As Tar Heel fans, we often claim Michael Jordan as our own. Nothing wrong with that.
However, most of the world only knows Jordan through his professional championships, his commercials, or his more recent catchy slogan. The most they know about his time at UNC is that he hit one of the most memorable shots in NCAA. Cynics may even argue that shot became so famous because of what MJ would become and not necessarily because of the shot itself. That is all well and good.
Fortunately for Heels fans, we all know that Jordan played for three years for the North Carolina Tar Heels, not just one game in New Orleans. While injuries and bad luck derailed UNC’s hopes of a repeat performance in 1983 and 1984, he still provided plenty of other memories during his time in Chapel Hill. Below are a few of the more impressive, if not forgotten, performances that foreshadowed the greatness which followed.
Note: In case you cannot view videos or play sound at your place of work, I’ve created GIFs to complement videos when appropriate/necessary,
UNC vs Tulane - Nov. 30 1982
Jordan saves the Heels
This one took some digging. UNC was 0-2 to open the 1982-83 season and were searching for a much needed victory when Tulane visited Carmichael Auditorium. In the final minute, Jordan grabbed an offensive rebound for a put back, committed an offensive foul, and then forced a steal and buzzer beating jump shot to force overtime. After three overtime periods, UNC walked away with a victory. This 1999 article by longtime UNC SID Rick Brewer explains the specifics. Unfortunately highlights are hard to come by. This short 14-second clip of the steal and jump shot was all I could find. Once again, he displayed a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
#11 UNC at #1 Virginia -January 15, 1983
Jordan Blocks Sampson
This game usually gets lost in the shuffle. In the first meeting of the ACC powerhouses in the 1982-83 season, UVA carried a 34-game home winning streak. That didn’t matter to the Heels who led by as many as 24 points. A furious rally by the Virginia Cavaliers would eventually cut the lead to two. However, with two minutes remaining, Jordan jumped off two feet from a standing position and pinned Ralph Sampson’s shot against the backboard, preserving a 96-90 UNC lead.
Just how impressive was that block? Considering Sampson stood at 7’4” and would win his third consecutive NCAA Player of the Year award after the season — pretty impressive. Few individual athletic plays in Jordan’s collegiate career can match this block. Here are two looks at the block. For the broadcast version at game speed, this is already queued at the correct timestamp.
#1 UNC at #5 Maryland, January 12, 1984
Rock the Cradle
Dr. J is often credited as the first player to execute this dunk. Jordan simply added a level of difficulty and perfected the style. It was a dunk he would perform numerous times through his career but on January 12, 1984 in Cole Field House, Jordan unleashed it for the first time. The play punctuated a victory over the #5 Maryland Terrapins. Most importantly, it was a play that those in attendance never forgot. Come for the highlight, stay for Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge giving their recollection.
Maryland at #1 UNC, Feb 19, 1984
Heels dismantles Maryland
The follow-up to the Rock-the-Cradle game. Jordan finished with 25 points in Carmichael Auditorium, but none were as emphatic as his posterizing dunk over Ben Coleman with 4:22 remaining. For a full highlight montage of Jordan in this game, click here. To see this play that I have honored as a .GIF, it’s queued up here at the 2:07 mark.
#8 UNC at Duke, March 5, 1983
Jordan hits the backboard…with his head
This play may be more impressive than the block on Sampson. Jordan didn’t just display his impressive jumping ability on the offensive end of the floor — he regularly made spectacular defensive plays, as evidenced against Virginia and Ralph Sampson. Unfortunately, this was not one of those plays. Jordan was called for goal-tending as he tried to block Johnny Dawkins’ transition layup, but that wasn’t what spectators remembered. Jay Bilas recalls witnessing the moment first hand in this article by Martin Rickman. (If it says video is unavailable for you, you can find it here.)
#15 Duke at #1 UNC, March 3, 1984
Jordan’s Final Home Game
Most would consider the previous season’s 32-point performance as Jordan’s most memorable, and that may be true. However, you only get one chance to win your final home game, which is exactly what MJ and the Heels did. The visiting Duke Blue Devils put up a fight and pushed the game to double-overtime. But Jordan scored 9 of UNC’s 21 points in the extra periods, added a timely assist to Sam Perkins and provided yet another closing possession block of Johnny Dawkins. Jordan finished his UNC career with a 6-1 record against the Blue Devils. The beginning of OT can be found here. Two key plays are below.
Alley-oop w/ foul in 2nd OT
MJ Blocks Dawkins in 2nd OT
#1 UNC vs #6 Georgetown, March 29, 1982
The Legend Begins
Yeh. This isn’t a surprise. Enjoy it. Never gets old.