There are formative moments in everyone’s life, times from which we are either elevated to great heights or shrink to pressured depths. For Michael Jeffrey Jordan, there have been countless moments of truth throughout his career that we remember.
But game-winning shots are one of America’s favorite sports outcomes; rivaling the walk-off home run and or a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. For those who are able to snatch victory from certain defeat within a sliver of a second, immortality awaits. For Michael Jordan, he started on his path as a college freshman.
Six NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVP’s, five regular season NBA MVP trophies, selected first team All-NBA 10 times, 10-time NBA scoring champ, and that’s not even half of it.
On this day, March 29th, 1982, we witnessed the beginnings of what he would later blossom into. Jordan was a freshman shooting guard playing in the national championship game for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels on a bomb squad that featured two All-Americans in junior forward James Worthy and forward/center Sam Perkins. Worthy brought a lightning-quick first step and power and Perkins excelled with his smoothness and buttery-soft shooting touch. But it was the precocious freshman who would ultimately leave his personal stamp on the contest that endures to this day.
North Carolina was matched up against Big John Thompson’s rough and rugged Georgetown Hoyas team, led by the remarkable center Patrick Ewing and outstanding combo guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, in that 1982 national championship game.
There were five future NBA All-Stars on those respective rosters. Ewing scored 23 points, converting 10 of his 15 shot attempts, and snatched down 11 rebounds while Floyd dazzled with his overall floor game to the tune of 18 points, five assists and four steals. On the other side of the ledger, Worthy roasted the Hoya with 28 points while Perkins chipped in with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Jordan scored six straight points early in the second half as he and Worthy played a game of, “You Score, I Score”. Down the homestretch, Ewing was hampered with four fouls and unable to be his normal, hyper-aggressive self on defense.
In the game’s final minute, Floyd penetrated, pumped and stuck a foul-line jumper with 57 seconds left to put Georgetown up, 62-61. Carolina’s final possession was drawn up so the ball could go inside to either Worthy or Perkins. But the Plan B was to find the freshman on the wing if the post was well-covered, as Carolina’s brain-trust figured that they wouldn’t be worried about Jordan taking the pressure-packed shot.
“They had that scouted well,” Smith told the press after the game, “so I said fake it, throw it to Jordan. We wanted a good shot, with the boards covered.”
Jordan’s 16-foot corner jumper with 15 seconds left beat Georgetown, 63-62, and gave Carolina its first NCAA championship since 1957. And it also gave the basketball world a glimpse into the phenomenon to come, as the young freshman began to blossom into what would later come to be known as Air Jordan.