In Memoriam: The Double Nickel

The recent Madison Square Garden exploits of Kobe Bryant (61 points) and LeBron James (52 plus a triple-double) succeeded in conjuring — as singularly great performances often do — memories of Michael Jordan. In particular the Kobe/LeBron feats drew favorable comparisons to MJ’s legendary Double Nickel game against the Knicks way back in 1995.

Now, before I get into this, you need to know two things. First, I was still a fresh-faced schoolboy when that game happened. Back then, the world seemed much larger to me, the NBA felt grander and more majestic. Basketball players were superheroes. And I mean that literally: They were out there saving the world, man. (Ever hear about how Brad Daugherty turned back that alien invasion? Well, it happened.) That was when the NBA was televised on NBC and Bob Costas provided wildly epic pregame intros, which themselves would fade into the too-awesome-for-words Roundball Rock theme. Listening to that song still gives me chills.

Second…I hated the absolute living hell out of Michael Jordan.

See, Jordan was always standing in my way. I used to worship Magic Johnson. Jordan defeated Magic’s Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. I was a huge fan of Clyde Drexler. Jordan downed the Glide’s Blazers in the 1992 Finals, castrating Drexler in the process. I freaking loved Charles Barkley. Jordan eliminated Chuck’s Suns in the 1993 Finals, invalidating Barkley’s regular season MVP award along the way. Every time I rooted for a particular player or team, Jordan was there to beat them and spite me. As a friend said after Jordan defeated his team — the Cleveland Cavaliers — in the ’92 Eastern Conference Finals: “I wonder if Mike realizes how many people’s dreams he’s crushed over the years?”

That’s just how it was in the 90’s. Michael Jordan wasn’t going to let your team win. It was that simple. And that frustrating.

So quite understandably, I was thrilled beyond words when he retired after the 1992-93 season. It seemed too good to be true. But it was: Jordan had left the building (in this case, the old Chicago Stadium) in favor of a minor league baseball stadium. Suddenly, all bets were off and anything was possible. Unfortunately for me, Hakeem Olajuwon stepped in to fill the Jordan vacuum, defeating Barkley and the Suns in the 1994 and 1995 playoffs. But that’s another story.

Chicago’s first post-Jordan year went better than anybody could have expected. They won 55 games and pushed the Knicks — who would go on to lose a hotly contested championship series to Hakeem’s Rockets — to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And, to be frank, they might have beaten New York if not for a small handful of iffy calls. But, again, that’s another story.

The Bulls’ second post-Jordan year went decidedly less well, mostly due to the loss of Horace Grant, who had signed with the Orlando Magic. They hovered around .500 for most of the year until the un-retirement announcement heard ’round the world. Said MJ: “I’m back.” Said me: “Aw, crap.”

My fears seemed unjustified after Jordan’s first comeback game, a road loss to the Pacers in which Mike scored only 19 points on 7-for-28 shooting. I rejoiced! Jordan may have been back, but Jordan clearly was not Jordan. He was human after all. And although he scored 27, 21 and 32 points in his next three games, it was obvious that he was a step slow, a tad out of sync.

Then he traveled to MSG for a nationally televised game against the Knicks, the Bulls’ arch-nemesis. No team during Chicago’s first three-peat challenged Jordan the way New York did. And this was a Knicks team that had been in the Finals the previous season and would go on to win 55 games. They also happened to be the best defensive team in the NBA. And it was a pretty sure bet that they’d want to lay the smack down on a rusty Jordan.

Instead, Jordan laid the smack down on them: 21-for-37 from the field, 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, 10-for-11 from the free throw line, 55 points. It was a clinic. And as I said, those Knicks were the best in the league at stopping people, a physical, aggressive team. They were like a dog that clamps its jaws down on your throat and just gnaws you to death. For this game, Knicks coach Pat Riley chose not to double-team Jordan, instead opting to use John Starks in single-coverage. Ouch. Let’s just say that it’s probably no coincidence that Starks lost a testicle a few years later. Said Jordan afterward: “I could read Starks’ every move. I basically had him at my disposal.” That would have come off as pretty arrogant if it hadn’t been so true.

As unstoppable as Jordan was in that game, even more amazing was how he finished off the Knicks: By dishing the ball to a wide-open Bill Wennington for the game-winning dunk. Nobody expected the Double Nickle, just as nobody expected him to pass the rock in the closing seconds with the game on the line. But that was Jordan. He made dreams come true…even as he was crushing mine.

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24 Responses to In Memoriam: The Double Nickel

    Scott G. February 6, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    Matt, thank you for this post. Well done. But…I feel disoriented and dizzy at the revelation that you “hated the absolute living hell out of Michael Jordan.” While I appreciate your candor, I worry for your safety. You do realize this is a Bulls blog, no? Do you also write a blog about American Presidents in which you bash Washington and Lincoln? Or one about faith in which you say “There is no God, idiots”? Just curious.

    Stormin Norman February 6, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Well-written but ummm…are you a Bulls fan? Hate the living hell out of Jordan? Are you serious? Without Jordan the NBA might not even be one of the Big 3 sports and I’m pretty sure if there weren’t 100s of 1000s of rabid NBA fans that watched Jordan during their formative sports fan years, there wouldn’t be anyone to read your blog. Are you a closet Pistons fan or something? Or just a bandwagon jumper? Great story though, proves why no one should ever hate Jordan (except those people you listed and Reggie Miller)

    JCM February 6, 2009 at 1:30 pm #

    All Bulls fans should boycott this blog. Hated MJ? Seriously? Wow.

  4. Martin February 6, 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    Being a Knick fan in the 90’s must have been close to hell. Pacers, Bulls, Rockets…..

  5. JR February 6, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    haha, you used to be a Lakers fan… I thought Bird was your guy? Or is it that you now love Bird whereas it was Magic when you were a kid?

    I joined the Lakers for the same reason (Magic) but stayed during the 90’s because I knew no other way I guess. Nick Van Exel was kind of cool as well. Anyway, I may have mentioned this before but I’m from Australia and all the nba videos we had in the video store were those old nba jam vids, michael jordan videos and one other video: Magic Johnson Always Showtime. I watched that thing so many times, changed my life man…

    As for hating MJ, I personally thought he was amazing but except for that one championship he denied Magic, which I was too young to appreciate and wasn’t a Laker fan by that point anyway, he never really inflicted any bad wounds to my Lakers from what I remember because after Magic we just weren’t that relevant. We were pretty good, but not relevant if you know what I mean.

    t-rocc February 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    nice piece, and i’m loving the new blog. but i just have to say – “nickel” is the word you’re looking for.

    BadDave February 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    I hate Jordan too, for many of the same reasons. But I think readers need to realize that while I hate him, I also respect the hell out of him.

    Be not dismayed By The Horns readers, it’s obvious by the detail that Matt is devoted to these Bulls and basketball, and you know he’s got a perspective that keeps in in eyeshot of objectivity. I’ll take that over a frothing-at-the-mouth fan when it comes to blogs.

    Nate February 6, 2009 at 4:48 pm #

    See, this is why it’s gonna take a lot to convince me that someone could choose a sports team to write a blog about, rather than write about the team that you genuinely care about. I think you can be subjective and a homer without being froth-mouthed. It’s why Johnny Red Kerr is universally loved by fans in Chicago. I can’t get over the feeling that this seems like an anthropology study of what it’s like to be a Bulls fan. I could be swayed, but coming right out with your hatred for Jordan is no way to start.

    Dan B. February 6, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    Come on guys, check the About the Blogger page. Matt was born and raised in Indiana and was a Pacers fan until he moved to Chicago several years ago, at which point he adopted the Bulls since they were his new local team, despite the fact that they were absolutely, horrendously bad at the time.

    Nicky C February 6, 2009 at 4:58 pm #


    You just openly told BullsNation that you hate our God. I guess it’s time to go back to reading BlogABull. Go root for the Pacers.


    Nicky C

    PS – I hope MJ drops a double nickle on you.

    Victor February 6, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    It’s official. This blog is better than Basketbawful. The same kind of writing is what made the Basketbawful blog great, but that blog isn’t the same as it used to be. This post, however, is vintage Basketbawful. Entertaining, informative, passionate, and personal.

    Kevin February 6, 2009 at 5:32 pm #

    First off, Matt, love this blog – I read it every day..
    Michael Jordan wasn’t going to let your team win. It was that simple
    This is the best response, and my response, to anyone who wants to compare anyone to him. Until you can say this about [insert current player’s name here – most likely Kobe Bryant or LeBron James..] they are not in his league. Period.

    Kevin February 6, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    Tried posting that one correctly with your quote…

    Matt McHale February 6, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    Just a few quick thoughts before going back to deal with my flu-like symptoms.

    Yes, I’m a Bulls fan. I live in Chicago and I follow them avidly. You’ll also note that I said “I hated Michael Jordan….” As in, the past tense. I wrote this post from the perspective of a teenager who was rooting for teams that Jordan defeated. But I would think that the post made it obvious that I was in awe of his greatness.

    AK Dave February 6, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    Holy smokes, people, it’s not like Matt refused to wear an American flag pin on his lapel or something- let’s not burn the guy at the stake for being a fan of another team.

    I’m in the same boat- I loved Reggie Miller and Shawn Kemp and JohnKarl StocktonMalone, and Jordan ruined all of their collective lives with his unwillingness to lose. Greatest player ever? Greatest player ever. But it sure is hard to watch that guy play against your team.

    Anyway saying “I won’t read your blog because you said you didn’t like MJ” is a little bit silly, people. I’ve read Blog-a-Bull, I wasn’t impressed. I’m not even a huge Bulls fan, but I read this blog because the writer can write.

    This post really took me back to what I consider the “glory days” of NBA Basketball, and that really made my Friday. Thanks By the Horns!

    Oh, and memo to Chicago- the ’85 Bears are gone. It’s over, man. 24 years and you still play the “Super Bowl Shuffle” (OK, nevermind, that can stay) It’s time to move on. It’s time… to move… on.

    AK Dave February 6, 2009 at 8:39 pm #

    Oh, oh, yeah, and I almost forgot:

    Matt, dude, you’re going to let flu-like symptoms stand between your readers and the material in your brain dying to be blogged? Come on man, you’re better than that. Take some cough syrup with codeine, go grab your snuggie, sit down and get blogging on Basketbawful!


    Nicky C February 6, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    AK Dave,

    I think you are missing the point – to a genuine Chicago Bulls native and fan, one who has been with the Bulls through the thick (the Jordan era) and the thin (the Fizer/ERob/JWill/Jalen/Crawford/Curry eras), saying you hate Jordan on a Bulls blog is the equivalent to “[refusing] to wear an American flag pin” at a Veteran’s Day rally. Just as the latter is Un-American, the former is the cardinal sin to Bulls fans everywhere. I guess you can’t understand that if you are not a true Bulls fan. The closest analogy I can come up with is if the blogger for your favorite team (sounds like the Jazz?) said they used to hate “JohnKarl StocktonMalone”; it’s a heartbreak and a scandal! On the other hand, it would also be hard for you to relate, considering Jordan denied all of your aforementioned players rings, and combined, Stockton, Malone, Reggie, and Kemp don’t amount to what Jordan was (and still is, apparently) to their respective sports kingdom. Jordan is our pride and joy, and he always will be.

    PT from Oaktown February 6, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    WTF? Yeah I like this blog, I can understand we all have our teams, I guess I just wish the writer would do two things, 1. be a REAL hard core bulls fan and 2. make a post of why in the hell can Tyrus and Drew Gooden think they it is acceptable for either of them to shoot from outside, especially when they are guarded. Is that too much to ask for?

    AK Dave February 7, 2009 at 12:27 am #


    1) God Bless America
    2) OMG MJ Rulz!

    Now if I write a crappy blog, would you read it? I understand WHY people are bent out of shape, but I just think it’s a little bit silly.

    A) A guy grows up in Indiana and roots for his home team
    B) He dislikes the player who beats his home team
    C) Upon growing up and observing history objectively, he comes to fully understand the greatness of said player and heaps praise upon him.
    D) People flip a gasket because the guy wasn’t a fan “from the beginning”.

    OK, whatever. But that’s just like saying “I don’t care if you are American now, even if you pledge allegiance to the flag, you used to be Canadian, and you liked fries with gravy, so I won’t read your blog.”

    Happy Friday people.

    San Dimas High School Football Rules!!!

    Nicky C February 7, 2009 at 1:16 am #

    AK Dave,

    Valid argument with the America/Canadian/blogging analogy, but I still think you are missing the point. You are mistaken because I am not saying I won’t read the blog because the author wasn’t “a fan of Jordan from the beginning,” but rather for the fact that the author runs a Chicago Bulls blog, and he felt/feels hatred for the eternal face of the franchise (and basketball for that matter). It just doesn’t make sense. Can you have a Celtics blog with an author who hates Bird, or a Lakers blog with an author that hates Magic? I don’t care if you have all the respect in the world for their basketball talents and abilities, but if you aren’t a fan while you are representing that player’s team, then something is wrong. I am not saying it is wrong to hate MJ; I would too if I were a fan of any other team in the NBA during the 90’s (luckily, I was not). But what I am saying is that it is absolutely absurd to “hate” MJ when you are supposedly a Bulls fan who runs a Bulls blog. Absolutely asinine. And I still think you don’t get it because to us here, Jordan is truly a god, and it cuts us deep when we hear anything negative about him, especially from a Bulls blogmaster!!!



    I apologize if it seems like I am personally attacking you and the credibility of your blog – that is not the intent. While I am baffled by your choice to be a Bulls fan / Jordan hater, I want you to know that I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts on both of your blogs. You have great insight, and you are ridiculously funny. If you weren’t getting these sort of passionate responses, then you wouldn’t be doing a good job. Keep up the good work.


    Nicky C

  21. Lord Henry February 7, 2009 at 2:35 am #

    “You just openly told the bullsnation that you hate our God.”

    I’m a bad person, I guess. I couldn’t read the above statement without laughing hysterically.

    I loved watching the bulls in the 90s, it was one of the things me and my dad had in common, and when Jordan came back, it was great to sit down and watch the second championship run with my old man, great memories.

    However, I must admit I was kinda rooting for the sonics and jazz during the second run, and it was sad to watch Malone, Stockton, Kemp, and Payton’s dreams be destroyed by Jordan’s refusal to lose.

    Cammie Damme February 8, 2009 at 12:37 am #

    You guys sound like the nerds who whine that the prom queen could do so much better, and the reason she’s not in love with you is because she hasn’t met you yet, not because her boyfriend is hotter, funnier and has a cooler car than you.
    So here’s your big chance…Start a blog about your beloved team. Update it every day (sometimes twice). Make it clever and insightful. Make sure you list your credentials: a life-long obsession, a proven ability to write about sports, and the fact that your first tattoo and first nocturnal emission all involved Mikey.
    Then everyone will really see how you are the best blogger for the Bulls, and what a poser By the Horns is.

  23. tony.pipptana February 8, 2009 at 2:03 am #

    Hold on, there, Nicky C. Are you familiar with the English language? Have you ever encountered the letters ‘ed’ at the end of a word before? Now, I know, English is tricky. Things don’t always follow the rules. However, when you add that morpheme to the end of a verb, it relegates the verb to the past tense. For example, “Kobe dropped 61 points on the Knicks.” Does that mean that, while you read this, Kobe is still scoring points against the Knicks, right now? And, this goes for everyone who attacked the “WHEN I WAS A KID, I hatED MJ,” statement (my emphasis): pay attention, you’re missing the point.

    Flipjack February 8, 2009 at 2:58 am #

    I’d take By the Horns over that crappy excuse of a blog they call Blog-a-Bull anytime. Man, that blog just doesn’t have anything other than bad writing, obsessive Ben “the foot” Gordon homers, and fan posters who post nothing but BS and idiotic trade ideas. Problem with that place is that they take things waaaayyy too seriously for their own good. In fact, I think Blazer’s Edge is the only really worthwhile SB Nation blog out there.

    Anyway, this is a good token nostalgic piece, Matt. Be looking forward to your next posts.

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