Michael Jordan’s top 10 NBA moments: From the ‘Flu Game’ to the ‘Shrug,’ a look at M.J.’s legendary highlights


Michael Jordan means something to everyone, regardless of the demographic. Those of us who are old enough to remember Jordan and the Bulls‘ dynasty refer to him as our Babe Ruth, a larger-than-life force of nature who seemed to come from a different planet (Jordan did defend our planet against forces from outer space once upon a time, but I digress). 

Jordan’s career NBA milestones are remarkable. In 11 full seasons with the Bulls, Jordan captured 10 scoring titles. He won five league MVP awards, six Larry O’Brien Trophies and was named the Finals MVP six times. The Bulls, who complemented him with the likes of Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Ron Harper, B.J. Armstrong and Phil Jackson as coach, won the NBA title in each of Jordan’s last six full seasons in Chicago, with the first three rings taking place during the back-end of arguably the most competitive era in NBA history.

The numbers, as great as they are, only tell part of Jordan’s story. What has endured even more than his lengthy list of accomplishments and accolades are the moments that he created. The moments that sports fans witnessed live and still remember where they were and how they felt when they saw it in real time. 

With the highly anticipated release of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” Jordan documentary just around the corner, we decided to take a look back at the top-10 moments of his illustrious NBA career.

10. M.J. scores Finals-best 55 points vs. Barkley-led Suns

The highest-scoring game of Jordan’s 35 career Finals appearances makes No. 10 on this list. His 55-point outing occurred several weeks after his “I’m back” fax announced his return to the NBA after an 18-month hiatus.

After successfully defending his first NBA title one year earlier, it appeared that fatigue and the non-stop attention surrounding Jordan and the ’93 Bulls could lead to their decline heading into the Finals. The Western Conference champion Suns also proved to be a formidable roadblock in Chicago’s three-peat dreams, led by league MVP Charles Barkley and fellow All-Stars Kevin Johnson and “Thunder” Dan Majerle.

But after the Suns pulled off a dramatic, triple-overtime win over Chicago in Game 3 to win their first game of the series, Jordan put on a scoring clinic in Game 4, scoring a whopping 55 points on 21-of-37 shooting to propel Chicago to an 111-105 victory. Among his mind-boggling plays that evening included his game-clinching shot with 13.3 seconds to play.

After dropping Game 5 at home, Jordan and the Bulls would sew up their first three-peat in Phoenix, with sharpshooter John Paxson nailing the series-clinching shot in the final seconds of Game 6. Jordan again took home MVP honors after submitting a Finals-career high average of 41 points per game.

9. Jordan puts on clinic in 1992 Dream Team scrimmage

Magic Johnson, an all-time great in his own right, was witness to two of the most incredible plays in NBA Finals history. He was on the floor during Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s iconic baseline scoop during the 1980 Finals. Johnson was also on the floor during Jordan’s epic basket that capped off Game 2 of the 1991 Finals. However, it was a play Jordan made during a 1992 Dream Team scrimmage that, according to Johnson, takes the cake

“We got on them about 12-2,” Johnson recalled during a 2016 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live. “And I said, ‘I’m gonna really rattle his chain.’ So I went over, tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey man, if you don’t turn into Air Jordan, we’re gonna blow you out today.’

“He came down the right side and took off. David Robinson [who was playing on Johnson’s team] took off. He [did a] 360 and dunked it … in a practice game! I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I was just stunned. And all of us were just stunned to see him in the air that long and [complete] a 360,” Johnson said.

“Michael Jordan is so incredible. There will never be another one.”

While Jordan’s dominance during that fabled scrimmage (his team won, in case you were wondering) is not as well known as some of other exploits, his alpha dog status on the ’92 Dream Team helped make him a global icon while also helping the NBA become a national brand.

That was also the final time Magic talked trash to Jordan, who supplanted him as the game’s premier player.

8. Jordan’s slam from free-throw line caps off ’88 Dunk Contest

Dominique Wilkins may have been the best in-game dunker of his time, but he could not stop Air Jordan from winning his second consecutive Slam Dunk Contest.

Despite his own memorable performance, Wilkins, a two-time winner of the contest, finished second to Jordan in the iconic 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. With the Chicago Stadium crowd behind him, and with Dr. J (one of his childhood idols) looking on, Jordan paid homage to Erving by emulating his dunk from the free throw line that Erving used during the first-ever Dunk Contest 12 years earlier in 1976. 

The dunk not only locked up the contest (earning a 50 from the judges), it helped further expanded Jordan’s brand and budding popularity as the NBA’s greatest individual player.

7. The Flu Game

The invincible Bulls were showing sings of vulnerability heading into Game 5 of the 1997 Finals. Along with facing the Jazz‘s improbable duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Bulls also had to contend with the Utah’s raucous home crowd that willed their team to two straight home wins after the Jazz dropped the series’ first two games in Chicago.

The Bulls’ biggest pregame worry, however, was the health of Jordan, who had been dealing with flu-like symptoms in the hours leading up to tip-off.

While his condition helped even the playing field (the Jazz jumped out to an early double-digit lead), Jordan and the Bulls eventually prevailed, with Jordan — who was clearly not anywhere close to 100 percent — scoring a game-high 38 points, which included the bucket that sealed Chicago’s 90-88 victory.

Jordan and the Bulls would complete their quest for a fifth title back in Chicago, with Jordan passing off to Steve Kerr for the series-clinching bucket in Game 6. 

6. The Shrug

Despite capturing his second straight league MVP, Jordan faced comparisons to All-Star guard Clyde Drexler heading into the 1992 Finals, which pitted Jordan’s Bulls against Drexler’s Portland Trail Blazers

It didn’t take long for Jordan to eviscerate the discussion once and for all. In the first half of Game 1, Jordan out-scored Drexler 35-8, including a Finals record six 3-pointers in the first half. Even Jordan had to shrug after knocking down his final trey.

Here’s video of Jordan’s shrug, but do yourself a favor and watch this six-minute clip of his entire first-half highlights.

While Drexler and his teammates recovered to take two games from Chicago, they were unable to slow down Jordan and the Bulls’ quest for a second consecutive title.

5. Bulls go 72-10 in Jordan’s first full season back from baseball

Substance over style would be a good way to sum up Jordan’s style of play after re-joining the Bulls in 1995 following a 18-month hiatus to play baseball. While he was still the game’s greatest player (he would confirm that sentiment by securing his fourth MVP award during the 1995-96 season), Jordan, now 33 years old, relied less on his athleticism and more on his intelligence, post-up moves and mid-range shots. Jordan also possessed a newfound leadership quality that could be attributed, at least partially, to his experience playing minor league baseball for the White Sox’s Double-A team in Birmingham, Alabama.

While this version of Jordan was different, it was equally as effective as Chicago won a then-NBA record 72 games during his first full season back with the Bulls. In the ’96 playoffs, the Bulls got sweet revenge against Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic, sweeping the same Orlando team which had upset Chicago in the playoffs the previous year. And despite a gamely effort by Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and the Seattle Supersonics in the Finals, Jordan and the Bulls prevailed in six games for his fifth NBA title with Chicago.

After finishing off Seattle at home, an emotional Jordan dedicated the win (which came on Father’s Day) to his father, who was tragically killed three years earlier, inspiring Jordan’s short-lived baseball career.

4. The Shot over Ehlo 

Jordan’s obsession with winning — and proving every doubter wrong in the process — was one of the NBA’s best-kept secrets during the 1980s, when Jordan was mostly portrayed as the league’s happy-go-lucky star on the rise. Jordan’s desire to prove his doubters wrong, something that began after he failed to make his varsity team as a high school sophomore, was the inner drive behind his entire career.

Despite Jordan’s continued greatness and the rapid improvement of youngsters Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls were decided underdogs going into their 1989 first-round playoff matchup against the Cavaliers. The Bulls’ underdog perception was used as fuel for Jordan, who rose to deliver the series-winning shot over Cleveland guard Craig Ehlo as time expired.

While the shot did not help deliver Jordan and the Bulls’ first title, it ended any questions about Jordan’s prowess as a closer, the same question LeBron James faced — and ultimately conquered — over two decades later. That was also the last time anyone pegged Jordan’s Bulls as a first-round postseason underdog.  

3. Dropping 63 in the Garden

Facing one of the greatest teams in NBA history, Michael Jordan, in just his second year in the league, wasn’t going down without a fight.

Matched up against Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton, Danny Ainge and the rest of the eventual NBA champion Celtics in the first round of the 1986 playoffs, Jordan lit up Boston Garden with an NBA postseason record 63-point effort in Game 2. Despite Jordan’s legendary performance, the Celtics prevailed in overtime and would dispatch the Bulls in three quick games.

While he and his teammates fell short, Jordan’s Game 2 performance earned the ultimate praise from Bird, who had just been named the league’s MVP for a third straight season.  

“I would never have called him the greatest player I’d ever seen if I didn’t mean it,” Bird told the Boston Globe after the game, via The Undefeated. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

2. Jordan’s Game 2 excellence propels Bulls to first championship

Despite sweeping the defending two-time defending champion Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals, many prognosticators felt that Magic Johnson and the Lakers, who were playing in their ninth Finals in 12 seasons, would use their experience to defeat Jordan and the Bulls in the 1991 Finals. Thoughts of a sixth Finals win for Magic were reinforced after Jordan and the Bulls dropped Game 1 to the visiting Lakers.

After a slow start in Game 2, Jordan and the Bulls finally found their footing. While Pippen’s unrelenting defense grounded Johnson and Los Angeles’ “Showtime” offense (Jackson made this switch after watching Magic dictate tempo for most of Game 1), the stage was set for Jordan, who filled the stat sheet with 33 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. 

Game 2 will always be remembered for Jordan’s electric drive to the basket that capped off Chicago’s 107-86 victory, a moment that swung the series’ momentum in the Bulls’ favor.

While the Lakers put up a good fight, they couldn’t stop Jordan and the Bulls from seizing the moment, as Chicago won all three games in Los Angeles to capture their first NBA title.

1. The ‘Last’ Shot

Now 35 and fresh off a grueling seven-game series against Reggie Miller and the Pacers in the conference finals, Jordan missed 20 of his 35 shots that night against a Jazz team that clawed back in the Finals after upsetting Chicago in Game 5 to trail only 3-2 entering Game 6. With Pippen’s effectiveness greatly hindered due to an ailing back, and with Rodman in steady decline, it appeared that the Jazz were going to do something that the the Bulls’ previous five Finals foes were unable to do — force a seventh game to determine the champion.

Jordan, as he had done numerous times before, willed himself and his team to victory, scoring 45 points that included the game-winning shot with 5.2 seconds left. Jordan, who cut the Bulls’ deficit to a single point after going coast-to-coast moments earlier, stripped an unsuspecting Malone of the ball before shoving aside Byron Russell for the game-winning shot.

The epic finale did not extend Jordan and the Bulls’ dynasty beyond 1998, as the team was dismantled in the months following their historic sixth Finals win and second three-peat. The win did, however, serve as a fitting end to the Bulls and Jordan’s reign atop the NBA while giving fans one final image of their greatness.


Honorable Mention: ‘Mike’ wins ’82 national championship game 

OK, we are cheating a little. While this article is about M.J.’s NBA exploits, we can’t write a story about Jordan’s remarkable career if we didn’t at least recognize his first big moment. 

Facing Patrick Ewing’s fabled Georgetown Hoyas in the 1982 title game, a freshman who was at that time known as Mike Jordan gave the Tar Heels a 63-62 lead on a mid-range jumper with 20 seconds remaining. Teammate James Worthy’s steal moments later sealed the first national title for legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith. 





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