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The Clutch Shot That Sparked Michael Jordan’s Legacy
AP Photo/Bob Jordan

Only 32 seconds left. North Carolina’s ball to inbound after a timeout. Georgetown leads 62-61. The college basketball crown on the line.

The Tar Heels need a bucket.

Senior Jimmy Black throws the ball into freshman Michael Jordan. Black runs across the court above the right elbow to set up the four corners offense. Jordan and Black pass it back and forth, looking for any way opening in the Hoyas’ 1-3-1 zone defense, with star center Patrick Ewing in the middle.

Black then makes an entry pass to the high post to forward Matt Doherty. Doherty faces the rim and kicks it back out to Black. Black takes a dribble to the lane and throws a skip pass to Jordan. No. 23 is open thanks to a back screen from star James Worthy.

MJ rises up…

Nothing but nylon.

Michael Jordan’s 1982 Game-Winning Shot

That field goal gave UNC a 63-62 lead. And 14 seconds later, the Tar Heels became the 1982 NCAA National Champions. The victory gave head coach, Dean Smith, his first national title, and relieved some scrutiny after losing championship games in 1968, 1977, and 1981. It was the University of North Carolina basketball team’s first NCAA Championship in 25 years and the cherry on top of a 24-2 regular season that included two victories over archrival Duke and an ACC Championship. Chapel Hill was ecstatic.

It was the first time we saw Michael Jordan thrive on the big stage with the game on the line. Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, the hall of fame basketball player embraced the pressure of big moments. He played with fire at Laney High School and earned a basketball scholarship to North Carolina, where he won a national championship, earned the Naismith College Player of the Year Award in 1984, was a consensus All-American, and won a gold medal as a member United States team at the 1984 Olympics.

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His outstanding college career was more than enough to be selected as the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft.

The 1985 Rookie of the Year award, NBA All-Star game appearances, dunk contests, and MVPs were all nice professional basketball accomplishments. However, it was in the final seconds where Jordan rose above the rest.

As a member of the Chicago Bulls, Air Jordan rose to the occasion when the stakes were highest. In the first round of the 1989 Playoffs, he floated as Cleveland Cavaliers guard Crag Ehlo flew by for an extra inch of space, nailing a 15-footer and eliminating the Cavs. In Game 3 of the 1991 NBA Finals, he hit a game-tying shot against the Los Angeles Lakers to send the game to overtime and willed the Bulls to victory.

Two years later, he broke Cleveland’s heart again when he hit a fadeaway jumper from the elbow in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to complete the sweep. And in the 1998 NBA Finals — on the verge of a second three-peat — Jordan sealed the series win against the Utah Jazz with a crossover against Bryon Russell, nailing a jumper and holding that sweet follow through as the ball whooshed through the net.

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This isn’t to say Jordan was perfect. His famous quote regarding failure reiterates that:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Taking the game-winner requires confidence. Making it takes balls. That’s why he’s regarded by many as the greatest player ever. Jordan had that courage at 19 years old and throughout his NBA career.

To have that courage, you can’t be afraid to miss.

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MORE: Michael Jordan’s Best Playoff Games, Because ‘His Airness’ Was Unreal

Joe Grobeck About the author:
Joe is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and lives in Austin, Texas. He believes Ndaumkong Suh should've won the 2009 Heisman and is an avid basketball fan.
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