With the NBA Finals less than a week away and a lot of free time on my hands, I was thinking about what, for me, could be the most memorable shot of the six Bulls finals appearances. One thing became apparent at the beginning: there is definitely no shortage of great plays or spectacular shots from which to choose, but I limited the list to the shots that, for whatever reason, I could remember without ever searching the internet or watching a highlight video. I was eleven years old when the Bulls won their first title and eighteen when they won their last, so here is a chronological list of the shots that stuck with me into adulthood.
#1. Jordan’s “Hand-Switching” Layup – Game 2 1991 NBA Finals
The Bulls bounced back from a 93-91 in Game 1 of the 1991 finals by blowing out the Lakers 107-86 in Game 2 at Chicago Stadium. It was a game in which the Bulls shot a playoff record 61.7% and Jordan himself went 15 for 18 from the field for 33 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds (at one point he hit 12 in a row). In the fourth quarter Jordan took a pass from Cliff Livingston, glided down the lane, and famously switched hands just before laying the ball on the glass.
It is a shot that has been replayed countless times on commercials, promos, and highlight reels in the last twenty four years, but I watched it from my living room on a Zenith console television that doubled as a stereo. For many people this shot is either overrated and unnecessary or one of the most famous in finals history. As for me, I was barely eleven years old and this is my first clear memory of a Chicago Bulls game. My obsession would only grow from this game forward.
#2. Bobby Hansen Starts the Comeback – Game 6 1992 NBA Finals
The Bulls entered the 4th quarter of Game 6 trailing 79-64 and Phil Jackson opened with a lineup of Scottie Pippen and four bench players: Stacy King, Scott Williams, B.J. Armstrong, and Bobby Hansen. Thirty seconds into the quarter Bobby Hansen hit a corner three (his only shot of the game), which sparked a 14-2 run that cut Portland’s lead to three points before Jordan and the rest of the starters returned to finish off the Blazers for their second consecutive championship. It was pandamonium in Chicago. The team had won their first title on their home floor and Bobby Hansen impersonators swept the city.
#3. John Paxson Hits the 3 in Phoenix – Game 6 1993 NBA Finals
My remote control would have died a violent death had I been older than thirteen when the Bulls managed to clinch their third consecutive title on the road after one of the worst 4th quarters in NBA postseason history. Chicago led most of the way in Game 6 but forgot how to play basketball in the final period. They scored just 12 points (9 from Jordan) and were down 98-96 with 14.4 seconds from either Game 7 or a three-peat. Jordan brought the ball up the court for the final play, it moved from Jordan, to Pippen, to Grant, to Paxson, and into Bulls history.
#4. Dennis Rodman’s Fast Break Reverse Layup – Game 6 1996 NBA Finals
This shot is on my list because I loved Dennis Rodman when he was with the Bulls; he was fashioning my favorite hairstyle of his at the time, the tie-dyed look with all of the symbols, and this shot, for some reason, just brought me out of my chair. Rodman’s play was instrumental in a 12-2 third quarter run that put Chicago in control of the game. Rodman scored 6 points during the third quarter outburst, one coming on a three on two break where he took a pass from Pippen for a reverse layup. The layup and subsequent free throw were nothing spectacular but the circumstances and the way he played to the United Center crowd still makes it one of my favorite moments.
#5. Jordan’s First Game-Winner in the Finals – Game 1 1997 NBA Finals
There are three Michael Jordan shots that I show my students every semester and this is one of them. Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals was tied at 82 when Karl Malone missed two free throws leaving Michael Jordan to do Michael Jordan things in the final seconds. With seven and a half seconds remaining he received the ball, shook Bryan Russell, and nailed a twenty foot jumper. Jordan had many game winners in his career but this was his first in the NBA Finals and the single fist pump as he awaited the embrace of his teammates illustrated the familiarity of it all. Thinking back, I cannot remember having any doubt that this was going in.
#6. Steve Kerr’s Jumper – Game 6 1997 NBA Finals
With twenty eight seconds left in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals, the Bulls and Jazz were tied at 86. On the last possession Michael Jordan found Steve Kerr for a seventeen foot jumper that put the Bulls up 88-86 with five seconds left. It was a sequence reminiscent of John Paxson’s 1993 game-winner against the Suns, but it was a moment that I almost missed due to a severe thunderstorm that knocked out the power in my parents’ house around the start of the fourth quarter. Not to be denied, my dad and I braved the flash flood and drove to my basketball coach’s house across town. It was from his living room that I watched the Bulls clinch their fifth title.
#7. Jordan’s Last Shot as a Bull – Game 6 1998 NBA Finals
Every Bulls fan alive in 1998 remembers where he or she was when Jordan took his last shot as a Bull. In Game 6 of the 1998 finals, a 35 year old Jordan willed the Bulls to a title with 45 points in 44 minutes, including the last three crucial plays down the stretch. The shot and the pose on the follow-through as it went through the net testified to the finality that surround that Bulls season. I think it was a perfect end to his career as a Bull, and, looking back at that moment, I would have been perfectly fine had I never watched Michael Jordan play another minute of basketball.
That concludes the list of shots that left the most permanent imprint on my memory, but since seventeen years have passed since the Bulls made an appearance in the NBA Finals, I have no doubt forgotten something. So I ask you, which shot do you think should be considered the most memorable shot in Bulls finals history? Is it one on my list or something else? Take the poll below.
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