I grew up a Bulls fan before League Pass and because my parents did not have satellite programming, watching Bulls games outside of the NBC broadcasts on Sundays or holidays meant going to my grandmother’s house for the games on TNT, TBS, or WGN. I followed my favorite team by watching the games that I could, reading about the ones I missed, and collecting everything: newspapers, magazines, hats, shirts, cards, etc.. I recorded games on VHS tapes, which are part of a a collection of Bulls memorabilia that has followed me for over 20 years. Many of these tapes have gone unwatched for years and most of the content forgotten until recently, when a working VCR gave me the opportunity to discover the games that I recorded decades ago. When I found the first game stuck between hours of Saved by the Bell episodes, watching it was an experience that I wanted to write about, so for the next few weeks, or until the VCR breaks, I am opening what I have named my “Bulls VHS Vault” to document my experience of discovering and re-watching my favorite Bulls games that I recorded decades ago.
Hubie Brown worked for TNT, Ernie Johnson was in the studio alone, Michael Jordan was wearing number 45, and Craig Sager still handled the sideline reporting in the TNT broadcast dubbed “Bulls over Broadway,” Jordan’s 5th game back from retirement. Even though the Knicks and Bulls were on a collision course for the first round of the playoffs, all the buzz of the evening surrounded Michael Jordan and his return to New York City. As a fifteen year old kid I remember not caring whether Jordan scored a point as long as he was back, but this 55-point performance was so dominant that early in the 1st quarter Hubie Brown said what the crowd was probably thinking, “and did you ask is he back?”
Craig Sager reported just before tipoff that John Starks was eager to guard Jordan without the help of a double team, but he started out on fire, hitting six of his first seven shots. Overall the Bulls’ defense was poor and they, especially Toni Kukoc, looked lost on offense but Jordan, with help from Pippen, kept the Knicks at bay during the 1st quarter. The Knicks were up 34-31 at the end of the first period, Michael Jordan had 20 points, and Scottie Pippen had posterized Charles Smith on a breakaway dunk that was so satisfying I pumped my fist as though I were watching it live.
For the Bulls the 2nd quarter was atrocious and offensively they were in the middle of their best impression of the 2013-14 Bulls when Michael Jordan returned from a rest, with Chicago down by 14 points, to score 13 of the Bulls final 17 points in the quarter. At halftime New York was up 56-50. Jordan scored 35 of Chicago’s 50 points in just 20 minutes of play, a performance Bob Neal likened to Beethoven returning for another symphony. Jordan cooled considerably in the second half, only scoring 14 of Chicago’s 32 3rd quarter points but the Bulls played better and had battled the Knicks to an 82-82 tie.
“First of all, I would make sure he didn’t get off the bus to get in the building,” responded Earl Monroe to Craig Sager’s question about how he would guard Michael Jordan in a court side interview to open the 4th period. Jordan began the quarter on he bench but this time, instead of falling behind, the Bulls, led by Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong, were up 99-92 when Jordan re-entered the game with less than 7 minutes to go. The Knicks, led by Patrick Ewing who scored 25 points in the second half, roared back in the last six minutes eventually tying the game at 107 on a breakaway dunk by John Starks with a minute remaining. At this point I had somewhat forgotten I was watching a recording as the two teams traded baskets in the final minute with Jordan scoring his 54th and 55th points to put the Bulls up 111-109 in the final 30 seconds. On the next possession Will Perdue put John Starks on the line and with 14 seconds remaining he tied the game at 111, leaving everyone expecting more Michael Jordan heroics and me acting as though I did not know how this all turned out.
“Don’t count on me to shoot it every time, I can pass,” Michael Jordan said after the game with a smile in reference to his finding Bill Wennington under the basket for the dunk and a 113-111 victory. Three nights earlier he beat Atlanta with an 18-foot jump shot but on a night when he accounted for half of Chicago’s points he won the game with an assist. Jordan finished with 55 points and set the record for most points scored by an opponent in Madison Square Garden, breaking his previous mark of 50 set on November 1, 1986 and if it were anyone other than Michael Jordan, fans might have been shocked.
This has always been one of my favorite Bulls games, and I have seen pieces of it online over the years, but watching this game again on VHS, unedited, in its original form, adds a level of immersion that Youtube, though fun and convenient, cannot come close to replicating. I was back in my grandmother’s house twenty years ago, and I could almost hear her yelling for someone to pass it to B.J. Armstrong. “This is the way a Bulls/Knicks game from the mid-90s was meant to be watched,” I thought to myself. Everything from the original commercials, to Ernie Johnson’s solo halftime report in front of a Sony television, to the grainy and blurry quality has led me to the conclusion that on the Internet I re-watch old basketball games; what I am doing now is reliving them.