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2009, September 9: 23 ESPN Commentators Share Their Jordan Memories

September 9, 2009

Bill Walton, ESPN NBA analyst and Hall of Famer:

“Michael Jordan was so good that you could plausibly say any part of his game was his best attribute. Arguably the hardest thing for any great performer is to deliver peak performance on command. Michael made the seemingly impossible appear routine, always able to put on the most satisfying and stimulating of shows. Like the atomic clock – he never missed a beat.

“We were so lucky. Our four sons were just coming of age during Michael’s dynastic reign of brilliance. I would always roust them in the pre-dawn hours before school, blasting the driving rock beat of Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Dylan, Neil Young, Lennon, The Stones, Springsteen and many others.

“As the day got rolling, I would constantly interject that ‘Jordan is playing tonight’ or ‘Michael’s on at 5:30 tonight.’ This would go on all day long, knowing full well how our family dinners and evenings would be spent. Crosby, Stills and Nash pleaded with us to ‘TEACH YOUR CHILDREN.’ All I had to do was turn the music up and have ours watch No. 23.”

Dick Vitale, ESPN college basketball analyst and Hall of Famer:

“I will never forget watching him play on the collegiate level and witnessing his potential for greatness. I am in awe when I watch highlights of his past performances and the way he defied what people thought was athletically possible. He was like Mikhail Baryshnikov in shorts. Inch for inch and pound for pound – he is the best to every lace up the shoes.”

Dr. Jack Ramsay, ESPN NBA analyst and Hall of Famer:

“The jump shot over Craig Ehlo for the Bulls to eliminate Cleveland in a decisive Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals. That was the first time Jordan hit that important of a shot; something he did later with regularity. Another was when 'MJ' was sick, Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals vs. Utah, when he came up with an amazing 38-point performance as the Bulls won an important road game.

“Michael Jordan – unparalleled skills, ultimate competitor, consummate team player, and an assassin in clutch time.”

Hubie Brown, ESPN NBA analyst, Hall of Famer, and then-coach of the New York Knicks:

“Michael Jordan against the Knicks – Nov. 21, 1986. He scored 40 points that night, including the Bulls' final 18 over the last six-plus minutes to lead the team to a 101-99 win over my Knicks on a great play. The final shot in the game was spectacular because it was against a two-man trap, plus help from Patrick Ewing. To see him elevate, beat the trap, and eliminate a seven-footer with his arms raised and still see the basket and score was absolutely amazing. It was one of the best non-playoff shots of his career. He had to take the ball into the corner to begin with and normally a two-man trap will discourage a shot. Time was running out and he had to elevate but, even so, the basket had to be blocked by Ewing because of his height. Whether he saw the basket or not, he made the shot. It just took the breath out of us as a team and a coaching staff.”

Mike Breen, ESPN NBA play-by-play commentator and Hall of Fame induction emcee:

“One game I'll never forget was the famous ‘double nickel’ game. It was Jordan's first game at Madison Square Garden after coming out of retirement. Sure he had 55 points, but the winning play, when everyone expected him to shoot, was the perfect pass to Bill Wennington. To me, that summed up Michael Jordan. True greatness, but all that mattered was winning the game.”

Mark Jackson, ESPN NBA analyst:

“Unfortunately, my most prominent memories of Michael were in defeat. They beat us in a seven-game series when I played for the Knicks, and they defeated us again when I played in Indiana. He single-handedly won those two series. Clearly, I believe those were my best chances to win a championship, and MJ proved why he’s the all-time great…the best player I’ve faced and the greatest I’ve ever seen.”

Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN NBA analyst:

“He kicked our butt every time it was all on the line and then talked crap about us. Ruthless competitor with exceptional basketball IQ, with an unmatched skill set and an ability to play his best when his best was needed. Mentioning his name still turns my stomach because some great Knick teams were denied winning championships because we could never scale Mt. Jordan.”

Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst who played against Jordan at Duke:

“When I played against Jordan in college, and of all of the great memories of him as a player from the ACC games and pick-up games we played, the one that stands out the most was from 1983 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Jordan hit his head on the backboard during the game, and had to have it attended to. I had never seen anyone do that before, and it was a stunner.

“That same year, Jordan played against Maryland at Cole Field House. At the very end of the game, he had a breakaway and did the first of his side-cradle dunks as the buzzer went off. Mike Patrick was doing the game and he went nuts. Because there was no wall-to-wall media coverage then, my roommate and I got up that Sunday to watch the Dean Smith Show, so we could get another look at the dunk…but they didn't use it on the show. One of the great dunks, and it got very little play back then.”

Scott Van Pelt, SportsCenter anchor, ESPN Radio host and Maryland alum:

“I was in Cole Field House the night MJ first unleashed that rock the cradle dunk. He and Leonard Bias had a great duel that night, but UNC was going to win. There was an odd sound in Cole after it happened; a buzz that made it clear everyone had the same reaction. Which was….Holy *#@!.

“How many times did he make us feel that way?

“He remains the ruler, the yardstick, the benchmark by which all others are judged. And nobody measures up.”

Brad Daugherty, ESPN NASCAR analyst and Jordan teammate at North Carolina:

"Michael will go down in history as probably the best ever to play the game. I always admired the way he handled himself and, when I was with him at North Carolina, I learned a lot from just observing him. I had the good fortune to play with him and against him. He's the standard bearer of the NBA and he's what athletes of my generation want to be like. I'm very proud to be able to call him a friend."

Mike Greenberg, ESPN Radio host who previously covered Jordan in Chicago:

“I traveled with Michael Jordan and the Bulls for three years at a time when he was inarguably the greatest athlete in the world and, maybe, the most famous person on the planet. And what I remember most about him was a regular-season game in New Jersey in February, in the midst of a season in which his team would win over 60 games and, eventually, the title. But on this night his team wasn't playing anywhere near its best, and he was furious…because that game mattered more to Michael Jordan than it did to anyone else in the building that night. It always did. Every game, every night. That's why he was who he was.”

Jim Durham, ESPN Radio play-by-play commentator who previous called Jordan’s games in Chicago:

“What I remember is the great joy he had playing the game. No one had more joy playing than he did – maybe Magic Johnson. It was business, but it was fun for him.

“He could interact with fans in the middle of a game. One night in Utah he dunked over John Stockton, and a fan in the stands yelled to him, ‘Dunk on someone your own size.’ Just then, the Bulls stole the ball, and Michael went in and dunked over Mel Turpin. Michael came down the court, and with his palms raised, looked for the fan and said, ‘Big enough for you?’ He was simply the best ever. He always lived up to the hype.

“There was not one big game he wasn’t a factor in.”

Stuart Scott, SportsCenter anchor and North Carolina alum:

“About 10 years ago, I was playing in a charity fund-raising basketball game in Texas with some NBA players including Michael Jordan. Michael was on my team. In the first half, he threw a pass to me along the baseline and I hit a 15-foot jump shot. But, I forgot to point at him – the Carolina point, just acknowledging passer and receiver. I was just so excited about the shot, I forgot the point. It was on my mind the whole game.

During the second half, I got a pass at the top of the key and I did a little turnaround jump shot. When I go up to shoot the shot, I saw the guy who was guarding Michael come running towards me. In mid-air, I adjusted and – instead of shooting – I whipped a pass to Michael who was going baseline. He caught it in one motion and dunked it. As I’m back-pedaling, he gave me the point and I gave him the point.”

Doug Gottlieb, ESPN Radio host (Doug Gottlieb Show, 4-7 p.m. ET, will originate from Springfield on Friday) and college basketball analyst:

“No doubt, it was Game 6 in 1998. Not just his shot, but also the steal on Karl Malone that lead to his jumper over Bryon Russell. Jordan, in two consecutive moments displayed his utter will to win and how it was greater than that of ‘The Mailman.’”

Tim Legler, ESPN NBA analyst:

“My favorite (non-basketball) ‘MJ’ memory was when we played them right after I won the three-point contest (and my daughter was born right before the contest). I was standing side-by-side with him at half court and he congratulated me on winning and then asked how my daughter was doing. It will forever stay in my mind because it blew me away he would go out of his way to mention that during a game.

“Basketball-wise, it would have to be the 35 points he put up in the first half of the 1992 NBA Finals Game 1 vs. Portland. To think that he could make the game look that easy on the brightest stage in the world still amazes me.”

Jon Barry, ESPN NBA analyst:

“Any time I played against Michael Jordan, I talked with the team photographer before the game. I told them to take as many photos – standing next to him, guarding him, any time I was remotely close – they could. He was the best player in the league and we started realizing he was going to be the best player of all time, so I wanted to get as much proof as I could that I played against him…something I can tell my grandkids about 30 years from now.

“Besides having the best starting lineup introduction of all time – 6’6” from North Carolina… – my favorite moment was in Chicago Stadium when he scored his 20,000th point. I didn’t think it could get as loud as it did, but that celebration went on and on…loudest I’ve ever heard.”

Matthew Barnaby, ESPN NHL analyst:

“My favorite memory is when he scored 45 points during Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, beating the Utah Jazz when he drove the lane against Bryon Russell, stopped and hit the jumper to win.”

Barry Melrose, ESPN NHL analyst:

“Being a coach, I loved the joke about the only coach able to keep Michael Jordan under 30 points a game. The answer – Dean Smith.”

Todd Blackledge, ESPN college football analyst:

“For me, the shot he took as a freshman at North Carolina to beat Indiana stands out. He wasn’t very well known at that point and for a guy that young to take such a big shot and not hesitate was a preview of what was to come. As a high school basketball coach, you are always looking for the guy who wants that pressure. When he made that shot, you knew he was one of those guys.”

Cris Carter, ESPN NFL analyst:

"Throughout his college career, Michael Jordan was what one would consider a very conservative player – a system player. That was until I saw his dunk against the University of Maryland at Cole Field House. At that point, I knew he’d be a great basketball player.

Steve Phillips, ESPN MLB analyst:

“We always say in baseball, ‘hitting a round ball with a round bat is the toughest thing to do in sports,’ yet Michael Jordan almost proved the greatest basketball player ever could compete at the highest levels of baseball. For whatever reason he chose to play minor league baseball, it was one of the greatest sports experiments ever. I give him a lot of credit for persevering through an entire minor league season. Sure, he only hit .202, but the fact he was able to walk 51 times and steal 50 bases is a tribute to his athletic ability and focus.”

Mark Jones, ESPN NBA commentator: “Earlier in his career, at a game in Utah, he came down on a break and scored over the smaller John Stockton. A Utah fan in the front row yelled out, ‘Why don't you pick on someone your own size?’ On the ensuing possession, Jordan got the ball on a fast break and slammed it over the seven-foot Mel Turpin. Running down court, Jordan turns to the Jazz fan and asks, ‘Is he big enough?’

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Media contact:
Nate Smeltz (860) 766-4550 nate.smeltz@espn.com