By the end, he was leading them all, his teammates, the fans, even the referees, marching them like a crazed army toward the end of his personal rainbow. Michael Jordan was taking over the game. Bank shot, good! Lay-up, good! Jump shot, good! "Here I am," he seemed to say to the Detroit Pistons' defenders, "Try and stop me."
Nothing would ruin his magical finish. Logic fell at his feet; how can one man beat five? Gravity fell at his feet: How can one man stay up there so long? Even fair play fell at his feet, as the referees made two awful calls that gave Chicago the ball twice in the final minute. What were they, hypnotized? By one man?Why not? Everyone else seemed to be. All that remained inside the thunderous Chicago Stadium was the crescendo: with nine seconds left, Jordan raced across the key, drove, leaped, twisted in midair toward the basket and, with three Pistons up there with him, he kissed the ball off the glass and through the net for a two-point victory. Miracle complete.
"What was that last play called?" someone asked Chicago coach Doug Collins, after the Bulls stunned the Pistons, 99-97, Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in these Eastern Conference finals. "How did you diagram that play?"
"I said, get the ball to Michael," Collins answered, breaking into a grin, "and everyone else get out of the way."
Here was a game that threw logic to the red and black Chicago wind. Weren't the Pistons leading by 13 with 6:18 to play? Aren't they the best defensive team in the league? Didn't they appear to have the Bulls soundly beaten? Yes, yes, yes - and so what? It may be time to rethink our basketball arithmetic. One man is not supposed to beat five, but one man - who scored 17 of his team's final 23 points - did it Saturday.
"I was energized," a beaming Jordan said after the game, in which he scored 46 points, made five steals, grabbed seven rebounds, and hit 14 of 15 free throws. Energized? How about nuclearized? You could feel him coming the way you feel a gathering thunderstorm on a summer afternoon. From the moment Scottie Pippen hit a three-point shot to close the gap to 90-83, Detroit, with 4:26 to play, your toes curled, your throat went dry, here came Mr. Jordan. Oh, he had done this to countless teams this year in the NBA, but never to the Pistons, and never in a game this big. Never - until now.
It began with a banking layup over Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer. 91-85. Then a steal and a foul, he made both free throws, 91-87. The loudspeakers thumped out a drum beat and the home crowd was on its feet, screaming so loud that your teeth rattled. Jordan again with a streaking lay-up. Then again, challenging Dennis Rodman with a stutter step, launching a jumper, good, 95-91. Now the crowd was insane, Michael-maniacal, he owned the house and all its inhabitants. Jordan up in the air, drawing the defense like a vacuum, dishing off to John Paxson, whose shot was tipped in by Horace Grant, 95-93. Less than a minute left, Jordan off a screen, pulls up, 12 feet from the basket, drills it, good, 97-95! Then, Pistons ball, Bill Laimbeer tries to set a screen, Jordan cuts around it - a whistle blows. Offensive foul, Bill Laimbeer. Ball goes back ... to Jordan.
Had it been anyone else, anywhere else, the whistle might never have blown. "The most ridiculous call I've ever seen," Detroit's John Salley would say, and many would agree. But such was the groundswell inside this arena Saturday afternoon; it seemed as if the finish was fated to go whatever way young No. 23 wanted. A few minutes later he hit that final bank shot, and the fantasy was complete.