Michael Jordan is getting all the headlines these last two weeks, leading up to the NBA All-Star weekend, with his memorable 50 point slam-dunk from the free throw line while hanging forever in the air, and his turning 50 years old. Charles Barkley, an outstanding basketball Hall of Fame player, is also celebrating his 50th birthday.
So my memory rewinds to June 20, 1993. Marvelous Marv Albert is barely catching his breath like the rest of us, when he says some of the most famous words in Chicago Bull’s lore: “Here’s Paxson for 3. Yes! And the Bulls take a 1 point lead, and Phoenix calls for time, with 3.9 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter!”
Only 30 seconds earlier, with the Phoenix Suns taking a 98-94 lead, my 2 sons and I quickly scatter from the family room, leaving my husband to watch Game 6 of the NBA Finals on NBC, all alone. The 3 of us couldn’t handle the intense, fatalistic atmosphere of the moment. This massive disappointment of what we had all expected, hovered over the room, like that human killer cloud did, which Captain Kirk quickly smelled, in the 1967 episode, “Obsession.” This cloud was sweet, yet sucked every red corpuscle from 2 of his men, and killed them.
Yes, we were spoiled from the 1991 and 1992 Finals, and expected nothing less. Now, it would be the first time, since the Boston Celtics of the 1960’s, that a team would win 3 consecutive titles. And especially after coming back from an 0-2 deficit v. the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals, we were expecting a sure win. It was just 10 days before, when Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant kept Charles Smith from making a sure-winning game lay-up, 3 times in a row, in Madison Square Garden, helping the Bulls win that series to meet up with the Suns in the Finals.
And surely we’d win today, after the Bulls had already won the first two games of this series at the America West Arena in Phoenix. Or that it would be the first time any player (His Airness) would win the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award three consecutive times in history. Yes: we, and millions of other Chicago sports fans expected this win to happen THIS day, and another Grant Park rally was already planned, none too soon.
But at this one second, all of that faded faster than the Enterprise could catch this killer cloud at Warp 10, speeding through the universe. I catapulted into our bedroom and paced in a circle, while still keeping the door open while barely hearing Mike Fratello’s commentary. To this day, I’m not sure what my kids were doing, other than fleeing into their bedrooms and slamming their doors.
Then we all heard Marv, and came screaming back. Cheering and jumping, just like the 4 of us had done so many times at the Madhouse on Madison, from 1986 and onward.
So the time out that Phoenix took seemed like the proverbial eternity. We were talking over each other, guessing strategy, shouting at our 21” Sony TV (now 25 years old), “watch out for the man throwing the in-bounds pass,” as if Phil Jackson really needed OUR advice, and my throwing pillows at the TV screen.
And as Jim Durham and Red Kerr had previously so well educated us, Kevin Johnson DID throw in, the in-bounds pass, only to quickly receive the ball and try shooting it towards the basket. Silence – that seemlingly lasted 5 minutes in our household.
But as we all know, DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS. Horace Grant blocked Kevin Johnson’s jump shot, and the telephone (land lines, folks) started ringing off the hook, with our extended family calling and joining in the cheers and watching post-game celebrations together.
Jordan embraces Barkley, grabs him tightly, and whispers something in his ear. Both are sweating and panting, while I am screaming at the top of my lungs.
By now, all the neighbors know, that when they hear shrieks like THAT, coming from our house, they just go about their daily routine – knowing it’s Janice, again, going nuts over some Chicago sports’ game. Just another day in their house. That’s just this crazy woman from the South Side of Chicago.
I wish I could read lips. I wish I knew what Jordan said at that moment. The moment when one wins and one loses a championship, the most precious moment in an athlete’s career.
I wish I knew what Michael said to Charles, while the basketball court was being flooded with announcers, Bulls players jumping up and down, while Magic, Fratello, and Marvelous are just doing their best to describe what just happened.
Michael to Charles: To his golfing partner. To one of his best friends with whom he played on the Dream Team in Barcelona, at the 1992 Summer Olympics. To Barkley, the player who was the league NBA MVP of that year, and brought his Phoenix Suns to the most wins ever, with home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
And because Jordan is the greatest player ever, regardless of these ridiculous debates we hear or read on sports’ media these days, comparing LeBron to Michael, I have yet to see any articles about the great Hall of Fame players who Michael kept from winning an NBA Championship – 6 times. Charles is just one of many not to get his championship ring.
There’s also Kevin Johnson from the Phoenix Suns, now the Mayor of Sacramento, and Karl Malone and John Stockton from the Utah Jazz. And just remind Patrick Ewing from the New York Knicks, Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks, or Reggie Miller from the Indiana Pacers, how Jordan stuck a dagger in their hearts, even though the NBA Hall of Fame gave them their well-deserved place in history.
So both Michael AND Charles are turning 50 this week. Michael is primary owner of the last- placed Charlotte Bobcats, still playing scrimmage with his players during practice. And TNT will surely play highlights of his 50 point dunk, that mesmerized an entire NBA nation, as Lee Jenkins so aptly describes in this week’s Sports Illustrated. Air Jordan finally arrived on February 6, 1988.
But Charles? He and Kenny Smith make the best TNT tag team, basketball analysts on Thursday nights. I have learned and listened from them, about NBA teams and players, since the days when Marv, Mike, and Magic brought us their chemistry from “the NBC booth”. And Charles will be at the NBA All Star weekend too, slimmed down from his Weight Watchers routine, calling this weekend’s play on TNT.
So as these 2 friends turn 50 this week, their friendship continues. During an interview on the sports show, Pardon the Interruption, Barkley told the hosts that he knows Michael is the greatest player to play the game, and that when they are together, people don’t notice Charles, at first. Finally, Barkley said that he is always "expected to pick up the tab." And chuckles.
Maybe that’s what Michael uttered on that day in June, 1993. I could live with that.