Michael Jordan is one of the most intrinsically motivated athletes ever to play a team sport. But he’s not the architect of the Chicago Bulls‘ famous “What time is it? Game time!” pregame routine. That distinction belongs to a man he thoroughly embarrassed years prior.
Cliff Levingston became a beloved figure of the Bulls’ first three-peat, constantly providing Chicago with infectious energy and desire. He also began one of Jordan’s favorite traditions, which is humorous considering Levingston had once been known as the guy MJ sent sprawling to the floor.
Michael Jordan made Cliff Levingston fall down before serving up one of his most famous posters ever
Michael Jordan was incredibly explosive early in his Bulls career. He also had oven mitts for hands. The combination of the two resulted in one of his most famous poster dunks ever.
The Chicago Bulls were taking on the Atlanta Hawks in December 1986 when Jordan caught the ball on the left wing. Cliff Levingston switched onto MJ, who was freed up to receive the ball thanks to a screen courtesy of Charles Oakley. How unfortunate for Levingston.
Jordan, with his right hand, faked the ball toward the baseline as if he were passing the rock to Oakley. The fake had Livington so off-balance that he could not recover as Jordan drove to the rim. The Hawks fell backward right onto his butt, watching helplessly as His Airness exploded to the cup and jammed right over Atlanta center Tree Rollins.
Levingston might have been on the wrong end of this particular matchup. However, it wasn’t long before he teamed up with Michael Jordan and devised a pregame slogan that became synonymous with the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s.
Levingston created one of the Bulls’ “most famed pregame rituals”
Michael Jordan’s Bulls didn’t just dominate on the floor. Chicago also had theatrical elements that resonated with the general public.
The player introductions, set to the tune of Sirius by the Alan Parsons Project, are undeniably memorable. But Cliff Levingston gave the Bulls a different way of getting amped for games.
Chicago would gather in a huddle in the tunnel. Levingston would belt out, “What time is it?” to which the rest of the team responded, “Game time, woo!”
Players don’t remember exactly recall how Levingston began the routine. Former Bulls center Will Perdue even joked to Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic that Levingston had been known as the guy Jordan dropped with the pump fake. Regardless, as Perdue said, the tradition “took over.”
In fact, the ritual was so popular that it had an enduring legacy even after Levingston left the Bulls in 1992. Jordan refused to let it die.
Michael Jordan held auditions for the “What time is it?” role when he returned to the Bulls in 1995
Michael Jordan essentially became the arbiter in terms of which Bulls player would carry on the tradition that Cliff Levingston started in 1990.
Former Bulls guard Randy Brown told Mayberry the team held impromptu tryouts during preseason ahead of the 1995-96 campaign. Jordan essentially handpicked Brown for the job of hype man, which he retained as Chicago won three consecutive championships. For his part, Brown said he relished the role.
“I took pride in it,” Brown told Mayberry. “A lot of people don’t even know I’m from Chicago. I got a chance to play for my hometown. It was my time. I was in front of the team for 30 seconds, and I took it serious. I knew that was our staple. I didn’t know it was going to (live on). But I took pride in that. And think about it. I was the last person to do that. It hasn’t been done since 1998.”
Indeed, the tradition died after 1998. Coincidentally (or not), that was the final year of Jordan’s career.
Cliff Levingston might have been known as the guy Michael Jordan baptized before coming to Chicago. But he is more fondly remembered as a spirited Bull who created an enduring slogan beloved by Jordan himself.