Ranking Michael Jordan's Top 50 Games of All Time: Part 1
Michael Jordan is still in the running for most famous person on earth, but these days, the 57-year-old is discussed in the way people used to tell urban legends. Those who saw him tell stories to those who didn't about an athlete who defied gravity and vanquished all of his enemies. Those who knew him tell stories of a man so competitive that he would get tipped off about which character was going to win the Dunkin' Donuts Race on the Jumbotron during that night's game and then find someone to wager on it.
The difference between Jordan and an actual urban legend is that unlike Bloody Mary, if you say his name three times he might come to your house and dunk on you. ESPN will be airing a 10-part documentary titled The Last Dance through May, showing never-before-seen footage of Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls to give the audience a different picture of the man, the myth, the legend, the lead actor in Space Jam.
In anticipation of the documentary, here is the story of Jordan doing what he did best: perform. These are the 50 greatest games of his career.
Clearly these rankings will be largely subjective, but I will be looking at three categories for every game: stats, feel and reward.
Everyone uses stats—the ones you lie about from when you played high school sports, or the ones you present to your boss when you want a raise. They provide some indisputable evidence about performance, but not the whole story.
Feel is the opposite of stats; there's nothing exact about it. However, the reason tens of millions of people watch sports and 70,000 attend an NFC Championship Game with a sub-zero-degree temperature is the emotional appeal. Sports aren't scripted or mixed and mastered to perfection; they're raw and unpredictable. That's why people gather in large groups to watch and place wagers, to ride that raw energy.
When I say reward, I don't always mean championships and records. Jordan has a deep passion for basketball, but he needs to win. That need to win could be the deciding game of the NBA Finals—it could also be golf or blackjack. When Will Smith, not an athlete but a musician and actor, was asked on Jimmy Kimmel Live about hanging out with Michael Jordan, his response was, "it's like a competition." Dominating other human beings doesn't bring Jordan joy; it brings him peace. This category factors in what Jordan won, whether it be an important game, a personal victory or any type of validation.
50. The Debut
Date: Oct. 26, 1984
Stat line: 16 PTS, 5-16 FG, 6-7 FT, 7 AST, 6 REB, 2 STL, 4 BLK
Final score: Washington Bullets 93, Chicago Bulls 109
Jordan didn't look like the best player in NBA history during his first regular-season game. He looked like an outstanding athlete who played hard on defense. The treat in watching his debut, however, is Jordan's whole game was on display. On his first NBA basket, he spun past two defenders and buried a bank shot, appearing to pause in the air before releasing the ball.
His jump shot needed work, which isn't surprising. Former CBS broadcaster Billy Packer said in ESPN's Basketball: A Love Story that Jordan's Olympic coach, Indiana's Bobby Knight, was critical of his jump shot, but during that first NBA game, there was a fadeaway jumper in the left corner that looked quite similar to the weaponized form of it that flummoxed defenses throughout the championship years.
Jordan showed a knack for creating turnovers and his toughness when he got put facedown on the court after his first attempt at posterizing a 7-footer. He even showed his chops as a playmaker with some beautiful assists by drawing in the defense with what would later be known as “hang time,” as he paused in the air and decided while up there someone else had a better shot.
The crowd loved him, and if you don't trust the soft home audience desperate for an NBA star, the San Diego Chicken was at Chicago Stadium for the game and as excited as if it were the late Tony Gwynn jumping over people.
49. The Three-Quarters of a Mile-High Comeback
Date: Feb. 4, 1996
Stat line: 39 PTS, 13-29 FG, 9-11 FT, 4 AST, 3 REB, 3 STL, 1 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 99, Denver Nuggets 105
The Bulls had every reason to take this night off. They had won their last 18 games and had only lost three games the entire season. They were in the middle of their second West Coast road trip of the season.
Combine that with the altitude in Denver, and it's easy to see how this could be a letdown game. The Bulls were down by 31 points late in the second quarter, but when Michael Jordan is on the opposing team, no lead is safe. He scored 23 points in the third quarter as he brought the Bulls back, and they eventually took the lead. They couldn't finish the job, but that night showed Jordan and the Bulls were looking for more than a championship: They were out for blood.
48. The Night Kobe Proved Himself to MJ
Date: Dec. 17, 1997
Stat line: 36 PTS, 12-22 FG, 11-12 FT, 4 AST, 5 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK
Final score: Los Angeles Lakers 83, Chicago Bulls 104
If we weren't aware of the friendship between Michael Jordan and the late Kobe Bryant, it was clear to the world when Jordan spoke about his friendship with his "little brother" at Kobe's memorial service in February.
Kobe got his first extended playing time against his "big brother" early on in Jordan's final season with the Bulls. Bryant came off the bench and played 29 minutes, scoring 33 points on 60 percent shooting and earning some advice from his longtime hero in the middle of the game. He would ask many more questions of Jordan over the next 23 years and crack the hard shell of possibly the one person whose competitive fire burned hotter.
47. The Day Jordan Stung the Yellow Jackets
Date: Jan. 29, 1983
Stat line: 39 PTS
Final score: Georgia Tech 65, North Carolina 72
Jordan didn't have many huge scoring games at North Carolina. Head coach Dean Smith's offense didn't have room for a guard to operate in isolation and shoot the ball 20-plus times per game. However, against Georgia Tech in Greensboro, Smith let Jordan have his way with Mark Price's Yellow Jackets.
Jordan was on fire from the ACC's strange three-point line, which started in the top third of the free-throw half-circle and fanned out. Jordan also made a spectacular play on defense. He blocked a shot in the post, and it looked like he knocked the shot out of the box in the middle of the backboard. Things didn't get better for Price with his matchups against Jordan in the pros.
No one had any idea nights like this would be common in the NBA, but this is the college season where Mike Jordan, who hit the game-winner against Georgetown to win the national championship as a freshman, turned into Michael Jordan, sophomore consensus first-team All-American.
46. The First Night at the Garden
Date: Nov. 8, 1984
Stat line: 33 PTS, 15-22 FG, 3-4 FT, 5 AST, 8 REB, 3 STL, 2 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 121, New York Knicks 106
This was long before New York City became the punch line of professional basketball. During the 1983-84 season, Bernard King was one of the best players in the NBA, and the Knicks pushed the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Jordan stepped into Madison Square Garden for his first professional game in the legendary building and left fans wondering if they had just watched a man fly. He soared over, around and through the Knicks all night in front of an audience that he soon won over.
45. And He Can Pass
Date: March 24, 1989
Stat line: 34 PTS, 10-20 FG, 13-16 FT, 17 AST, 7 REB, 6 STL
Final score: Chicago Bulls 128, Portland Trail Blazers 113
Jordan got a bad rap in the 1980s for being a ball hog. Sportswriters and fans weren't used to a perimeter player averaging 35-plus points per game in consecutive seasons, even if his field-goal percentage was always near or greater than 50 percent and he led the Bulls in assists his rookie season. A common criticism of Jordan was that NBA scoring leaders can't win championships.
Near the end of the 1988-89 season, the Bulls began to use him as a point guard to open up the offense more, and his playmaking skills moved toward the forefront. The next game against the Seattle SuperSonics would begin Jordan's historic triple-double streak (seven in a row) that no one would break until Russell Westbrook in 2019.
However, in this game, Jordan totaled his career high in assists in one of many victories against Clyde Drexler, whose presence contributed to the Blazers passing on Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft. Jordan ended the season losing the MVP to Magic Johnson, but he still averaged 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists for the year while shooting 53.8 percent from the field.
44. Get Revenge on Christmas Day
Date: Dec. 25, 1990
Stat line: 37 PTS, 14-23 FG, 8-10 FT, 3 AST, 8 REB, 3 STL, 2 BLK
Final score: Detroit Pistons 86, Chicago Bulls 98
Christmas is the biggest day on the NBA's regular-season calendar, so this list must have Jordan's best Dec. 25 performance. The Bulls' first game against the Pistons after getting blown out in Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals happened six days prior at The Palace at Auburn Hills. The result was largely the same: They got smoked by 21 points. Jordan was great that night, and he was great again at Chicago Stadium on Christmas Day, shooting 60.9 percent from the field.
John Paxson, Bill Cartwright and Scottie Pippen also scored in double digits, and for the Bulls, there was no greater Christmas gift than revenge. Also, there's a layup in this game that unfortunately doesn't make the all-time Jordan highlight reels because it didn't count. He crossed over John Salley, then soared past Vinnie Johnson, James Edwards and Joe Dumars for an up-and-under make. It was waved off after the Pistons were whistled for illegal defense.
43. An All-Star Farewell
Date: Feb. 9, 2003
Stat line: 20 PTS, 9-27 FG, 2-2 FT, 2 AST, 5 REB, 2 STL
Final score: Western All-Stars 155, Eastern All-Stars 145
What a night this was at the Highlight Factory in Atlanta. This was really it for Jordan. There were no comebacks at 40-plus years old. He was really going to hang up the Air Jordans for good. Fortunately, he was having a decent season for the Washington Wizards, averaging 19 points per game at the all-star break. Even though Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors and Tracy McGrady of the Orlando Magic were voted as the starting forwards for the East, the coaches had no problem putting Jordan on the team.
The purpose of this particular All-Star Weekend was to celebrate Jordan. That included Carter relinquishing his starting spot to Jordan and Mariah Carey decked out in a Jordan jersey gown during an emotional halftime performance. (2003 was a time). The world came full circle on this night with Isiah Thomas coaching Jordan in the All-Star Game (more on that later).
The East players fed Jordan all night, and it looked like he might have the perfect ending in the first overtime. The score was tied, and after missing a game-winning fadeaway against Shawn Marion in the fourth quarter, Jordan buried one right in his face to give the East a two-point lead. The crowd at Philips exploded as if Michael Vick had just thrown Dominique Wilkins a game-winning touchdown pass.
Unfortunately, on the next possession, while Kobe Bryant was falling out of bounds on a three-point attempt to win, he was fouled by Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal. The West won in the second overtime.
42. 40 for the First Time
Date: Nov. 13, 1984
Stat line: 45 PTS, 18-27 FG, 8-11 FT, 4 AST, 10 REB, 3 STL, 2 BLK
Final score: San Antonio Spurs 117, Chicago Bulls 120
The Bulls began the 1984-85 season on a tear with rookie guard Michael Jordan. They were 6-2 going into a home game against the Spurs, and Jordan topped all the strong performances he had had to that point, dropping his first of many 40-burgers in the ninth game of the season. Jordan was electric, soaring, floating, dunking and shooting, and the Bulls needed every single bucket.
The Spurs had no answer, and finally, the Bulls had a true NBA star—someone whose games would be must-see TV, someone whose jersey would be worn by kids around the world. It took 18 years, but the Bulls franchise finally hit its home run.
41. Michael Jordan, Ever the Gracious Host
Date: Feb. 7, 1988
Stat line: 40 PTS, 17-23 FG, 6-6 FT, 3 AST, 8 REB, 4 BLK, 4 STL
Final score: Western All-Stars 133, Eastern All-Stars 138
Chicago's 1988 All-Star Weekend was always going to belong to Michael Jordan. All the best players excel in their home stadiums, so of course he was going to dominate every single moment. After some home cooking gave him his second consecutive Slam Dunk Contest win in a classic duel against Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins, Jordan continued to be a gracious host by unleashing his entire arsenal on the West.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Magic Johnson put on a show of his own with 17 points and 19 assists, but this was Jordan's night, weekend and year. His 40-point performance gave him his first trophy of the season, an All-Star MVP. A regular-season MVP and Defensive Player of the Year award soon followed.
40. Down Go the Pistons
Date: May 27, 1991
Stat line: 29 PTS, 11-17 FG, 6-9 FT, 8 AST, 8 REB, 1 STL, 2 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 115, Detroit Pistons 94
The Bulls finally did it. After three seasons of physical, psychological and emotional pain, they took down the Pistons in dominating fashion. Up 3-0 in the series, the Bulls floored the engine and ran over the defending NBA champions.
Pistons guards Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were both held under 20 points and shot under 43 percent from the field, but on the other side, Jordan spread the wealth while shooting at a 64.7 percent clip. The Bulls had five players score in double digits, including a 23-point, 10 assist performance from Scottie Pippen, atoning for his migraine-stained ECF Game 7 in 1990.
39. Calbert Cheaney Didn't Do Anything to Deserve This
Date: April 27, 1997
Stat line: 55 PTS, 22-35 FG, 10-10 FT, 2 AST, 7 REB, 2 STL
Final score: Washington Bullets 104, Chicago Bulls 109
Even in the NBA playoffs, there is time for some fun and unprovoked trash talk. Chris Webber was a forward for the Bullets at that time and has told the story of seeing Jordan in the parking lot of the United Center, sitting on top of his Ferrari and smoking a cigar. Jordan saw Webber with some of his teammates and asked, "Who's checking me tonight?"
Webber and teammate Juwan Howard saw guard Calbert Cheaney walk off the bus, and they let Jordan know that's who would be drawing the assignment. Jordan proceeded to score 50 points for the last time in a Bulls uniform, and the Bullets were eliminated in three games (along with their nickname).
38. Steve Kerr's Shining Moment
Date: June 13, 1997
Stat line: 39 PTS, 15-35 FG, 8-10 FT, 4 AST, 11 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK
Final score: Utah Jazz 86, Chicago Bulls 90
Obviously, this wasn't Jordan's most famous game of the 1997 NBA Finals, but the Bulls needed everything he had to win their fifth NBA championship in Game 6. For the first three quarters, the Bulls couldn't find offense from anyone other than Jordan and Pippen, neither of whom were shooting well from the field. Jordan went for 12 points in the second quarter and 13 in the third to keep them in the game.
However, the Chicago stars got some much-needed help after teammate Jud Buechler stole the ball in the backcourt following an ugly Jordan miss. Buechler then knocked down a pull-up three to bring the Bulls within six. In the fourth quarter, it took the Bulls three minutes and 15 seconds to take the lead from the Jazz with a 10-0 run behind three-pointers from Pippen and Steve Kerr.
Jordan re-entered the game when it was tied 74-74 and gave the Bulls their next lead, 82-81, with five minutes remaining. They wouldn't trail the rest of the game, and he scored 10 points in his eight fourth-quarter minutes to go along with his legendary assist to Kerr to take the lead for good at 88-86.
37. Jeff Van Gundy, You Should Know Better
Date: Jan. 21, 1997
Stat line: 51 PTS, 18-30 FG, 10-11 FT, 4 AST, 4 REB, 2 STL
Final score: New York Knicks 87, Chicago Bulls 88
The 1996-97 season was Jeff Van Gundy's first full year as head coach of the Knicks, but he had been an assistant with the team since 1989. That was enough time to learn not to agitate Jordan. But Van Gundy made that mistake in 1997, saying in a radio interview that Jordan "conned" players by befriending them and then later taking it to them on the basketball court.
Chicago Tribune reporter Bob Sakamoto took this information to Jordan, who responded, "F--k him. And you can quote me on that." Jordan proceeded to torch the Knicks at the United Center, and then at the end of the game, he looked at Van Gundy and said, "Con that, little man!" In five playoff series losses and numerous regular-season games, Van Gundy still hadn't learned his lesson. Now you know why he is never afraid to speak his mind during NBA broadcasts: He just can't help himself.
36. Let's Just Kiss and Say Goodbye
Date: Sept. 9, 1994
Stat line: 52 PTS, 24-46 FG
Final score: White Team 187, Red Team 150
There was no way that the last basketball game ever played at Chicago Stadium could go on without Michael Jordan, even if he was preparing for Winter League baseball in Arizona. The game was the Scottie Pippen Ameritech All-Star Classic, featuring Jordan alongside other stars such as Pippen, Orlando Magic guard Penny Hardaway, New York Knicks guard John Starks, Sacramento Kings guard Mitch Richmond and Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton. Jordan sent his beloved building out with a bang.
Then, at the end, Jordan took a knee, gave the midcourt logo a kiss and said goodbye.
35. The First Real Taste of Victory
Date: May 8, 1988
Stat line: 39 PTS, 12-22 FG, 15-18 FT, 6 AST, 4 REB, 2 STL, 2 BLK
Final score: Cleveland Cavaliers 101, Chicago Bulls 107
It took four seasons, but Jordan finally got his first playoff series victory in 1988. The Bulls defeated the Cavs in five games of a best-of-five series. Jordan played out of his mind even for his standards, averaging 45.2 points on 55.9 percent shooting, including two 50-point games to begin the series.
They would be eliminated 10 days later by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons, but this was a huge moment for Jordan. Chicago Stadium gave the team a standing ovation, and Jordan savored his first taste of real NBA success, yelling and pumping his fists repeatedly as he left the floor, finally moving on to the next round.
34. Never Scared of the Big Moment
Date: April 24, 1985
Stat line: 35 PTS, 12-26 FG, 11-16 FT, 7 AST, 8 REB, 4 STL, 1 BLK
Final score: Milwaukee Bucks 107, Chicago Bulls 109
Michael Jordan's first playoff appearance was not against the Boston Celtics in 1986 after the broken foot (we'll get to that performance later). During Jordan's rookie season, he helped improve the Bulls' record by 11 games from the previous season and led them to the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bulls lost the first two games to the talented Bucks, but they took the short ride home to Chicago and pulled out a win in Game 3. Much of that win is thanks to Jordan's strong all-around performance and his go-ahead basket with 22 seconds remaining.
The Bulls didn't win another playoff game until 1988, but that moment was some good icing on the end of Jordan's Rookie of the Year campaign in which he averaged 28.2 points and led the Bulls in points, steals, assists and rebounds per game.
33. Farewell, No. 45
Date: May 10, 1995
Stat line: 38 PTS, 17-30 FG, 3-8 FT, 3 AST, 7 REB, 4 STL, BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 104, Orlando Magic 94
Jordan's 1995 comeback was going spectacularly. He had already added some plays to his all-time highlight reel and was great as the Bulls beat the Charlotte Hornets in the first round. Then came the second round, and the up-and-coming Orlando Magic made Jordan look like a 32-year-old man who went 17 months without playing professional basketball.
The Magic held Jordan to 19 points on 36 percent shooting with eight turnovers in Game 1 of the series. The worst one was with 10 seconds remaining in the game as he was stripped after crossing half court by Magic guard Nick Anderson as he was trying to win the game for the Bulls like he had done many times.
Jordan decided to wear No. 45 instead of his trademark No. 23 when he returned to the Bulls. When reporters talked to Anderson in the locker room after Game 1, he said: "No. 45 doesn't explode like No. 23 used to. No. 45 is not No. 23. I couldn't have done that to No. 23."
In Game 2, Jordan went back to his trusty No. 23 jersey and proceeded to shred the Magic with 38 points on 57 percent shooting, briefly restoring the Bulls' title hopes. While they lost to the Magic in six games, that game showed that while Jordan needed to get back into basketball shape, he could still respond to any challenge on a basketball court and was very capable of turning perceived slights into dozens of points.
32. Toni Kukoc's Initiation
Date: July 27, 1992
Stat line: 21 PTS, 3 AST, 2 REB, 8 STL
Final score: United States 103, Croatia 70
In the second game of the Dream Team's run in Barcelona, they took on the second-best team in the tournament, Croatia. The backdrop is that the Bulls were preparing to bring Croatia forward Toni Kukoc to the team. Then-Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was giving public compliments to Kukoc and trying to convince him to come to America, which Jordan and Scottie Pippen took as an insult.
"That's like a father who has all his kids and now he sees another kid that he loves more than he loves his own," Jordan said in the documentary The Dream Team (h/t ESPN). "So we were not playing against Toni Kukoc. We were playing against Jerry Krause in a Croatian uniform."
Jordan and Pippen didn't like Krause anyway, so anything he did would be taken as a slight. The two Bulls All-Stars lasered their focus on Kukoc, taking turns guarding him. He was held to four points with seven turnovers. It was clear Jordan and Pippen were out to embarrass Kukoc that day, and they succeeded.
31. Freeze This!
Date: Feb. 12, 1985
Stat line: 49 PTS, 19-31 FG, 11-13 FT, 5 AST, 15 REB, 4 STL
Final score: Detroit Pistons 126, Chicago Bulls 139
The story is that veterans at the 1985 NBA All-Star Game weren't too thrilled with Jordan. The 21-year-old rookie had burst onto the scene and was selected as an Eastern Conference All-Star starter. He then performed in the first round of the Slam Dunk Contest not in his Bulls uniform but in a custom Nike tank top and sweatpants and a chain.
Allegedly, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson and George Gervin led the charge to teach Jordan a lesson by freezing him out of the All-Star Game. Jordan took nine shots in 22 minutes and scored seven points. This alleged incident not only soured Jordan's relationship with Thomas, but also with Johnson. Jordan has admitted that he and Johnson did not get along early in his career.
The next game for the Pistons was in Chicago Stadium against the Bulls. Jordan had the highest-scoring game of his rookie season against them and still filled out the rest of the box score. Jordan made it clear early on that you won't want to make him angry.
30. You Tried, Charles
Date: June 11, 1993
Stat line: 42 PTS, 18-36 FG, 4-5 FT, 9 AST, 12 REB, 2 STL
Final score: Chicago Bulls 111, Phoenix Suns 108
This was supposed to be Suns forward Charles Barkley's season of destiny. With no Magic Johnson or Larry Bird in the NBA for the first time since 1979, Jordan was clearly atop the league, but he had no foil. Barkley had been putting up monster stats for years with the Philadelphia 76ers, but the team was never good enough to put him in the conversation for best player in the NBA.
He was traded during the 1992 offseason to an already strong Suns team, and he proceeded to stop Jordan from winning a third consecutive MVP award. The Suns had the best record in the NBA, but they lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals on their home court to the Bulls.
In Game 2, Barkley gave a heroic effort with 42 points and 13 rebounds. However, his efforts went in vain. After believing that if given the opportunity he could prove he was a better basketball player than Jordan, he later admitted that this game made him think otherwise.
29. The Warm-Up
Date: April 17, 1986
Stat line: 49 PTS, 18-36 FG, 13-15 FT, 2 AST, 4 REB, 2 STL, 1 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 104, Boston Celtics 123
Jordan played in only 18 regular-season games during the 1985-86 season. He broke his foot in the season's third game. When he returned to action in March, against management's objection, he had to follow a minutes restriction that gradually increased until he finally played more than 30 minutes on April 1.
The Bulls squeaked into the playoffs and were rewarded with a matchup against a team that is on the short list of the greatest in NBA history, the 67-15 Boston Celtics. Jordan hadn't scored more than 33 points all season, but he let the Celtics and the Boston Garden crowd know that his foot would not be an issue in this series. Simba was grown, and he wanted Bird's kingdom.
28. 60 for the Fifth Time
Date: Jan. 16, 1993
Stat line: 64 PTS, 27-49 FG, 9-11 FT, 1 AST, 6 REB, 5 STL
Final score: Orlando Magic 128, Chicago Bulls 124
I might as well let that cat out of the bag now: All of Jordan's 60-plus-point games are on this list. Few have achieved the total once. Jordan did it five times. This was his fifth and final such performance, and it came against rookie Shaquille O'Neal and the Magic.
Clearly the Bulls didn't play much defense in this game, but this was the one regular season during the championship years that they showed little interest in the regular season. Jackson admitted it after they won the title that year. However, if Jordan is on the court, it's Game 7 of the NBA Finals. As shown by this amazing effort in a Bulls loss.
27. Jordan's Closing Performance on Broadway
Date: March 8, 1998
Stat line: 42 PTS, 17-33 FG, 7-9 FT, 6 AST, 8 REB, 3 STL, 1 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 102, New York Knicks 89
This was built up as Jordan's last game in Madison Square Garden. It was an NBA on NBC Sunday feature presentation, and he decided to make the game special. He broke out the Air Jordan 1s long before re-releasing his shoes became a source of income.
Jordan never made it a secret that he loved playing in Madison Square Garden, so of course this would be one of his best games of the season as he took a bow on Broadway for the last time as a Bull. The jump shots that Jordan relied on later in his career were prevalent, but he turned back the clock on some drives to the basket. There was a drive that caused NBC's Bob Costas to blurt out, "Oh my goodness!"
With Spike Lee and former Knicks guard Earl "The Pearl" Monroe sitting courtside, Jordan put on a critically acclaimed performance.
26. The Day the Magic Disappeared
Date: May 27, 1996
Stat line: 45 PTS, 16-23 FG, 10-14 FT, 5 AST, 3 REB, 1 BLK, 1 STL
Final score: Chicago Bulls 106, Orlando Magic 101
If Magic forward and previous Bulls champion Horace Grant hadn't gotten hurt in the first game, maybe the Magic would have won a game or two. Still, there was no chance the Magic would have won this series. For a first-person account of how much the Magic were dominated, watch 30 for 30's This Magic Moment and listen to Shaq describe this series.
As personal as Jordan takes everything, the Magic were going to pay after beating him in 1995. It cost the Magic a 38-point loss in Game 1, an 18-point lead vanishing in a Game 2 loss, a 19-point loss at home in Game 3, and during the offseason it cost them Shaq. The cost of beating Jordan in a playoff series, even if he was a minor league baseball player a mere months before, was one of the most promising young cores in NBA history.
25. Put Me In, Coach
Date: April 7, 1994
Stat line: 2 H, 5 AB, 2 RBI, 1 2B
Final score: Chicago White Sox 4, Chicago Cubs 4
The strike-shortened 1994 Major League Baseball season had already started, as the defending American League West champion White Sox were 1-2. This is the only baseball game of Jordan's career on our list, but it's part of his legacy.
That afternoon, Wrigley Field featured an exhibition game, the Crosstown Classic that became extinct once interleague play was brought on in 1997. The White Sox had a new face in the outfield not named Dan Pasqua or Darrin Jackson. Their right fielder for the day was Michael Jordan.
He decided that after retiring from the NBA he wanted to try MLB. He signed with the Reinsdorf-owned White Sox on Feb. 7, 1994. Exactly two months later, he was on the field and in a batting stance that was way too tight. He drove in the game-tying run.
That RBI came off Chuck Crim, who appeared in 449 MLB games. Jordan had his struggles while batting .202 during the 1994 season with the Double-A Birmingham Barons, but he stole the show at Wrigley that day.
24. A New Champion
Date: June 12, 1991
Stat line: 30 PTS, 12-23 FG, 6-8 FT, 10 AST, 4 REB, 5 STL, 2 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 108, Los Angeles Lakers 101
This wasn't Jordan's best scoring night, but this might have been the best way for him to clinch his first NBA championship. For the Lakers, forward James Worthy and guard Byron Scott did not play after battling injuries throughout the series. That didn't mean anything to Magic Johnson, who at 31 years old played every single minute of the game and contributed 20 assists while shooting 33 percent from the field.
Jordan also played all 48 minutes, along with Scottie Pippen, and showed that the Jordanaires were no more. Jordan trusted guard John Paxson, who had a monster fourth quarter, to fight off a final Lakers run. After seven years of being criticized for scoring too much, he still got his 30 points but was a more than willing passer and let a teammate do the honors of finishing off his opponent to finally win an NBA championship.
23. Jordan Keeps His Promise
Date: April 16, 1987
Stat line: 61 PTS, 22-38 FG, 17-21 FT, 1 AST, 10 REB, 4 STL, 1 BLK
Final score: Atlanta Hawks 117, Chicago Bulls 114
The 1986-87 season was the most Michael Jordan and the Jordanaires campaign of his career. He averaged 37.1 points per game. No player in the NBA has averaged that many points since. Houston Rockets guard James Harden came the closest with 36.1 in 2018-19.
The Bulls made the playoffs in 1987, but it required all those points to get swept again by the Boston Celtics in the first round. Jordan was great, but it wasn't enough for a home victory against the Hawks, who would win 57 games that season.
The Bulls scored enough points to win this game but allowed center/forward Kevin Willis and forward Antoine Carr to score 20 points and Dominique Wilkins to lead the Hawks with 34 points. Even though the Bulls lost, this game does come with a good story.
Before the game, Jordan visited Atlanta's locker room.
"He walked by me and [center] Kevin [Willis]," Dominique Wilkins recalled to The Athletic's Joe Vardon. "He tapped [guard] Randy Wittman on the leg and said, 'Lace em up, it's gonna be a long f--king night,' and then he walked out."
22. Jordan Again Freezes the Pistons
Date: March 4, 1987
Stat line: 61 PTS, 22-39 FG, 17-18 FT, 3 AST, 7 REB, 3 STL, 3 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 125, Detroit Pistons 120
This was his first regular-season game scoring 60-plus points, and it came against the team that finished with the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA. The Bulls were fighting for a playoff berth at the time, so every win was crucial.
Jordan had to lug the Bulls to victory, meaning this day in the Pontiac Silverdome was no different than normal. But as always, he did it in a dazzling way. He hit a turnaround jump shot from the top of the key in the first quarter that seemingly had enough arc on it to reach the top of the dome.
Isiah Thomas and forward Adrian Dantley scored 31 and 32 points, respectively, for the Pistons, while guard Joe Dumars and center Bill Laimbeer combined for 37. The Bulls got 19 points from backup guard Sedale Threatt and 11 points from center Dave Corzine in the overtime victory.
21. The Old Man's Still Got It
Date: Dec. 29, 2001
Stat line: 51 PTS, 21-38 FG, 9-10 FT, 4 AST, 7 REB, 3 STL
Final score: Charlotte Hornets 90, Washington Wizards 107
Michael Jordan really came back at damn near 40 to play in the NBA. He gets criticism for this for several reasons, but the reality is he played well. A 38-year-old averaging 22.9 points per game is not commonplace in the NBA.
Jordan had a big night nine games in, scoring 44 points in a loss against the Utah Jazz. Then in December, he did something that he hadn't done since the first round of the 1997 playoffs. He dropped a hot 50-burger on the Hornets.
Criticize Jordan's comeback all you want, but the fact that he took three seasons off, came back to a Wizards team that wasn't good—which was partially his fault since he was an executive—and dropped 50 points two months in is evidence that he was put on Earth to play basketball.
20. Jordan Turns off the Heat
Date: April 29, 1992
Stat line: 56 PTS, 20-30 FG, 16-18 FT, 5 AST, 5 REB, 4 STL, 2 BLK
Final score: Chicago Bulls 119, Miami Heat 114
This clinching game against the Heat is the second-highest-scoring playoff game of Jordan's career. He put up that impressive total after scoring only two points in the first quarter.
The Heat arriving in the playoffs in their fourth season was an achievement. It's just unfortunate their first postseason opponent was the 67-win Bulls with Michael Jordan. His first NBA coach, Kevin Loughery, was coaching the Heat, and Jordan showed just how much his game had grown since 1985.
The Heat put up a valiant effort in Game 3, but that 56 points made it clear that it was time to send the playoff newbies home.
19. Go Home, Riley
Date: May 17, 1992
Stat line: 42 PTS, 15-29 FG, 12-13 FT, 4 AST, 6 REB, 3 BLK, 2 STL
Final score: New York Knicks 81, Chicago Bulls 110
In the Bulls' first playoffs after winning their first NBA championship, the Knicks pushed them in the first six games of the conference semifinals. No victory came easy, and it was reasonable to wonder if the Bulls might flame out in their first title defense.
Jordan silenced all that, getting in Knicks forward Xavier McDaniel's face and making impact plays on both sides of the floor. The score didn't get out of hand until the fourth quarter, but Jordan kept the Bulls in the driver's seat all game. That was an important victory. The new Pat Riley-led Knicks would soon prove to be one of the NBA's best teams, but that day Jordan made sure his team would not be a one-and-done champion lumped in a category with many others.
18. Jordan's Highest-Scoring Finals Game
Date: June 16, 1993
Stat line: 55 PTS, 21-37 FG, 13-18 FT, 4 AST, 8 REB
Final score: Phoenix Suns 105, Chicago Bulls 111
The Bulls had visions of a sweep in their heads, but the Suns kicked that away with an impressive triple-overtime victory in Game 3. Jordan did not want the Suns to gain confidence and unleashed a 50-burger to let his opponent know there would be no recovery in this series.
The Suns lost two games at home and the Bulls were coming in for the kill. Jordan's mid-range game was still effective, but he went to the basket a lot in this game. He drew fouls and soared past the Suns for layups and a couple of dunks. The Suns hung tough, but it's hard to overcome someone scoring just under half of his team's points while shooting 56.8 percent from the field.
17. The Scariest Game of the Run
Date: May 31, 1998
Stat line: 28 PTS, 9-25 FG, 10-15 FT, 8 AST, 9 REB
Final score: Indiana Pacers 83, Chicago Bulls 88
Going into Game 7, the home team had won every game. Some might say that the series never began, but that game in the United Center was a fight. The Pacers were good, and the Bulls were aging. Early in the first half, the Pacers took a 13-point lead, but they couldn't hold it.
Maybe Pacers coach Larry Bird should have played forward Jalen Rose more—who knows. What is certain is that Kukoc redeemed himself after an awful first half by not missing a shot in the third quarter and scoring 14 points. The Bulls entered the fourth up four points, but Rose erased that lead in a minute-and-a-half.
Then Jordan re-entered the game and was far from efficient. He had missed his last five shots in the third quarter and missed two more before getting a make with a rebound off his own miss. Jordan and Pippen's 11 combined offensive rebounds would help save a Bulls offense that shot only 38.2 percent from the field, and they also made key baskets to give their team the lead at different points in the second half.
Jordan also had some key assists and won a jump ball against Pacers 7'4" center Rik Smits with the Bulls down three points, but his largest contribution was probably on defense. He chased Pacers guard Reggie Miller around screens for the entire fourth quarter and held him scoreless. Miller attempted only one shot in the fourth quarter.
16. Three the Hard Way
Date: June 20, 1993
Stat line: 33 PTS, 13-26 FG, 4-6 FT, 7 AST, 8 REB, 1 STL
Final score: Chicago Bulls 99, Phoenix Suns 98
The Suns came alive in Chicago. They won two of three games and went back home needing to win Games 6 and 7 for an NBA championship. The Bulls' offense screeched to a halt in a hotly contested fourth quarter.
They scored 12 points, nine of them coming from Jordan. If not for his efforts, this series would have gone to Game 7, and for the road team the odds aren't good. Jordan scored whenever he wanted for most of this series, but the points that he squeezed out in the fourth quarter of this game are the ones that changed his legacy.
He wanted so badly to do what Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving could not do: three-peat. Jordan lugged the Bulls along in that fourth quarter until John Paxson and Horace Grant could seal the deal and make the Bulls one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
15. I'm Back
Date: March 19, 1995
Stat line: 19 PTS, 7-28 FG, 5-6 FT, 6 AST, 6 REB, 3 STL
Final score: Chicago Bulls 96, Indiana Pacers 103
Yes, it would've been lovely if Jordan scored 30 points in his first basketball game in over a year. He still dropped 19 points and filled the stat line against one of the better teams in the NBA. This game is a moment in time.
The biggest star in sports, and arguably in entertainment, had retired in his prime, and 17 months later he returned on a network television broadcast in the mid-1990s. He announced this return by simply sending a fax that read, "I'm back."
This was unprecedented. Most NBA players don't have the freedom to miss 21 shots in a game. The Bulls were happy to let Michael do it from day one. He still proved that he could play professional basketball at the highest level, and this game was a huge step in cementing himself as the greatest basketball player of all time.
14. You're Not Getting Me Again, Magic
Date: June 5, 1991
Stat line: 33 PTS, 15-18 FG, 3-4 FT, 13 AST, 7 REB, 1 BLK, 2 STL
Final score: Los Angeles Lakers 86, Chicago Bulls 107
The Bulls came within a Jordan shot that rattled out of going up 1-0 against the Lakers. Jordan proceeded to not score 50 points in Game 2 but instead achieved a Zen-like balance between being the best scorer in the league and giving his teammates the best opportunity to succeed.
He got Horace Grant involved early on offense and showed Magic Johnson there was more than one elite-level playmaker on the floor. Jordan still found time to make the highlight play of the series, the dunk attempt he changed in midair to a layup, and the Bulls ran the Lakers out of the gym.
13. I'm a Man. I'm 40!
Date: Feb. 21, 2003
Stat line: 43 PTS, 18-30 FG, 7-8 FT, 3 AST, 10 REB, 1 BLK, 4 STL
Final score: New Jersey Nets 86, Washington Wizards 89
The Nets played the San Antonio Spurs much better in the 2003 NBA Finals than they did the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002. But their improvement did not help them against a 40-year-old Michael Jordan.
It was four days after Jordan's 40th birthday, and his present was to shoot 60 percent against the best team in the Eastern Conference and become the only player 40 or older to score 40 or more points in a game. Jordan did not win the battle against Father Time, but we need to stop acting like the Wizards years were the lost years.
How many NBA players fall into reduced roles post-35 years old? At 40 Jordan, played 82 games and was the Wizards No. 1 option. It didn't result in a playoff berth, but it deserves respect.
12. There's a New All-Star in Town
Date: July 21, 1984
Stat line: 27 PTS, 9-14 FG, 9-12 FT
Final score: NBA All-Stars 72, U.S. men's basketball team 84
The first time Jordan really dropped jaws across America was prior to the 1984 Olympics. He had been drafted by the Bulls but was training with the men's college basketball stars of the time, including Georgetown's Patrick Ewing and St. John's Chris Mullin, under the coaching of Bobby Knight.
That talented team wasn't going to lose in Los Angeles but was presented with a challenge before the Games. The NBA Players Association sent players to play some televised games against the Olympians, and after they got beat, they sent All-Stars. They also lost.
On this day, the NBA players included Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Alex English, Walter Davis and Larry Nance. They sent all kinds of traps after Jordan, but they didn't work. On one fast break in the first half, even an '80s-quality-broadcast Johnson looks shocked at how far Jordan is from the hoop when he takes off on a dunk.
Jordan was the best player on the floor in that game, and announcers Dick Stockton and Billy Packer had no shame in acknowledging it. They gushed over him from the opening tip to the final whistle.
11. The Origin of 'The Jordan Rules'
Date: May 27, 1989
Stat line: 46 PTS, 16-26 FG, 14-15 FT, 5 AST, 7 REB, 5 STL
Final score: Detroit Pistons 97, at Chicago Bulls 99
The Pistons were eyeing a rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers. The 1988 NBA Finals could've gone either way, and the Pistons were ready to take their revenge. However, the Bulls proved to be a large speed bump, stealing Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the new Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Pistons won Game 2 and led virtually all of Game 3 at Chicago Stadium. They led by 11 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter and held a 12-point advantage with six minutes remaining. That's when the Pistons learned a hard truth: that Jordan might be able to beat them by himself.
Jordan guarded Isiah Thomas throughout the game, limiting him to five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Jordan still had enough energy to score 12 of the Bulls' final 16 points, including the go-ahead basket with three seconds remaining over Dennis Rodman. It was the Bulls' second lead of the game.
With this spectacular performance, Jordan inadvertently created his most difficult obstacle on his journey toward an NBA championship and becoming the best player in the league. The Pistons devised "The Jordan Rules," which essentially forced him to help and included knocking him to the floor when he drove to the basket. The referees could only call a foul on one person.
The Pistons invited the other Bulls to beat them—and won seven of their next 10 playoff games against Chicago, on their way to two NBA championships. Jordan took the beatings and lessons from those 1989 and 1990 conference finals and poured them all over the NBA in the final decade of the Millenium.
*Check back Sunday in the Bleacher Report App for Michael Jordan's Top 10 games of all time.