“18. Shot. Jordan! Michael Jordan!”
The call (CBS’s Gary Bender), the grainy footage, the perfect shooting form, the ball ripping through the net without a thought of touching the rim … Jordan’s famous shot to beat Georgetown in the 1982 National Championship game is one of the more memorable moments in basketball history.
It propelled a skinny, relatively unknown freshman straight into superstardom.
MJ was the one who brought the University of North Carolina and head coach Dean Smith that national title. Smith agrees. But to hear him tell it, the win had nothing to do with Jordan’s iconic jumper.
Georgetown vs. North Carolina was a matchup of two of the best programs in college basketball that season
The Hoyas and head coach John Thompson were one of the best teams in the nation during the 1981-82 season. They featured their own highly-touted freshman in center Patrick Ewing.
Georgetown was ranked highly all year and won the Big East Tournament Championship before winning four straight in the NCAA Tournament to reach the final.
Ewing averaged 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and a whopping 3.2 blocks that season. The Hoyas had three other future NBA players in their lineup in Bill Martin, Anthony Jones, and Sleepy Floyd, the team’s leading scorer.
Carolina came into the game with a 32-2 overall record. The Heels were led by future NBA stars James Worthy and Sam Perkins. Jordan was the third-leading scorer on that team.
As told by a story published in that night’s Washington Post, UNC grabbed a 61-58 lead with 3:36 left. Ewing brought the deficit to 61-60, and two minutes later, Floyd hit a runner in the lane to put the Hoyas up 62-61 with 25 seconds to play.
That set up the moment that Jordan became Jordan.
Jordan hit The Shot, but according to Smith, that’s not why Carolina won
The wiry shooting guard caught a pass from teammate Jimmy Black, squared up, and fired a jumper that was pure. The Heels went ahead 63-62.
With time remaining, though, Floyd grabbed the ensuing inbounds pass and went straight back up the floor. The senior guard looked for a pass that wasn’t there, picked up his dribble, famously tossed it straight into the hands of Worthy, and Carolina ran out the clock.
Jordan’s jumper was the beginning of his legend. But as Smith explained, it wasn’t the reason why the UNC won the title, via the Chicago Tribune:
“Georgetown turned it over because Michael got back on defense and made a play in the passing lane. Freddy Brown threw the ball to James Worthy because Michael jumped in front of the guy he was trying to pass to.”Dean Smith on the final play of the 1982 NCAA National Championship Game
The Hoyas’ final possession sometimes gets lost in the Jordan mythos. The errant pass is part of it, but according to Smith, it was his freshman’s defense that put the proverbial nail in Georgetown’s coffin.
Michael Jordan became one of the greatest defenders in NBA history
MJ is known for his national championship jumper. He’s known for flying. He’s known for dunking. He’s known for his turnaround fadeaway on the block. He’s known for his other famous shot — the one in the 1998 NBA Finals over Bryon Russell.
But the six-time champion was also a three-time steals champion. He made an NBA All-Defensive team nine times and was the 1987-88 Defensive Player of the Year.
Jordan cultivated his lore on offense, and he won titles with defense.
At Carolina, he literally did both in the span of 10 seconds.