The Shot

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Posted: April 30, 2017


Over the course of his distinctly illustrious career, Michael Jordan made dozens of important plays that were critical to the phenomenal success of the Chicago Bulls of his era.

Right up there with the best is a series winning shot he made in the dying seconds of game five of the 1989 Eastern Conference playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Known simply as “The Shot,” that basket is considered one of the most dramatic plays in North American sports history.

Buildup to the Shot

The two teams had somewhat contrasting paths to the 1989 playoffs. The Cavaliers, with a 57-25 record in regular season were tied with the Lakers for second best record in the league while the Bulls barely made it into the playoffs having placed fifth in the Central division. The Cavaliers were also superior in terms of their head-to-head record against the Bulls, having swept the Bulls 6-0 in regular season. The two teams had met the previous season in the playoffs, with the Bulls triumphing in five games. At the time, Jordan was already a superstar in his own right having emerged as the league’s highest ever average playoff scorer with 35.9 ppg. However, the Chicago Bulls were still in the process of shaping up around Jordan into the fearsome dynasty that conquered all in the 1990s.

The first game, played at the Richfield Coliseum, ended in a 95-88 victory for the Bulls, with the Cavaliers taking game two 96-88. With the series returning to Chicago for game four, Chicago went ahead in the series by winning 101-94, but the Cavaliers won game four 108-105 to even the series. This sent the series back to Cleveland for a winner-take-all game 5.

The Shot Unfolds

The two teams put on a fierce fight for the spoils throughout the game and with just 6 seconds left, the game imploded into a series of dramatic plays that saw the lead change hands three times. With the Bulls trailing 98-97 at :06, Jordan hit a jumper that gave Chicago a momentary 99-98 lead. Cleveland took a timeout and once back on court, orchestrated a quick drive up court from Craig Ehlo’s inbound. The ball found its way back to Ehlo who made a layup to overturn the tables on Chicago with just 3 seconds on the clock. The Bulls called a timeout of their own and on the inbounds, Ehlo and Larry Nance double-teamed on Jordan, but the young superstar knocked both off their feet by expertly wriggling right and then left, before receiving the inbounds pass from Brad Sellers. Jordan dribbled towards the foul line and rose for a jumper. At this point, the 6’7” Ehlo had recovered and charged menacingly for a block on Jordan’s impending shot. However Jordan appeared to hang in the air until Coelho’s leap faded, and then unleashed his shot unimpeded. The ball nestled perfectly through the net just as the buzzer sounded and the Chicago players and staff jumped in jubilation. Jordan leapt into the air and pumped his fists in celebration, while Ehlo fell back into the floor in despair, making for one of the most emblematic images of the Shot.

The Shot Unfolds

The two teams put on a fierce fight for the spoils throughout the game and with just 6 seconds left, the game imploded into a series of dramatic plays that saw the lead change hands three times. With the Bulls trailing 98-97 at :06, Jordan hit a jumper that gave Chicago a momentary 99-98 lead. Cleveland took a timeout and once back on court, orchestrated a quick drive up court from Craig Ehlo’s inbound. The ball found its way back to Ehlo who made a layup to overturn the tables on Chicago with just 3 seconds on the clock. The Bulls called a timeout of their own and on the inbounds, Ehlo and Larry Nance double-teamed on Jordan, but the young superstar knocked both off their feet by expertly wriggling right and then left, before receiving the inbounds pass from Brad Sellers. Jordan dribbled towards the foul line and rose for a jumper. At this point, the 6’7” Ehlo had recovered and charged menacingly for a block on Jordan’s impending shot. However Jordan appeared to hang in the air until Coelho’s leap faded, and then unleashed his shot unimpeded. The ball nestled perfectly through the net just as the buzzer sounded and the Chicago players and staff jumped in jubilation. Jordan leapt into the air and pumped his fists in celebration, while Ehlo fell back into the floor in despair, making for one of the most emblematic images of the Shot.

Aftermath of the Shot

The Bulls were matched up against the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They won the series 4-2, thanks to further excellent work from Jordan, but then lost 4-2 to the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals. Two years later, Chicago won the first of five NBA titles that they clinched between 1991 and 1997, only interrupted by a 2 year hiatus in 1994 and 1995 when Jordan temporarily retired to try his hand at baseball.

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