The first game I found and wrote about on my old VHS tapes was Michael Jordan’s March 25, 1995 55-point performance in Madison Square Garden, his first game back in New York after coming out of retirement. At the time, basketball fans were relishing in the opportunity to watch Michael Jordan again and Bulls fans were hoping that he could rescue the team from mediocrity. The atmosphere was much different 3 years later. The Bulls were going for their 6th NBA title: they were older, more fatigued, and the conversation was more about their vulnerability and uncertain future rather than their greatness. In 1998 there was a sense of finality that only increased as the season moved toward its conclusion. As a kid, I can remember the sad realization of “this is it” that accompanied the 1997-98 season that, by March, had turned into a farewell tour wherever Chicago played. Michael Jordan played his first game (which I do not have on tape) in Madison Square Garden on November 8, 1984 and almost 14 years later on March 3, 1998 he walked into Madison Square Garden, clad in a pair of his original Air Jordans, determined to provide one more memorable performance.
This did not feel like a regular NBA game as much as a goodbye from Knicks fans, Jordan himself, and everyone watching. Everything from his choice of shoes to the last piece of trash he talked to Spike Lee in the 4th quarter was Jordan’s final nod to a chapter of his career and storied rivalry. New York led most of the first half, but Chicago opened it up in the second half, holding a double-digit lead during most of the 4th quarter as they went on to win 102-89. The game seemed like a sideshow, and I found myself wanting to hit the fast forward button during Knick possessions or when Jordan was not on the floor. He finished the game with 42-points and gave the Garden crowd a sampling of everything in his arsenal. Three pointers, jump shots, fadaways, and circus shots, all met with applause, disbelief, laughter, and appreciation, prompted Bob Costas, who called the game with Isaiah Thomas, to comment that Jordan just taking it “into a pack of people with complete confidence that he will figure something out along the way.”
Ahmad Rashad’s 2nd quarter report on Jordan’s decision to dust off his old shoes for the occasion fit with the tone of the broadcast, which was more like a Bulls/Knick’s history lesson than a game. NBC plastered graphics on the screen of Jordan’s point totals, wins, and greatest games in the arena. The NBC broadcast began with a Michael Jordan interview, aired multiple times in a small screen over the game broadcast, about his greatest memories in the Garden, the affection he held for the arena, his appreciation for New York fans, and the Bulls/Knicks rivalry. Every time Jordan touched the ball, went to the foul line, or checked in or out of the game, flash bulbs lit up the arena. Bob, Isaiah, and Ahmad spent a portion of the 4th quarter solemnly discussing the Bulls future, the “travesty,” as Isaiah put it, of ending the team’s title run, and from my couch 17 years later I could feel the dissapointment as Jordan exited the game for the final time. Even though the Knicks were down double digits, he received a rousing ovation from a New York crowd that believed this was their last opportunity to show their appreciation for years of basketball memories, both good and bad.
“My feet are killing me,” Michael Jordan told Ahmad Rashad after playing over 40 minutes in a pair of shoes that were at least a size too small. As it would turn out, this was not Michael Jordan’s last appearance in Madison Square Garden, but it was interesting to relive the drama of a broadcast where commentators, fans, and players believed they were witnessing something for the last time. I was alone while re-watching this game, so to everyone other than me, what began on November 8, 1984 when Michael Jordan walked onto the court in Madison Square Garden and scored 33 points, was ending on March 3, 1998 as the clock ran out. The Knicks were down more than 20 points toward the end of Jordan’s 1984 debut in the Garden when one of the commentators remarked that “they’ve [the New York crowd] been entertained. Maybe by the wrong ball club or individual, but they’ve been entertained.” 14 years later the fans at Madison Square Garden confirmed that statement with a standing ovation as Michael Jordan, wearing his old shoes, walked off of the Madison Square Garden floor one “final” time.
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