“That was the birth of Michael Jordan. Before that I was Mike. All of a sudden I make that shot and I’m Michael.”
– MJ on his game-winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA championship game
The year is 1982. Michael Jordan is a freshman at the University of North Carolina. Two years prior, MJ had attended a basketball camp hosted by UNC coach Dean Smith. In 1981, Michael accepted a full basketball scholarship from the University of North Carolina, the state where he was raised.
Back then, there was no Michael “Air“ Jordan yet. It was Mike Jordan from Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. Through the course of his freshman year at UNC, Mike became an integral part of a well-balanced Tar Heels team which featured future NBA legends James Worthy and Sam Perkins, playing an average of 32 minutes a game and scoring a solid, but not mind-blowing 13.5 points per game. The Heels were ranked as the number 1 seed of the East region to start the NCAA tourney.
After barely surviving against the number 9 seed James Madison with a narrow 52-50 victory in the first round, the Tar Heels started to gain momentum in the following rounds. Led by swingman James Worthy, they reached the Final Four in commanding fashion and were clear favorites to reach the Championship Game along with the Georgetown Hoyas and their star center Patrick Ewing, number 1 seed of the West region. Both teams took care of business in the semis to go on and face each other on college basketball’s biggest stage.
What a showdown! East versus West. Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith versus Hall of Fame Coach John Thompson. Michael Jordan versus Patrick Ewing. A game that featured 5 future NBA All Stars. Tip-off!
The game is closely contested. No big margins between the teams. It’s Heels, Hoyas, Heels, Hoyas and so forth. All in all, there are 15 lead changes! It’s a down to the wire affair. The final minute has started. Eric “Sleepy“ Floyd has just put the Hoyas back on top. The score is 62-61. Timeout North Carolina. Coach Dean Smith draws up a play. Will it be James Worthy, the Tar Heels’ leader? Will it be Sam Perkins, their second option? No. Dean Smith reckons that the Hoyas will focus their whole defense on his two star players. So he draws up a play for the freshman, Mike Jordan out of Wilmington, North Carolina. Mike will receive the ball on the left wing and pull up for the jumper. That’s the plan. Smith looks Mike in the eyes and tells him to not be afraid of the moment. And then the game continues…
UNC inbounds the basketball. They work the ball around the top of the key until one player is wide open on the left wing. There he is. Mike Jordan. He catches the ball in the shooter’s pocket wit 18 seconds on the game clock. He pulls up. Swish! The Tar Heels are up 63-62 with 15 seconds to play. Georgetown coach Thompson does not take a timeout. Instead, the Hoyas dribble the ball up court. Overwhelmed by the pressure, point guard Fred Brown has a complete meltdown and passes the ball to North Carolina’s James Worthy with 7 seconds left to play. There go all the Hoyas’ hopes… Although Worthy misses both free throws after being fouled, Georgetown cannot come back and the University of North Carolina wins the 1982 NCAA Basketball Championship. James Worthy gets voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. But one player in particular would be remembered for this game… Michael Jordan!