Michael Jordan, the man who many regard as the greatest basketball player of all time, hit so many clutch shots during his career that it’s hard to keep count.
There’s that 20-footer he hit with 5.2 seconds remaining against the Utah Jazz to propel Chicago to its sixth NBA title in 1998. And the jumper over Craig Ehlo – called simply “The Shot” -- in the first round of the 1989 playoffs that gave the Bulls a 101-100 victory.
But the one that launched His Airness into the nation’s consciousness came on March 29, 1982 during the NCAA championship game.
Jordan was a freshman on a University of North Carolina team that also featured James Worthy and Sam Perkins. The Tar Heels, who faced Georgetown in the title tilt, were seeking to give legendary coach Dean Smith his first NCAA crown in his seventh trip to the Final Four.
The game was tight throughout, and Eric “Sleepy” Floyd gave the Hoyas their last lead at 62-61 with just over a minute remaining. During the ensuing time out, instead of going to the upperclassman Worthy or Perkins who figured to be well-guarded, Smith drew up a play for Jordan and the Tar Heels executed to perfection.
With 17 seconds left, point guard Jimmy Black found Jordan open on the left wing and the freshman launched what turned out to be the game-winner into the air. On Georgetown’s ensuing possession, Fred Brown mistakenly passed the ball to Worthy and the Hoyas’ bid essentially ended despite two missed free throws by the UNC star.
Worthy, who scored 28 points against the Hoyas, was named the MVP of the Final Four. But it’s the shot that Jordan hit that has gone down in basketball lore.
“That was the birth of Michael Jordan,” Jordan told the late Turner broadcaster Craig Sager at the 2016 Final Four where Villanova beat the Tar Heels in the championship game.
“Before that I was Mike. All of a sudden I make that shot and I’m Michael.”
Indeed. That freshman from Wilmington, N.C., who was a star at Laney High School there, went on to win six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and owned a career scoring average of 30.1 points per game, leading the league in 10 seasons. He also was named to the NBA All-Star Team 14 times. Jordan is now the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets.
For his performance in the 1982 NCAA championship game, Jordan has been named the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame’s Member of the Month for March. He was inducted in 2010 and you can read more about the man they call Air Jordan here. (http://www.ncshof.org/michaeljordan)
Worthy and Floyd are also in the NCSHOF, inducted in 1997 and 2016, respectively. Interestingly, Jordan’s close friend, Fred Whitfield, who is the COO of the Charlotte Hornets, will also join the Hall during its annual induction ceremonies on May 4 in Raleigh.