April 28th, 1986
v.s. Chicago Bulls: Smash Performance In A Limited Run
If Dominique Wilkins is the Human Highlight Film, the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan may be a full-length feature. In a pair of losses to the Boston Celtics in their best-of-five series for the right to meet, most likely, Wilkins' Hawks, Jordan turned in two of the greatest back-to-back performances in NBA history. In so doing, he stuck his trademark tongue out, in a manner of speaking, at Bulls management, team doctors and even his own agent, all of whom thought he should have waited until next season before coming back from the broken foot that sidelined him last Oct. 29.
Instead, Jordan returned March 15 and was brilliant as the Bulls grabbed the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Then, in last week's 123-104 loss to the Celtics in Game 1, he sprang for 49, schooling the league's best defensive guard, Dennis Johnson, not to mention Rick Carlisle, Danny Ainge and Larry Bird, with dunks, floaters and long jumpers. He seemed to hang in the air longer than usual on his double-pumps and forays into the lane, as if to savor the sort of moments his long layoff had denied him. "I just sat there and said, 'Wow,' " rhapsodized K.C Jones, the Celtics' coach. "It was just an awesome performance."
"He was awesome last time," Jones was left saying on Sunday, after the Bulls' gallant 135-131 double-overtime loss. "I don't have a word for today." Jordan's points came less spectacularly this time, though more efficiently. He scored over Bill Walton, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish when the Boston big men picked him up on switches, and on a steady stream of pull-up jumpers down the stretch. He even dropped in the tying free throws at the end of regulation while McHale classlessly goaded the crowd into trying to distract him. Jordan scored 63 in the game, a playoff record, eclipsing the mark of 61 set by L.A.'s Elgin Baylor in the same building in 1962. Had he ever seen Baylor, even on film? "No," said Jordan. "He was before my time."
Jordan's time—our time—is one in which great athletes are supposedly interested only in money. But Jordan, his left foot on the mend, wasn't content just to pick up his paycheck. He wanted to play. Only after he questioned the Bulls' commitment to making the playoffs and threatened to spend his "convalescence" playing pickup ball back home in North Carolina did management give in. Jordan then carried his team into the playoffs—and very nearly into a 1-1 split with mighty Boston.