The Shot heard 'round world remains a major pain
MAY 08, 2013 5:00p ET
Twenty-four years ago Tuesday, Michael Jordan forever changed the courses of two NBA franchises. And it took all of three seconds.
The date was May 7, 1989. The event was a deciding Game 5 of a first-round playoff series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. The series was tied at two games apiece, with the finale at the old Richfield Coliseum.
At the time, I was just a dumb kid who lived about 10 miles from the Coliseum. Naturally, the Cavs were my favorite team in my favorite league.
Actually, when it comes to the NBA, I’ve always rooted for teams based on their personnel -- not their location or the color of their uniforms.
These Cavs offered the best of all worlds.
They featured the type of players I love, team-first guys such as Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance and Mark Price who could pass and shoot and always played hard.
They were good people, too. They were quality athletes who understood the game. They played an old-school style, as if their playbook had been ripped from the pages of an encyclopedia.
They were also overachievers under coach Lenny Wilkens, who still gets my vote for the best coach in Cavs history.
Wilkens carried himself in a strong-and-silent manner. He was an outstanding former point guard who never used more words than necessary to make his point. He was all class, and his Cavs teams were a reflection of that.
Everyone on the Cavs saw the entire floor, moved well without the ball, took the best of shots.
It resulted in a magical 57-25 finish -- a finish absolutely no one predicted. Instead, most experts projected the Cavs to place third or fourth in the Central Division.
But their brand of unified basketball resulted in a 24-6 start, and had none other than Magic Johnson calling them “the team of the ’90s.”
The Cavs also won all six games against Jordan and the Bulls in the regular season -- by an average of 12 points per game.
So I felt fairly confident the first round would be no problem. The Cavs might lose a game, but certainly not the entire series.
Well, that loss took place right away. Price sat out with a sore hamstring and the offense was a mess. Jordan was magnificent, playing at a championship level long before anyone suspected he’d ever be a champion.
The Bulls escaped with a 95-88 win in Game 1.
Looking back, that loss hurt as much as Game 5. I was devastated. How could they lose to the BULLS, of all teams? The Cavs, after all, OWNED the Bulls.
Still, I knew all the Cavs had to do was win one in Chicago. They’d done it plenty of times before. This was just a minor setback.
Price returned (it was later suggested he did so too soon), and the Cavs won Game 2. But they then lost a hard-fought Game 3 -- meaning the Cavs either won Game 4 on the Bulls’ floor, or the magical season would come to an unacceptable end.
I watched Game 4 from the edge of my seat in a sports bar. It went back and forth. It went to overtime. It didn’t end until Nance, Price and Daugherty put the team on their backs, refused to lose, and carried the Cavs to a 108-105 win.
The series was headed back to Cleveland for a deciding game. “This is over,” I thought. “No way do the Bulls win a deciding game on the road.”
But the Jordan and Scottie Pippen who would later win six championships flashed their first signs of playoff greatness. The Bulls played like the Cavs -- passing, cutting and taking (and making) the best of shots. They had nothing to lose. They were supremely confident.
I watched, alone in my living room, growing more frustrated by the quarter. The Cavs would build a lead, but could not put the game away.
With six seconds left, they trailed by a point, with the ball. Wilkens called a timeout and drew up a play. He was a master at getting a great shot for his in these situations -- and this situation was no different.
The play called for Cavs guard Craig Ehlo to inbound the ball. Wilkens’ theory was opponents often lose track of the guy who inbounds the ball, and he was right again.
Ehlo inbounded to Nance, and immediately cut to the basket, unguarded. Ehlo received a return pass back from Nance and hit a layup.
The Bulls called timeout with three seconds left.
They were three seconds too long.
Jordan received the ball. He dribbled to the center of the floor. He was tightly guarded by Ehlo. But Jordan rose … and rose … and just kept rising. Ehlo returned to Earth.
No more than two seconds later, the remote left my hand. It was headed toward the TV. Unlike Jordan’s shot, it missed.
As a Cavs fan on May 7, 1989, that was about the only thing for which I had to be thankful.