NBA

Craig Ehlo Battled Michael Jordan on the Court and Then Addiction off It

Craig Ehlo’s name has always been associated with ‘The Shot.’ He was asked to guard Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player on the planet, and Jordan hit a game-winning shot in a playoff game more than 30 years ago. Mention Ehlo’s name and it’s always connected to failure when it comes to ‘The Shot.’ Ehlo defended Jordan very well on the play, but Jordan did what Jordan has always done and that’s dominate on the basketball court. Ehlo’s battles with Michael Jordan pale in comparison to what Ehlo has battled off the court.

Craig Ehlo’s NBA career

Craig Ehlo was a very good basketball player. He was a third-round draft selection of the Houston Rockets in the 1983 NBA draft and went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA. Ehlo, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, played for four different teams but was mostly known for his seven-year period with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ehlo’s best year came during the 1989-90 season when he averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. During that season he also made 42 percent of his 3-point attempts and played a career-high 35.7 minutes per game. He played in all but one game that season.

For his career, Ehlo averaged 8.6 points per game and was known as a very good defensive guard. He spent his first three seasons with the Rockets as nothing but a role player. In January of 1987, after being waived by the Rockets, he signed with the Cavs and spent the next seven seasons with the team. He finished his career with three seasons with the Atlanta Hawks and ended with the Seattle SuperSonics.

‘The Shot’ happened because of Craig Ehlo’s offense

Craig Ehlo is always linked to Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot in Game 5 of the 1989 first-round playoff series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls. Ehlo was the defender on the play and Jordan hit a foul-line jumper as time expired to send the Bulls into the second round.

If not for Ehlo’s offense, however, ‘The Shot’ may never have existed. Michael Jordan had hit another less-publicized jump shot with six seconds remaining that put the Bulls ahead 99-98. After the Cavaliers called a time out, Ehlo inbounded the ball to Larry Nance. Nance then gave the ball right back to Ehlo, who drove to the hoop and hit a layup to put the Cavs up 100-99 with three seconds to go.

Jordan then returned the favor when he hit his game-winner over the outstretched arm of Ehlo as the clock ran out. The win was especially sweet for the Bulls, not only because they advanced in the playoffs, but because the Cavaliers had defeated the Bulls in all six regular-season meetings. The Cavs were the third seed in the playoffs, while the Bulls were seeded sixth.

Craig Ehlo battled addiction off the court

The wear and tear on Craig Ehlo’s body from 14 seasons in the NBA caught up to him. He was fighting pain, more specifically back pain, that ultimately resulted in him becoming addicted to painkillers. He fought addiction for years. Like most addicts, he hit rock bottom and that rock bottom, along with strong family support, helped turn his life around.

On Aug. 1, 2013, firefighters responded to a call from Ehlo’s home and saw family members pinning Ehlo down after he set his clothes on fire. His family had confronted him about his abuse of pills and then confiscated them. “I was loopy and they were taking my stuff and I just said, ‘Screw y’all,’ and started burning my clothes,” he said in May of 2019. He spent a night in jail when helped him with his turnaround. “It made me confront my addiction and start on repairing my life and relationships with my family,” he said.

He’s been clean ever since. He’s had multiple stories written about his lowest-point moment and he said there is a silver lining to it. “My wife’s thinking at first was, ‘Can’t we just get rid of this and put it away?’ ” he said. “But she actually got three or four calls from some women she’s interacted with that had addiction problems and they told her, ‘What your husband said really helped.’ And that kind of changes your thinking.”