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Seeing Michael Jordan Live For The First Time – When The Immortal Was Proved Mortal: The Sports Rabbi MJ Series Part 1

This is the first in a series of articles about Michael Jordan that will appear on SportsRabbi.com

Although he hasn’t played a game of basketball since 2003, Michael Jordan has returned to the sports headlines around the globe as the superstar has been highlighted in a brand new documentary series.

“The Last Dance” which focusses on the Chicago Bulls 1997/98 NBA Championship is a 10 part documentary that features Michael Jordan’s career while winding its way through his time with the University of North Carolina to his 6 NBA Championship with the club in the 1990’s. Two episodes are being released every Sunday night on ESPN in the United States and the following day on Netflix in Israel which will culminate in the middle of May.

For any child growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s it was the slogan “Be Like Mike” that captured the imagination that the impossible was possible. Michael Jordan was a superhero. He was able to fly, earning the name “Air Jordan” which then translated into a shoe line and eventually the Jordan Brand.

Jordan was able to create music with a basketball like no other athlete in the entire universe whether it was his scintillating dunks, sharp shooting or the way he was able to orchestrate moving the ball from his left hand to right hand and back again as he sliced to the basket the way only normal human beings could dream of doing.

After watching Jordan hundreds of times on television, I had the privilege, yes, the privilege to watch the greatest play in person three times against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden between 1996-1998. And of course you never forget your first time.

Obtaining a ticket to a Knicks game was always a challenge during the 1990’s and when they played the Chicago Bulls, that challenge multiplied by a thousand. However, I was able to score season tickets at the starts of the 1995/96 season and I circled Sunday March 10, 1996 as the Holy of Holies; the day that I would finally be able to see Jordan live and in person.

I can recall the anticipation. My wife and I had been invited to a wedding that same day, but there was no way that a wedding was going to stand in the way of seeing Michael Jordan for the first time. We readied to head to MSG early in order to see all the pomp and circumstance that would surround the second coming of the greatest basketball player of all time.

Interestingly enough the head coach of the Knicks was Jeff Van Gundy who today is one of the best TV basketball analysts in the business. Van Gundy had just been handed over the reins of the 34-25 Knickerbockers on Friday when Don Nelson was relieved of his duties. That night, the Knicks fell to the lowly 11-47 pre-Allen Iverson Philadelphia 76ers but that didn’t influence the Knicks when they got ready to take on the Bulls who were in the hunt for their first championship since Jordan’s return from his first retirement that saw him try his hand at baseball with the Chicago White Sox minor league Double A affiliate the Birmingham Barons.

Experiencing a basketball Sunday at The Garden in the 1990’s was something super special. The NBA schedule maker always made sure to put the most attractive games on that day due to the national TV contract with NBC. Sundays were always reserved for the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and former Knicks coach Pat Riley who were now with the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers with New York nemesis Reggie Miller and of course Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

As the teams headed onto the court for the pregame warmups, you could feel the excitement in the air, screaming, yelling, cheering and booing filled the 20,000 seat arena as anticipation continued to build for the big showdown against a Bulls team that would finish the season with a 72-10 record and eventually defeat the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp led Seattle SuperSonics.

The public address announcer did his duties as each player from the two squads were announced with the decibel level rising as each one made his way onto the court ready for battle just like the gladiators of old. On one side were the likes of Patrick Ewing, Anthony Mason, John Starks and Derek Harper with coach Van Gundy manning the home sidelines while the other was graced by Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr with coach Phil Jackson as their maestro.

The fans waited for the tip and were ready for a tight battle that was about to unfold, except the unexpected occurred.

The Knicks ran off to a 31-19 lead after the first quarter and ended the half in front 50-42, stifling the Bulls throughout the first 24 minutes with hard nosed defense. Jordan tried to keep his Bulls in the game with 32 points, but Derek Harper went off for 16 of his 23 points in the decisive third quarter setting up garbage time galore in the final frame as the Knicks cruised to a 104-72 victory over what seemed to be an unbeatable and unstoppable Bulls team.

The crowd cheered the home town Knicks but there was an air of shock and awe as to what had been witnessed that day which led to headlines the next morning in the Chicago and New York dailies respectively, “New York Nightmare” and So Much for Karma. Knicks Stomp Bulls”.

The immortal Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls were proved to be mortal on that unforgettable Sunday.

This is the first in a series of articles about Michael Jordan that will appear on SportsRabbi.com

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