Michael Jordan had many defining moments in his NBA career, but few were as surreal as “the move.” Jordan had several memorable highlights throughout his first six seasons in the NBA – some unbelievable dunks, 63 points against the Boston Celtics, and the shot on Craig Ehlo – but great players come up big in the Eastern Conference Finals or the NBA Finals. They had those memorable shots or plays that future generations look back on and think, “That was unbelievable.” Magic Johnson cemented his legacy with the baby sky hook against the Celtics. Willis Reed became an icon by hobbling out of the tunnel to play in game 7 of the Finals. Larry Bird stole the ball and gave it up to Dennis Johnson for a layup against the Pistons. Julius Erving had the surreal up and under layup where he literally brought the ball behind the backboard and on the other side of the rim. In Michael Jordan‘s first NBA Finals, he placed himself in that pantheon with the rest of the NBA’s legends and cemented his place as an all-time great.
The 1991 Finals started off rough for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls dropped game 1 after Sam Perkins hit a game winning three at Chicago Stadium. The Bulls had to rebound strong and they came prepared in game 2. The game was close for about two and a half quarters before the Bulls broke it open. The Bulls wanted and needed to finish strong and with 8 minutes left to go in the game, the score was 95-71. The Bulls were in control, but something about it still felt uneasy. These were Magic and the Lakers and the Bulls were still largely unproven. It felt like something needed to be done to assert their dominance over the Lakers and for Jordan and the Bulls to make a statement. Then it happened:
I’ve seen the clip a hundred times and it’s incredible each time, but when I watched the game for the first time, I didn’t know when it happened and it sneaks up on you. Jordan does this move so fast and so effortlessly that it catches you off guard. The first time I watched it in the actual game, he did it and I just froze. My brain had to catch up and comprehend what I had just watched. Again, I’d seen this clip hundreds of times and still seeing it in live action was just incredible. Jordan takes off and I think he thought someone was coming over to try and alter the shot, but instead Perkins, James Worthy, and Vlade Divac just stand there in awe of what they’re witnessing. No one comes to contest it and Jordan, preparing for the shot to be challenged, switches hands and lays it in with the other hand. Phil Jackson‘s reaction is wonderful, like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Scott Williams raises both arms in the air as he backpedals down court and Cliff Levingston makes sure he runs over and celebrates with Jordan as the Lakers call timeout. The play made Chicago Stadium explode and asserted the Bulls’ dominance over the Los Angeles Lakers. It was the first memorable Finals moment for Michael Jordan and a play that we see during every NBA Finals. It is iconic and a timeless classic. It was the moment that Michael Jordan and the Bulls became iconic and a team for the ages.