by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

CHICAGO — As a Detroiter I must admit that watching Michael Jordan’s last-second jumper spin out of the basket into the hand of an LA Laker, and catching Jordan’s frown which seemed to say, “Miss? I don’t miss. How could I miss?” and hearing the Chicago crowd fall deathly silent as the Lakers jogged off the court with a Game 1 victory, and seeing the Bulls droop their shoulders and slink away, as if to say “Lose? We don’t lose. How could we lose?” — all of this had the following effect on me: I wanted to walk over to the PA system, pick up the microphone, and go, “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.”

But I didn’t.

And I’ll tell you why. I don’t know where the PA system is. Also, personal prejudice aside, this was still a hell of a basketball game. It went back and forth. It had great defense and smart offense. It had stellar performances by the stars. And it came down to a most surprising finish: Michael Jordan missing a shot — and Sam Perkins making one.

Now, you might recall, if you keep your old magazines, that Jordan and Perkins were once on the cover of Sports Illustrated together, as teammates, back in college, wearing their blue and white North Carolina uniforms and holding up the “We’re No. 1” finger. This morning, if asked to do the same, Jordan might be holding up a different finger. At least if Sam wasn’t looking.

That’s because the shot Perkins made wasn’t just any shot, but a three-point basket, a huge three-point basket, one that nudged the Lakers from two points behind to one point ahead with 14 seconds left. It came off a play the Lakers had been using all day, Magic Johnson dribbling, drawing a crowd, then whipping the ball to the most open man. In this case Perkins, who surprised most of us with that three-point bomb. After all, there was still plenty of time left on the clock.

“The play was designed that way,” Perkins said later.

“The hell it was,” laughed his coach, Mike Dunleavy.

“Well, I thought it was,” Perkins said.

Hey. It worked. No one’s complaining. Magic would rather give than shoot

Just as no one is complaining about this opener. What a game! And what a contrast! Lakers vs. Bulls — or tortoise vs. hare? Here was Chicago, racing upcourt and looking for the quickest basket while the Lakers moved at such a slow pace, you had enough time to mow the lawn in between shots. Here was Jordan scooting out to 15 points in the first quarter, one big glob of enthusiasm, jumper, jam, slam, another jumper — while Johnson barely took a shot, preferring to survey the floor like a farmer checking out his land from the front porch. No hurry. We’ve got all day to plow this field.

“It was a good game,” Jordan said glumly after the 93-91 defeat. “We had our chances.”

“It was a well-played game,” said Johnson, with a little more enthusiasm.

And the truth is, each man pretty much got to do what he does best. In Jordan’s case, that means: score at will (36 points), steal the ball, inspire teammates. In Johnson’s case, it means: score when you have to (19 points), rebound the ball, and inspire teammates . . . by handing them baskets.

In the end, that was a key difference in “Michael vs. Magic, the Miniseries, Part I.” Although Jordan was wonderful with assists in the first 44 minutes, when it came down to crunch time, he wanted the ball, he was supposed to have the ball, and he got the ball. He didn’t just miss the final jumper; he missed a bank shot on the previous possession, and his pass went out of bounds off a Laker just seconds before the final shot attempt. No matter. In the pinch, game on the line, Chicago still says “Michael.” Can you imagine any other Bull taking that shot with three seconds to go? In the Finals?

Meanwhile, Johnson did not shoot the ball in the final minutes. But he quarterbacked every play. He found Perkins for a jumper that led to a foul. And he found him again for that final three-pointer.

“That’s our game plan,” Johnson said afterwards. “we know they’re gonna run two or three people at me, and when they do, I have to find the open guy.” Why is this man always smiling?

What can you say about Magic — except that he always seems to be on the winning side. You can’t point to anything specific and yet, suddenly, there he is, at the end, smiling, with his hands above his head in victory. His Lakers, who people are still trying to figure out, did exactly what they had to do Sunday, win at Chicago Stadium, take away that home- court mystique, shoot a hole in the Bulls’ confidence, which had peaked after sweeping the Pistons.

Done. Johnson went to the showers while Perkins was still answering questions. “Yes, I thought I would make it. . . . No, I don’t normally shoot that many threes in one game . . .” No doubt Magic was smiling. Another guy he had helped make a star. Isn’t it funny how players come from other teams
(Dallas) with mediocre reputations (Perkins) and get hooked up with Magic and suddenly, they’re terrific?

That’s Magic. And that’s Michael. We go to Game 2, and so far folks are getting what they want from this much-ballyhooed series.

And that includes folks from Detroit. You know why I think Jordan missed that last shot? I think just as he went to release the ball, one million Pistons fans screamed “MISSSSSSSSSSS IT!” all at the same time. That’s what I think.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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