Sunday marks the day sports fans have been waiting for all quarantine. No, it’s not the return of actual live games. It’s the debut of the much-anticipated ESPN documentary, “The Last Dance,” chronicling the 1998 Chicago Bulls on their last championship in a historic dynasty. The first two episodes start at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
We honor the 39th day of our sports drought by paying homage to “His Airness” — Michael Jeffrey Jordan — by running down his top 10 moments in our minds, commemorating his all-time feats and iconic performances.
Our Jordan top-10:
1. The shot to close a legacy: The exaggerated follow-through is memorialized on posters and has been mimicked by the next generation. After brushing off Utah Jazz defender Bryon Russell and crossing over, Jordan made perhaps his most iconic jump shot. That 18-footer was preceded by a steal on Karl Malone (one that illuminates what a remarkable defender Jordan was) and ultimately sealed the Bulls’ final championship. While Jordan returned to the NBA with a brief stint on the Washington Wizards from 2001-2003, his follow through still feels like it’s hanging over his legacy as the finishing touch to a masterpiece.
2. His speech commemorating Kobe: Keeping himself largely out of the limelight since his retirement, Jordan’s “big brother” speech to honor the late Kobe Bryant was authentic and heart-breaking in a way that captured a more tender side of Jordan. It also showed how much Bryant idolized Jordan and carried the torch to hail his impact on the game.
3. His ‘I’m back’ fax: You don’t know how great someone is until they’re gone. Jordan left the NBA for his first retirement at arguably the height of his career following Chicago’s third NBA title — when he was staggeringly dominant vs. the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 Finals (averaging a record 41 points per game during the six-game series) — to pursue his short stint trying to master baseball. His return represented replenishing a void he’d left in the NBA. It also was done in pure Jordan fashion. In a pre-internet era, Jordan faxed two words to Bulls management. His return with the No. 45 led to a 1995 Bulls playoff exit that likely fueled one of the best seasons in basketball history the following year.
4. The flu game: Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals encapsulated how Jordan’s greatness was far more than talent as his relentless willpower was on full display. Scottie Pippen holding up a physically drained Jordan following his 38-point performance is unforgettable. And for those who argue the Bulls were never rightfully challenged in their Finals battles (never going a Game 7 in six titles), the circumstances were serious if Chicago lost to Utah in this game with the series tied 2-2 following back-to-back Jazz wins in Salt Lake City.
5. The tears after his fourth title on Father’s Day: Jordan’s fourth NBA championship was perhaps his most meaningful. He left the game to pursue baseball partially because he lost the passion to play but also because he was deeply heartbroken by the tragic death of his father. To return to basketball and rekindle that passion — spearheading a 72-win season, and capping it off with a championship on Father’s Day — brought Jordan to a sobbing triumph. The Bulls’ Game 6 win wasn’t a great game for Jordan (22 points on 5-for-19 shooting) but his interview afterwards was as potent a Jordan moment as there is. A choked up Jordan tells interviewer Ahmad Rashād afterwards, “I know he’s watching. This is for daddy.”
6. The tears after his first title: After winning his first title in 1991, finally hurdling the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons who had stood in the Bulls’ way for three seasons prior and then beating Magic Johnson’s Lakers 4-1, Jordan hugged the Larry O’Brien Trophy in a way that captured the hard work it took to attain it. His father is seen consoling him as his emotions flow in a moment that proved all doubters wrong — those who felt a scorer like Jordan couldn’t be a team player and win a championship.
7. The shot to sink Cleveland: We’ll let the play-calling of Jim Durham and Johnny Kerr cover this one for 1989’s Game 5 playoff Bulls vs. Cavaliers buzzer-beater .
“Jordan. The (double-clutching) shot, on (Craig) Ehlo, it’s good. The Bulls win. (ensuing jumping Jordan fist pumps).”
8. The shrug game: Never really known as a 3-point shooter, Jordan drilled six 3s in the first half for 35 points in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals to catapult the Bulls over the Portland Trail Blazers and set the tone for the rest of the series. The shrug is iconic in that it showcases Jordan’s signature swagger in one of his best games.
9. The 1988 slam dunk contest: The hang gliding free-throw line takeoff to best Dominique Wilkins further punctuated Jordan’s out-of-this-world athleticism and mid-air creativity that was borderline poetic.
10. His game-winning jumper at North Carolina for a national title: Jordan says on the documentary that it’s this shot from his freshman year at UNC that transforms him from “Mike Jordan” into Michael Jordan because it put him on the map as more than just a Tar Heel.
Bonus (tie). Jordan’s underdog victory over the Monstars as a Tune Squad hero. The stretched out game-winner to give Bugs Bunny and Co. the W was pure magic in his ’96 movie, “Space Jam.”
Sports video of the day
Jordan was the centerpiece of perhaps the greatest team ever assembled — the gold medal-winning “Dream Team” at the Barcelona Olympics. Here’s a montage of his 1992 Team USA highlights.
Sports meme of the day
There’s no way to celebrate Jordan without a crying meme. Here’s the origin story here.
Story time! Here are some of our best
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JARRETT BELL: Is the value of running backs in the NFL draft rising?
NFL DRAFT: Projected top-10 pick had drug test flagged
CORONAVIRUS: WNBA player says ‘whole family’ tested positive
On this day in sports
In 1897, the first-ever Boston Marathon (B.A.A. Road Race) was won by John J. McDermott in 2:55:10. It is the world’s oldest annual marathon and was inspired by the success of the first marathon at the 1896 Summer Olympics.
What to watch
NCAA football: LSU vs. Alabama, 2019 regular season: Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and finalist Tua Tagovailoa star as LSU goes for its first win over SEC West-rival Alabama since 2011. 3 p.m., CBS Sports Network.
NFL: 2016 Week 10, Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots: In a rematch of Super Bowl XLIX, Seattle gets the best of New England this time, 31-24, stopping the Pats at the goal line in this epic duel. 8 p.m., NBC Sports Network.
NFL: 2015 AFC championship, Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots. Meeting for the fourth time in their careers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning clash for a historic showdown. Manning and the Broncos top Brady and the Patriots, 20-18, for a berth in Super Bowl 50. 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network.
Sports we’re missing
NBA and NHL playoffs
- Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox
- Cincinnati Reds at New York Yankees
- Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies
- Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays
- San Francisco Giants at Atlanta Braves
- Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals
- Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals
- Texas Rangers at Chicago White Sox
- Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros
- Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins
- St. Louis Cardinals at Colorado Rockies
- Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
- San Diego Padres at Arizona D’Backs
- Pittsburgh Pirates at Los Angeles Dodgers
- Milwaukee Brewers at New York Mets
- Philadelphia Union vs. New York City
- Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers
- Chicago Fire FC vs. Columbus Crew SC
Follow reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.