's Day in 1990, some fan in Orlando decided to give his or her spouse an authentic Michael Jordan jersey by stealing it right from his locker.
The Chicago Bulls, without a replacement No. 23 jersey on hand, had to make Jordan put on a No. 12 jersey for the night.
Despite the number change, Jordan was the same old Jordan. He finished with a game-high 49 points on 21-of-43 shooting, along with seven rebounds and two assists.
The Bulls, however, fell to the Orlando Magic that night in overtime, 135-129.
39. Jordan Drills an Eyes-Closed Free Throw (Nov. 23, 1991)
Fresh off winning his first NBA championship, you couldn't blame Michael Jordan for feeling a little cocky.
At the end of what turned out to be a 107-100 victory over the Denver Nuggets, Jordan was fouled to prevent a breakaway basket.
Jordan stepped to the line and calmly drained his first free-throw attempt before exchanging words with Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo. Before taking his second, Jordan clearly said, "This one's for you, baby," then closed his eyes and let it go.
As if there was any doubt, Jordan nailed the shot. It's a meaningless free throw at the end of an early, regular-season game, but it's nevertheless impressive.
38. Jordan Drops 61 Against Atlanta (April 16, 1987)
Michael Jordan set all sorts of league records in this game against the Atlanta Hawks late in his fourth NBA season.
Jordan finished the game with 61 points on 22-of-38 shooting, 10 rebounds, four steals, an assist and a block. Despite all of that, Chicago lost 117-114.
The game had extra significance to Jordan at the time. He finished the 1986-87 season scoring 53, 50 and 61 points in three of his final four games, ending with 3,041 points on the year.
Jordan became the only player in league history besides Wilt Chamberlain to finish with at least 3,000 points in a season, according to Basketball Reference. He also scored 23 consecutive points in the loss, which set an NBA record at the time.
37. Jordan's Hall of Fame Speech (Sept. 11, 2009)
You don't become as accomplished a champion as Michael Jordan without letting your competitive streak get the best of you at times.
M.J.'s competitive nature flared up during his Hall of Fame induction speech in September 2009.
Jordan offered the usual thank-yous to friends and family, but also made sure to cite the people throughout the years who he perceived to have slighted him. He made especially sure to call out Isiah Thomas and Bryon Russell in an unusually public airing of grievances.
A night meant to be a celebration of basketball's greatest player ever turned out to be exactly that, for better and worse. In the words of former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, Jordan "was who we thought he was", and he proved it the night of his Hall of Fame induction.
36. Jordan Goes for 42 in Game 7 Against New York (May 17, 1992)
Michael Jordan's quest for back-to-back championships nearly got derailed by Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in 1992.
The Knicks extended the Chicago Bulls to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals after a 100-86 Game 6 win in New York.
With Game 7 back in Chicago, Jordan decided to take matters into his own hands. He finished with 42 points on 15-of-29 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.
The Bulls ended up winning Game 7 by a 110-81 margin, and later in those playoffs won their second championship of the Jordan era.
35. Mars Blackmon Commercials (Late 1980s-Early 1990s)
In Spike Lee's 1986 movie She's Gotta Have It, Lee played a diehard New York Knicks fan named Mars Blackmon.
As Michael Jordan rose to fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he and Mars Blackmon ended up crossing paths a few times, thanks to Nike.
The Jordan-Blackmon Nike commercials basically always boiled down to this: Jordan was the most unstoppable basketball player on Earth, and his Air Jordan shoes helped him get that way.
It's a cheesy premise, but Lee's sense of humor and the footage of Jordan nearly dunking the leather off the ball made these a memorable addition to Jordan's career.
34. Jordan vs. Allen Iverson (Nov. 28, 2001)
Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan didn't have many opportunities to meet up in their professional careers, but this night in late 2001 became a mano-a-mano battle to remember.
Jordan scored two of the Washington Wizards' first three baskets against the Philadelphia 76ers before Iverson went to work. When the dust settled and the first quarter ended, Iverson already had 17 points.
Jordan went to work in the second quarter, scoring 16 points to finish the first half with 20, but Iverson tacked on 10 more points to his total for 27 by the half.
Jordan ended the game with 30 points on 11-of-27 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds and five steals, while Iverson had 40 points on 15-of-31 shooting, six rebounds, three assists and nine turnovers. Most importantly, despite Iverson's heroics, Jordan and the Wizards escaped with a win, 94-87.
33. Jordan Drops 64 Points on Shaquille O'Neal (Jan. 16, 1993)
In Shaquille O'Neal's first trip to Chicago as a rookie in January 1993, he finished with 29 points and 24 rebounds in a 128-124 overtime win.
Michael Jordan, in that same game, finished with 64 points on 27-of-49 shooting from the field. He also chipped in six rebounds, five steals and an assist in 47 minutes.
This ended up being the second-highest single-game point total in Jordan's career, behind the 69 points he dropped against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 1990 overtime game.
Seeing as it's a regular-season game that the Bulls didn't even win, it couldn't rank too highly on the list of his most memorable moments. However, 64 points is still 64 points.
32. Dikembe Mutombo Gets a Taste of His Own Medicine (May 13, 1997)
Dikembe Mutombo, one of the league's all-time best shot-blockers, became known for his signature finger wag after rejecting shot attempts. (Hence, that recent GEICO commercial.)
In Game 5 of the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals, Michael Jordan gave Mutombo a taste of his own medicine.
After recovering an offensive rebound, Jordan fed teammate Luc Longley in the post and then immediately cut hard along the baseline. Longley dished the ball right back to Jordan, who went up for the signature slam against Mutombo.
Jordan then earned a technical foul by wagging his finger right back at Mutombo, much to coach Phil Jackson's delight. The Chicago Bulls closed out the Atlanta Hawks that night and later won their fifth title with Jordan.
31. The First Triple-Double in All-Star History (Feb. 9, 1997)
Leave it to Michael Jordan to record the first triple-double in All-Star Game history.
In 1997, Jordan was near the height of his popularity, having just won his fourth title after returning from retirement two years before.
In the 1997 All-Star Game, Jordan played a team-high 26 minutes for the Eastern Conference and finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Until 2011, it was the only triple-double in All-Star Game history.
This moment can't rank too highly on the list because, after all, it's an All-Star Game. The concept of "defense" is taken pretty lightly there. Still, a first-in-league-history moment is just that, even if it did take place during All-Star weekend.
30. Circus Shot in the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals (June 2, 1989)
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls lost the 1989 Eastern Conference finals to the Detroit Pistons, but that didn't stop Jordan from busting out a few incredible plays early in Game 6.
First, Jordan ran the two-on-one fast break to perfection. He dished the ball to teammate Craig Hodges, who sent it right back to Jordan for the easy jam.
Soon thereafter, Jordan jumped and stole a pass from Bill Laimbeer and then threw the ball to teammate Brad Sellers before falling out of bounds. Jordan recovered and ran straight to the basket, caught a pass from Sellers and nailed a wild, over-the-head shot while turning 180 degrees.
Jordan finished the game with 32 points, 13 assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks, but the Bulls lost the game (103-94) and the series (4-2).
29. Final Game Against New York Knicks (March 9, 2003)
Just three weeks after turning 40 years old, Michael Jordan made his final trip to Madison Square Garden to face off against the New York Knicks.
Jordan, who always loved putting on a show in the Garden (you'll see more of that later), couldn't help himself from breaking out one more masterpiece.
He became the oldest player to ever score 40 points in a game two weeks before this night, but finished one point shy of 40 against New York. Still, 39 points, eight rebounds, an assist and a steal wasn't too shabby for a guy playing against opponents half his age.
Jordan hit his usual array of off-balance mid-range jump shots, flummoxing the Knicks while causing the crowd to go wild. It's not his best performance by any means, but considering its implications, it's a top-50 moment without question.
28. McDonald's Commercial with Larry Bird (Jan. 31, 1993)
A year after their Dream Team experience together, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird teamed up once again for a purely brilliant McDonald's commercial, first aired during Super Bowl XXVII.
The two were known as some of the most competitive players and best trash talkers in the league. McDonald's took advantage of that by staging them against one another in a fake shooting contest for the right to a Big Mac.
Bird sets the terms ("No dunking"), and they're off. It starts off easy enough, with Jordan following Bird's lead in draining a behind-the-backboard shot, but the competition elevates quickly.
The two superstars soon find themselves at the top of a skyscraper, planning how to make the ball go over the highway and through the hoop. According to Darren Rovell (then of CNBC), Bird actually spent time figuring out if he could score while making the ball bounce off the scoreboard at center court.
27. Oldest Player to Score 50-Plus Points (Dec. 29, 2001)
Less than two months before his 39th birthday, Michael Jordan broke the record for the oldest player to ever score 50 or more points in a single game.
The Charlotte Hornets were Jordan's victim this night in late December 2001. M.J. only scored six points in the Washington Wizards' previous game, which seemed to put him out for revenge against Charlotte.
He finished with 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting in the first quarter, and then added 12 more in the second to give himself 36 points at halftime.
M.J. and the Wizards broke the game open in the third quarter and ended up winning 107-90. Jordan finished the game with 51 points on 21-of-38 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals at age 38 and 315 days.
26. 'I'm Back.' (March 18, 1995)
With two words, Michael Jordan set the basketball world in a frenzy in March 1995.
Jordan retired from baseball at the beginning of March due to the ongoing players strike, as Sam Smith of NBA.com explains, sparking speculation that his return to basketball wasn't far away.
On March 18, 1995, he sent out a press release with only two words: "I'm back." He slipped on the No. 45 jersey instead of his famous No. 23 and went right back to work the next night.
Jordan finished his first game back with only 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting, but he wasn't far away from one of the finest performances of his career. The Chicago Bulls lost in the playoffs this year, but won NBA championships each of the next three seasons.
25. Game-Winner Against Detroit Pistons (May 27, 1989)
The Chicago Bulls ended up losing the 1989 Eastern Conference finals to the Detroit Pistons, but Michael Jordan delayed the Bulls' demise with this last-second shot at the end of Game 3.
With nine seconds left in the game, the Bulls and Pistons were all knotted up at 97. The Bulls inbounded the ball to Jordan and let him go to work one-on-one.
Jordan paused for a second at the top of the three-point arc and then drove hard to his right towards the basket. Right before reaching the paint, he pulled up for an off-balance, fall-away jumper and banked in the game-winner off the glass.
Jordan's shot gave the Bulls a 2-1 series lead over the Pistons. However, the Bulls lost the next three, falling to the Pistons in six games.
24. Charles Barkley Duel in the 1993 NBA Finals (June 11, 1993)
The Chicago Bulls immediately stole home-court advantage from the Phoenix Suns in Game 1 of the 1993 NBA Finals, setting up this Game 2 battle between Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.
Both Jordan and Barkley finished with 42 points, but the Bulls once again emerged victorious, 111-108.
Jordan finished 18-of-36 from the field with 12 rebounds, nine assists and two steals, while Barkley went 16-of-26 from the field with 13 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block.
It was the first time in NBA history that opposing players each scored at least 40 points in an NBA Finals game. The Suns stole two games from the Bulls in Chicago, but Jordan closed Phoenix out in Game 6 for his third straight championship.
23. Jordan Finally Conquers the Detroit Pistons (May 27, 1991)
The Detroit Pistons had been the largest roadblock standing between Michael Jordan and an NBA championship for years.
The Pistons, writers of the so-called "Jordan Rules," figured they would stop Jordan by double- or triple-teaming him every time he touched the ball. The Pistons knocked the Chicago Bulls out of the playoffs three straight years, from 1988 to 1990.
The 1991 playoffs were a different story, however. The Bulls and the Pistons once again clashed in the Eastern Conference finals. This time, the Bulls swept the Pistons out.
In Game 4, Jordan finished with 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting and eight rebounds. Isiah Thomas and his Pistons teammates were such good sports about it that many of them left the court before the final buzzer even sounded.
22. Jordan's First NBA Finals Game (June 2, 1991)
Michael Jordan's first NBA Finals game in 1991 didn't end with a victory, but that didn't stop it from being quite possibly the most memorable finals debut in league history.
Jordan finished the game with 36 points on 14-of-24 shooting, 12 assists, eight rebounds and three steals. That wasn't enough to stop the Los Angeles Lakers from stealing home-court advantage from the Chicago Bulls in Game 1, however.
While Jordan's heroics later in the series proved clutch, he could conjure no such magic at the end of Game 1. The Lakers' Sam Perkins hit a go-ahead three-pointer with less than 15 seconds remaining in the game, but Jordan couldn't convert his own go-ahead jumper from mid-range.
It was no matter. Jordan managed one of the top 10 moments of his career in the very next game and won his first championship this year.
21. Three Straight Finals MVP Awards (June 20, 1993)
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls clashed with Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals for the chance at a fabled "three-peat."
On June 20, the Bulls clinched their third straight NBA championship, with Jordan once again taking home the NBA Finals MVP award.
In the six-game series, Jordan scored at least 41 points or more in four of the six games, finishing with a series-low 31 points in the Bulls' Game 1 win. Jordan went on the 40-point streak in Games 2 through 5 before finishing off the Suns in Game 6 with 33 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Of course, Jordan would go on to win three more consecutive NBA Finals MVP awards from 1996 to 1998.
20. The Title-Clinching Assist to Steve Kerr (June 13, 1997)
With time winding down in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals, and the game tied at 86, everyone in the building expected Michael Jordan to get the ball.
By this point in his career, Jordan had enough clutch shots for the Chicago Bulls to last a lifetime. Instead, knowing that he'd likely be double-teamed, he warned teammate Steve Kerr to be ready for a chance at the last-second shot.
Lo and behold, the Jazz did double-team Jordan, leaving Kerr wide open for a 15-footer. Jordan passed Kerr the ball, who drained the shot, and the Bulls clinched the fifth title in the Jordan era.
Jordan finished the game with 39 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, earning his fifth NBA Finals MVP award along with his fifth title.
19. Jordan Scores His 30,000th Point (Jan. 4, 2002)
Two months shy of his 39th birthday, Michael Jordan entered 2002 just off of 30,000 career points.
On Jan. 4, needing 15 points against his former Chicago Bulls to reach 30,000, he finished with 29 in an 89-83 win.
At the time, he became only the fourth player in league history, alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to reach the 30,000-point benchmark. Kobe Bryant has since joined the 30,000-point club as the fifth member.
Two games earlier, on Dec. 29, Jordan also set the record for being the oldest player to record at least 50 points in a game.
18. Game 3 of the 1991 NBA Finals (June 7, 1991)
Michael Jordan hit an insane number of clutch shots throughout his career, but few proved more valuable than this one in Game 3 of the 1991 NBA Finals.
The Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers were knotted up at 1-1, with the next three games in Los Angeles. A Bulls victory in Game 3 meant stealing home-court advantage right back from the Lakers.
Late in the game, the Lakers' Vlade Divac drew a foul and gave his team a two-point lead with just over 10 seconds to play. The bulls inbounded the ball to Jordan, who dribbled behind his back before crossing over the half-court line.
Jordan drove his way to the right of the free-throw line and pulled up for a 12-foot, game-tying jumper with 3.4 seconds left. Swish.
The Bulls went on to win that game, 104-96, and later the championship. It was Jordan's first.
17. 'The Mailman Doesn't Deliver on Sundays' (June 1, 1997)
The 1997 NBA Finals ended up being one of the more memorable series of Michael Jordan's career.
His Game 5 performance (the "Flu Game"), we'll get to later. Game 1 deserves some attention here.
The Utah Jazz held an 82-81 lead over the Chicago Bulls with just under a minute remaining. Jordan converted one of his two free-throw attempts to tie the game, but Utah's Karl Malone was fouled with 9.2 seconds left and had a chance give the Jazz the lead.
It was Scottie Pippen, not Jordan, who psyched out Malone by saying "the mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays, Karl." Malone missed both free-throw attempts, and Jordan gathered the rebound.
Naturally, the Bulls went to Jordan for the last shot. Just as naturally, Jordan swished a 20-footer at the buzzer for the win. He finished with 31 points, eight assists, four rebounds, a block and zero turnovers.
16. First to Score 40 Points at Age 40 (Feb. 21, 2003)
NBA wing players typically start deteriorating in their early to mid 30s, but Michael Jordan appeared to defy that trend.
Four days after his 40th birthday, Michael Jordan led the Washington Wizards to an 89-86 victory over the then-New Jersey Nets.
Jordan scored 43 points that night, becoming the first player in league history to score at least 40 points at the age of 40 or older.
He finished 18-of-30 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, chipping in 10 rebounds, four steals, three assists and a block for good measure.
Jordan's Wizards era didn't quite pan out like anyone had hoped, but he proved this night that, despite his age, he could still ball.
15. 'The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw' (July 22, 1992)
Until 2012, this 1992 scrimmage during one of the Dream Team's practices remained one of basketball's best unearthed stories.
It was the game about which Michael Jordan said, "It was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court," according to Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum in his book Dream Team.
According to those at the scrimmage, Magic Johnson wasn't ready to concede his place at the top of the NBA to Jordan just yet. Jordan wasn't in the mood to wait, however.
Jordan's squad beat Magic's 40-36, according to McCallum. Jordan told McCallum that Magic was mad about the game for two days afterwards, but Magic retorted that it would have been far worse had Jordan lost.
"Because I could let something go after a while," Magic said to McCallum. "But Michael? He'd never let it go. He never let anything go."
14. 'The Shot II' (May 17, 1993)
By this point in his career, Michael Jordan had been torturing the Cleveland Cavaliers for years.
Game 3 of the 1993 Eastern Conference semifinals became another moment to add to the list.
The Cavaliers were down 2-0 to Jordan's Chicago Bulls, but returned home to Cleveland for Game 3. The Cavs opened up a four-point halftime lead and a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before the Bulls' inevitable rally occurred.
With the score tied, 101-101, and 18.5 seconds left in the game, the Bulls gained possession. Jordan received the ball with just under eight seconds remaining, looking to post up against Gerald Wilkins.
Wilkins appeared to knock the ball away from Jordan, but M.J. managed to fire a jumper over Wilkins at the top of the free-throw line as the buzzer expired. Jordan drained the shot. The Bulls won Game 3 and later ended up sweeping the series.
13. Jordan Scores a Career-High 69 Points (March 28, 1990)
It took him overtime to do so, but Michael Jordan scored a career-high 69 points on this night in the 1989-90 season.
The poor Cleveland Cavaliers, a franchise he'd grow to torture over the years, were his victim here too.
Jordan rocked the Cavs by shooting 23-of-37 from the field and 21-of-23 from the charity stripe. Throw in two three-pointers (on six attempts), and you've got a 69-point game.
Of course, Jordan also chipped in 18 rebounds, six assists, four steals, one block and only two turnovers in roughly 50 minutes of play. Per 100 possessions, Jordan would have scored an estimated 155 points that night, according to Basketball Reference.
The Bulls ended up winning the game in overtime, 117-113.
12. The Double Nickel (March 28, 1995)
In his fifth game back after temporary, baseball-induced retirement, Michael Jordan lit up Madison Square Garden in a record-setting way.
M.J. shook off the baseball rust and exploded against the New York Knicks for 55 points on 21-of-37 shooting.
The electric performance shattered the record (at the time) for the most points scored by a single player in Madison Square Garden history. (Kobe Bryant currently holds the record with 61 points.)
Despite Jordan's 55 points, the Chicago Bulls were still in danger of losing the game. That is, until Jordan dished an assist to teammate Bill Wennington for the game-winning dunk.
Fifty-five points and a game-winning assist? Air Jordan had officially returned.
11. A Star Is Born (March 29, 1982)
As a Georgetown homer, this Michael Jordan highlight still hurts 30 years later.
Before Jordan became "His Airness," he was simply the ACC Freshman of the Year at the University of North Carolina.
Jordan and the Tar Heels battled their way through the 1982 NCAA tournament to wind up facing fellow freshman Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas in the championship game.
With 30 seconds left in the championship game, Georgetown held a one-point lead over the Tar Heels. In this pre-shot clock era, UNC could have simply held the ball for one final shot at the buzzer, but Jordan decided to take matters into his own hands.
A teammate fired a cross-court pass to Jordan with 18 seconds remaining, and Jordan immediately pulled up for what turned out to be the game-winning jump shot. An erroneous pass from Georgetown's Fred Brown sealed the deal for Jordan and the Tar Heels.
10. Jordan Wins His Fourth Title on Father's Day (June 16, 1996)
Michael Jordan and his dad were extremely close before his father was murdered in July 1993.
That made the Chicago Bulls' fourth championship, which the team clinched on Father's Day, that much more meaningful to Jordan.
He didn't have his finest game in the series-deciding Game 6, finishing with only 22 points on 5-of-19 shooting. It's pretty evident, given the footage from after the game, that his low shooting percentage was the last thing on his mind that day.
This was Jordan and the Bulls' first championship since the passing of Michael's father, and the emotion completely overtook him.
The shots of Jordan sobbing on the locker room floor remain some of the most powerful clips from his illustrious career.
9. Jordan Jams on Patrick Ewing (April 30, 1991)
Compared to the other plays ranked this highly in Michael Jordan's career, this play didn't necessarily mean much at the time.
It came during the Chicago Bulls-New York Knicks first-round playoff matchup in 1991. Jordan, en route to his first championship, decided to let the Knicks' Patrick Ewing know that he wasn't fooling around in his quest for his first ring.
In the waning moments of the second quarter, Jordan found himself seemingly trapped on the baseline with two defenders guarding him. He quickly ripped a baseline spin move to lose both defenders and then took off straight toward the basket.
Ewing, who had been named to the All-NBA first team the year before, stood right in Jordan's way, ready to take a charge. Jordan decided to posterize him instead.
The Bulls ended up clinching the series by winning that game, 103-94. Jordan finished with 33 points, seven assists, six steals, three rebounds and a block.
8. The 1988 Slam Dunk Contest (Feb. 6, 1988)
Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins first faced off in the 1985 All-Star Slam Dunk contest, but their 1988 matchup remains the most memorable.
The long-awaited rematch between Jordan and Wilkins had been delayed two years due to injuries. With All-Star weekend being held in Jordan's adopted hometown of Chicago in 1988, there was nothing to stand in the way.
Jordan and Wilkins both advanced to the finals despite the best efforts of Spud Webb and Clyde Drexler The rematch was officially on.
The two dunk artists combined for four perfect-50 dunks in the final round, including a nasty one-handed, off-the-backboard jam from Wilkins to start things off.
Jordan wasn't going to be denied in Chicago. A la Julius "Dr. J." Erving, Jordan starting running for his final dunk from the opposite end of the court, jumped from the free-throw line and jammed home the contest winner.
7. The 1992 Dream Team (Summer of 1992)
Coming off winning two straight NBA championships, Michael Jordan used the 1992 Olympics as his official coming-out party to the world.
In the gathering of the "Dream Team," Jordan made it known amongst his peers, particularly Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, that he had become the best basketball player out there.
With 11 future Hall of Famers on the roster, non-U.S. countries never stood a chance. The closest any team got to an upset was a 32-point loss by Croatia.
Jordan finished second on the team in scoring (behind Charles Barkley) with just under 15 points per game. He also contributed nearly five assists and over two rebounds per contest for the gold-medal winning Dream Team.
The 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic teams have reclaimed the program's swagger from the Jordan years, but there will almost certainly never be another team that matches the talent level of the Dream Team.
6. 'God Disguised as Michael Jordan' (April 20, 1986)
Here, in Michael Jordan's third NBA season, he set the league record for the most points scored in a single playoff game (63).
It was Game 2 of the first-round series between Jordan's Chicago Bulls and the eventual champion Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird. The game ended up going into double overtime before Boston eventually prevailed.
In the double-overtime loss, Jordan finished 22-of-41 from the field and 19-of-21 from the free-throw line for a total of 63 points. He chipped in six assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks for good measure.
After the game, Bird said this infamous quote (via NBA.com): "I didn't think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us. He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."
The Bulls lost the series in three games, but Jordan had sent a signal to the rest of the league. Chicago would soon become a force to be reckoned with in the hunt for an NBA championship.
5. The 'Shrug' (June 3, 1992)
Early in his career, Michael Jordan wasn't much of a three-point shooter.
In the 1992 NBA Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers tried to take advantage of Jordan's one perceived weakness. They sagged off him defensively, allowing him an open three-point look to prevent his drives to the basket.
That strategy backfired tremendously. Jordan drained an NBA-record six three-pointers in the first half, finishing with 35 points by halftime (another NBA record).
"They dared me early," Jordan said after the game, according to NBA.com. "Most teams will give me that. I wasn't looking for it, but when you feel the rhythm, you have to take it."
After the sixth three-pointer, Jordan turned around and gave his infamous shoulder shrug, as if to say, "I have no idea how I'm hitting these shots." Needless to say, the Bulls steamrolled the Blazers in this game and this series.
4. The Righty-to-Lefty Layup (June 5, 1991)
En route to his first career championship, Michael Jordan proved that nothing would stop him from achieving his ultimate goal that year.
In Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Jordan pulled off one of the most impressive physical plays of his incredible career.
Jordan received a pass from a teammate and immediately drove to the basket. However, Sam Perkins of the Lakers recovered enough to stand directly in Jordan's way.
M.J. remained unfazed. He leaped from the front of the free-throw arc with the ball in his right hand, appearing poised to jam the ball over Perkins.
Instead, Jordan switched the ball from his right hand to his left in mid-air before using the backboard to finish off the layup. Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson could do nothing but shake his head in awe.
3. 'The Shot' (May 7, 1989)
Cleveland fans, you're forgiven for skipping right over this highlight.
It was Game 5 of the first round in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls were tied 2-2 in the best-of-five series, with Game 5 back in Cleveland.
With seconds left in the game, Craig Ehlo gave the Cavaliers a 100-99 lead with a layup. Michael Jordan and the Bulls weren't done yet, though.
The Bulls inbounded the ball to Jordan with three seconds left, despite Jordan drawing the attention of three defenders. Jordan drove hard to his left and pulled up for an off-balance jumper right above the free-throw line, with Ehlo's hand right in his face.
No matter. Jordan drained the shot, and the Bulls won the series, causing Chicago coach Doug Collins to nearly start running laps around the court. Jordan punctuated the moment with three wild fist pumps, the perfect finish to one of his most impressive career highlights.
2. The 'Flu Game' (June 11, 1997)
In his prime, Michael Jordan became known as one of the most relentless competitors in any sport.
During the 1997 NBA Finals, Jordan proved his dedication to the game in a nearly unfathomable way. Despite battling a clearly incapacitating flu, Jordan suited up for Game 5 with the series tied 2-2 and momentum having swung back toward the Utah Jazz.
Neither the flu nor the Jazz were any match for Jordan that night. He finished with 38 points on 13-of-27 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block, including the tiebreaking three-pointer with under a minute to go.
"I almost played myself into passing out," Jordan said, according to NBA.com. "I came in and I was almost dehydrated and it was all just to win a basketball game. I couldn't breathe. My energy level was really low. My mouth was really dry. They started giving me Gatorade and I thought about IV."
The Bulls went on to win Game 6, handing Jordan his fifth NBA championship and fifth NBA Finals MVP award. Of any game in that now-legendary series, Jordan's "Flu Game" takes the cake.
1. Jordan Wins His Sixth NBA Championship (June 14, 1998)
This shot, more than anything, exemplifies the legacy of Michael Jordan.
In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the Chicago Bulls held a 3-2 series lead over the Utah Jazz. The Jazz, in Utah, led 86-85 with roughly 15 seconds left.
Jordan dribbled the ball across half court and was met by Bryon Russell right outside the three-point line. With 12 seconds left in the game, it was clear that Jordan was going iso to ice the championship.
Poor Russell never stood a chance. Jordan drove hard to his right before abruptly cutting back for a pull-up jumper at the top of the free-throw arc. Russell literally fell down when Jordan cut back.
Jordan drained the shot with 5.2 seconds left and earned his sixth, and final, NBA championship with the Bulls. It may not be the most physically impressive highlight of his career, but the meaningfulness of the moment trumps his multitude of highlights.