Rozner: The many versions of Michael Jordan

  • Michael Jordan with his MVP trophy after the Bulls won game 6 against the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals for their sixth NBA championship, June 1998.

    Michael Jordan with his MVP trophy after the Bulls won game 6 against the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals for their sixth NBA championship, June 1998. Daily Herald File Photo, 1998

Updated 5/23/2020 9:29 AM

As we move into full "Last Dance" withdrawal this weekend and the shakes begin in earnest, there's no time like the present to remember that no one will ever be like Mike.

You could pick any of a thousand memories, any of a hundred startling characteristics that you decree the essence of Michael Jordan.


In fact, you should find someone to fight with about it. That ought to kill a few days.

But it says here that after watching again so many fourth quarters through all six championship runs, what stands out was Jordan's remarkable ability to reinvent himself.

Naturally, mother, it was out of necessity.

At the very end in 1998 in Utah, on fumes and unable to elevate over double teams and get a good look in the post, Jordan decided he must drive to the bucket, draw contact and get to the line.

Who else was going to score in the last few minutes of that game?

In the final period while struggling from the field, Jordan scored 16 of the Bulls' 26 points, going 8-for-8 from the line. The other 8 points came from a pair of midrange jumpers, a crucial last-minute layup -- just like in 1993 -- and the final shot to win the title.

"He's the greatest closer in the history of the game," said a dejected John Stockton, as he shook his head that night. "As long as there was a breath in his body, he would not let them lose."

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A breath is about all he had left after playing 44 minutes and averaging 42 in the series.

But consider the very many iterations of Jordan through the years.

In 1998, there was the floor move of a big man at 6-foot-6 among the trees, developed down low when unable to trust the Bulls' bigs in the post.

By the fall off 1995 and in his first full season back in basketball, the Bulls had a team of specialists, and not among them was an offensive post player.

Guess who took the job?

Jordan could elevate above defenders in the post, create his own looks and his fadeaway jumper was money. A less talented group than the first time around, this three-peat needed Jordan creating not just shots for himself, but also for the likes of Luc Longley and Dennis Rodman, who received gifts and dunks from No. 23.


At the end of the first three-peat, his game was nearly perfect. He was an all-defensive first-teamer who could get the Bulls points anyway they needed points, above the rim, on the break, getting to the bucket, shots off the dribble and elevating to get shots even when exhausted.

The '91 NBA Finals featured "the spectacular move" at the bucket in Game 2, and by the end of the series he was serving it up to a wide-open John Paxson off the double, becoming the complete player.

In 1990, he had become as good a catch-and-shoot, clutch performer as there was, when a year earlier Doug Collins had him at the point, where he absolutely dominated.

He had 15 triple-doubles for the season, nearly all of them in the final 20 games after taking over at the point. In the final 23 games, he averaged 31 points, 10.5 assists, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals. In one stretch, he had 10 triple-doubles in 11 games.

This was even a long way from the 1987 version that was a deadly shooter, but with everything still hard off the dribble, or the rookie version that couldn't hit an open jumper, but played above the rim and attacked on every possession.

That Jordan wouldn't have lasted very long in a very physical NBA, a game that no longer exists.

Never has there such a supremely-talented player who could change his game nearly every year, adding elements to benefit the team, to fill holes on the roster and spots on the floor.

Not even Magic Johnson, who played center in a clinching Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, was that versatile.

So "The Last Dance" may be over, but you've got it on DVR, along with those NBA Finals games that have been all over cable the last two months.

If you need something more, just watch the second quarter of Game 1 of the Finals against Portland in 1992. It's the loudest Chicago Stadium ever was for a basketball game.

And it is yet one more version of Michael Jordan.

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