The Shrug Game

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Posted: December 10, 2017


The 1992 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers are best remembered for Michael Jordan’s exploits in the first two quarters of Game 1 on June 3, 1991. During that game, Jordan scored six three pointers in the first half and reacted to the sixth with a shrug, in what seemed to be amazement at his own brilliance. The Bulls won that game 122-89, with Jordan registering 39 points.

Build-up to the Shrug Game

Since he made his bow for the Bulls in 1984, Jordan had established himself as a superstar and had helped send the previously average Bulls on the ascendancy and see them rise to perennial contenders for the NBA title. There was hardly any other player who could challenge Jordan for status of the league’s best player. Coming into the game, the Blazers’ Clyde Drexler was hailed by ESPN as being as good as Jordan. The series was therefore pitted as a contest between the two players in settling the best player debate. The two teams also had history relating to the services of Jordan. During the 1984 NBA draft, the Blazers had elected not to take Jordan with the second-overall pick, instead settling for Sam Bowie. The Bulls, who had the 3rd overall pick then swooped on him, and the rest is history.

The Bulls, who were NBA defending champions had finished the 1991/1992 regular season with a 67-15 record. In the first round of the playoffs, they beat the Miami Heat, then dispatched the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In the Eastern Conference Final, they beat the Cavaliers 4-2. The Trail Blazers were not badly off either, having topped the Pacific Division with a 57-25 record. They then defeated the Lakers in the first round, following that up with a 4-1 upset of the Phoenix Suns. They then won the Western Conference title by beating the Utah Jazz.

The Game

With Chicago hosting the game, they started in devastating fashion thanks largely to an outstanding performance by Jordan. Jordan was not known as a great three-point shooter, so the Blazers defense did not think to pick him out when he had possession behind the three-point line. He took advantage buried shot after shot from behind the line. Before one of the shots, he could be seen raising his arm for the ball to be passed to him when he realized there were no Blazers defenders within 12 feet of him. when he hit his fifth three pointer, the whole arena exploded in amazement but he had even more to offer. During a subsequent play, as Chicago brought the ball up towards the Blazers’ zone, Jordan trailed behind and just as he reached the line, he gained possession and shot. It was his sixth three pointer of the half.

The fans and teammates were in disbelief, and as it would appear, even the man himself. Then the famous moment; instead of exploding into delirium having just broken the record for three pointers in a single half, Jordan just shook his head and shrugged at the camera as if to say he could not also fathom how he had done it. The second half ended with the Bulls leading 66-51, with the game eventually ending 122-89 in their favor. Jordan also broke the record for most points in a half with 35 but had a slow second half adding just 4 points for a game total of 39.

The fans and teammates were in disbelief, and as it would appear, even the man himself. Then the famous moment; instead of exploding into delirium having just broken the record for three pointers in a single half, Jordan just shook his head and shrugged at the camera as if to say he could not also fathom how he had done it. The second half ended with the Bulls leading 66-51, with the game eventually ending 122-89 in their favor. Jordan also broke the record for most points in a half with 35 but had a slow second half adding just 4 points for a game total of 39.

Aftermath of the Shrug Game

In game 2, Portland won 115-104 to tie the series. With the series shifting to Portland for game 3, the Bulls returned to winning ways, with a 94-84 score line but the Blazers evened the series once again with a 93-88 win in game 4. Chicago then won game 5 and to win the series 4-2 and lift the second of six titles that they would win during the 1990s.

Jordan’s shrug remains one of the most iconic representations of the man’s greatness to date. To many, it was a statement of his arrival as a global superstar and the vanquishing of any doubt that he was the greatest player ever to play the game.

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