You can’t tell the complete Michael Jordan story without discussing his legendary college career at North Carolina. Although UNC has been defined by success since Jordan’s days, he was a major part of rebuilding the program’s reputation. Without his college career, all of the NBA memories, shoe deals, and legendary moments would never have been possible.
Jordan’s college career and the rebirth of UNC
Dean Smith had already been at UNC for 20 years when Jordan came to the school. Although it had seen some success entering the Jordan years, it had been nearly three decades since they hoisted the championship trophy. Coming off of a loss in the NCAA Finals, however, Jordan was the perfect addition to set the team over the top.
He joined fellow future Hall-of-Famer James Worthy and Sam Perkins to create a three-headed attack that was too much to handle for the college basketball world. With Smith at the helm, Jordan’s freshman year was one of triumph that, to this day, he credits for making him the legend he became.
Jordan wasn’t yet the leader of the team from a scoring standpoint, but his presence alongside Worthy and Perkins was immediately felt. By the time the tournament came around, UNC was a juggernaut.
The 1982 NCAA Finals game
The 1982 NCAA Finals was one of the best games ever played. Not only did it see Jordan, Worthy, and the Tar Heels take the court, but it also saw Sleepy Floyd, Patrick Ewing, and the Georgetown basketball team led by the legendary John Thompson on the other end. The bloodbath, in many ways, would define the careers of all the big names involved.
Worthy was dominant, scoring 28 points on a blistering 13 of 17 from the field. On the other side of the court, Ewing led Georgetown with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and momentum. The Hoyas had a one-point lead heading into the final moments of the game and seemed to be headed to a national championship.
On the final possession, however, Jordan stepped up as he would so many times over the next two decades. UNC brought the ball down the court and passed it a few times before it ended up in the hands of their promising freshman. With 14 seconds left in the game, Jordan hit the jumper that sealed the championship and jumpstarted his career.
Jordan’s March Madness legacy
Some assume Jordan’s legendary game-winner was the last shot of his college career. However, while it was the biggest shot of his college career, he went on to play two more years. While UNC failed to repeat championship glory, these years saw Jordan grow into a perennial favorite. That shot, however, Jordan still credits for developing him into the NBA star he became.
“That was the birth of Michael Jordan,” he told Craig Sager in 2016, when UNC was back in the Finals. “Before then I was Mike Jordan. All of a sudden, I make that shot and I’m Michael Jordan. For me, it started my career.”
Worthy and Ewing went on to have Hall of Fame careers. But to this day, Jordan stands above the rest when people reminisce about this legendary Finals matchup. With March Madness just around the corner, perhaps a new young talent will emerge. After all, as Jordan showed, it only takes one moment to create a legend.
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