Commentary

The plays that defined a legend

Updated: June 14, 2010, 10:57 AM ET
By Peter Newmann | Special to ESPNChicago.com

Researching the top 10 moments in Michael Jordan's career is akin to finding Dali's best paintings, Mike Tyson's greatest knockouts or Disney World's most notable attractions. Each person's perspective is a little bit different.

I had the good fortune to witness most of Jordan's moments live or in real time. These, I believe, are the top 10 moments in his basketball career -- from college to the NBA. They stand out. They are memorable. Individually, each moment provides for a collaborative "wow" from an audience, and combined they bring together a body of work that can hardly summarize the career of Michael Jordan.

He is an NCAA champion, NBA champion, Olympic champion and slam dunk champion. He holds records upon records. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. There is nothing that you can point to in Jordan's career and say, "Well, he was good, but he didn't do that." He did it all, and he did it all well.

And as a salute to Jordan on the anniversary of the No. 1 moment on this list, I present the top 10 moments of a brilliant basketball career:

No. 10: Jordan vs. Celtics (first round, Game 2) -- April 20, 1986, in 2OT
MJ goes between the legs against Larry Bird, driving and pulling back before nailing a mid-range jumper on his way to an NBA postseason-record 63 points. "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today," Bird said. "I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."

No. 9: Jordan vs. Cavaliers (conference semifinals, Game 4) -- May 17, 1993
He did it again. And again it was against the Cavaliers. Gerald Wilkins, the so-called Jordan-stopper, had Jordan one-on-one. But it didn't matter. Jordan backed in against Wilkins on the right wing, then turned and nailed a fadeaway as time expired. Game over. Series over.

No. 8: Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins -- 1988 slam dunk contest
Jordan was vying with Wilkins in the final dunkoff. Wilkins did everything on his last dunk, but the panel of five judges awarded him only 45 points, well shy of the perfect 50. He was stuck at 145, and it was all up to Michael. Jordan lined up at the opposite end of the floor, sprinted, took off the from the free throw line and slammed it in for the win, exciting the Chicago crowd.

No. 7: Jordan vs. Blazers (NBA Finals, Game 1) -- June 3, 1992
Jordan put on a show against the Blazers in the first half with 35 points (18 in the first quarter and 17 in the second). He broke a 30-year-old NBA Finals record for points in a half held by Elgin Baylor. Jordan made six 3-pointers in the half, one followed by an unforgettable shrug that seemed to say, "I have no idea how I'm doing this."

No. 6: Jordan vs. Knicks (first round, Game 3) -- April 30, 1991
Perhaps the most memorable in-game dunk in Jordan's career came against the Knicks in the playoffs. Jordan seemed trapped in the corner but spun past two defenders and rose up on Patrick Ewing. He slammed it down and glared at Ewing as Ewing pleaded for an offensive foul.

No. 5: Jordan vs Jazz (NBA Finals, Game 5) -- June 11, 1997
Bitten hard by the flu bug, Jordan was so ill some speculated that he wouldn't be able to play. He fought the Jazz, dehydration and exhaustion (he could barely walk to the bench during timeouts) -- and won. Jordan had 38 points and seven rebounds, sending the series back to Chicago with the Bulls up 3-2. The Bulls went on to win their fifth NBA title.

No. 4: Jordan vs. Georgetown (NCAA title game) -- Match 29, 1982
The legend of Michael Jordan began after a sensational freshman season at North Carolina was punctuated with a national championship. With UNC trailing Georgetown, Jordan nailed a jumper with 17 seconds left, giving the Tar Heels the lead for good and providing a jump start to his legacy.

No. 3: Jordan vs. Lakers (NBA Finals, Game 2) -- June 5, 1991
Everyone remembers Marv Albert's famous call "oh, a spectacular move by Michael Jordan." Jordan took a pass from Cliff Levingston, drove down the lane with his left hand, shifted the ball to his right as he went into the air, before switching back and finished with a left-handed layup. Chicago Stadium never seemed so loud.

No. 2: Jordan vs. Cavaliers (first round, Game 5) -- May 7, 1989
It's simply known as "The Shot." Craig Ehlo had just made a terrific layup off an inbounds play with three seconds left. The Bulls called timeout. Jordan took the inbounds pass in the frontcourt from Brad Sellers, took two dribbles before nailing a 15-footer at the foul line as time expired.

No. 1: Jordan vs. Jazz (NBA Finals, Game 6) -- June 14, 1998
It was Jordan's last shot as a Bull. It was the last shot of six titles in an eight-year span. After a basket with 37 seconds left, Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone to set up the final shot. Jordan, isolated against Bryon Russell, faked a drive right, pulled back and sank a 20-foot jumper to give the Bulls the lead with 5.2 seconds left. Jordan held his follow-through for just a moment, as the Bulls won the NBA title.

Peter Newmann is the NBA researcher at ESPN. He can be reached at peter.d.newmann@espn.com.

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