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Michael Jordan is The Greatest: The Flu Game 1997
To the question 'Who was the greatest sportsman of your time?', I really don't have to bat an eyelid for the answer. Michael Jordan it is.
True that comparisons are odious. The last two decades showcased legends like Maradona, Sampras, Lewis, Waugh, Bubka, Senna, Lara, PT Usha(by Indian standards - participating in 6 events and clobbering the rest of Asia is no mean feat) and so on. All of whom were assured of a permanent place in the annals of history.
But to give MJ his due place, one has to imagine a Maradona, the target of the opposing team, hounded by half the number of men, but with the playing space reduced to one-ninth of the original, playing in the most competitive league with little margin for error!
MJ started his career playing for the University of North Carolina as a teenager, piloting them to victory(63-62) in the 1982 NCAA final. He went on to collar the opposition in the 1984 Olympics which earned him a place with Chicago Bulls. He wasted no time hitting the headlines, amassing 63 points in a game against legend Larry Bird's Boston Celtics. It was to be the first of several NBA games where MJ scored half-centuries. From a short thin rookie dribbler, he had grown to be a strong all-round player who towered over the rest no matter what position he played.(Pic at left shows MJ firing the winning basket for UNC vs Georgetown Univ
Consider this, the Bulls swept the championships from 1991-93, MJ retired that year after his dad's shooting, returned in Mar 1995, scored 55 points against the '94 finalists within 2 weeks of his comeback, and anchored his side to another hatrick in the next 3 years(1996-98). MJ retired but returned again to play for the Washington Wizards for two years before quitting for good.
In Jun/Jul 1997, the cable operator withdrew ESPN from our locality denying our locality the chance of watching two of the greatest dramas enacted in the history of sport.
Australia went into Test 3 of Ashes 97 trailing 1-0 to a strong and tough English side. Steve Waugh ground out a great 100 on a treacherous track, 40 being the next top score. Australia gained a slender lead but Waugh broke his finger. Coming in at 3/39 in the 2nd knock, the great man battled acute pain and discomfort for 7 hours facing 271 balls, scoring a mind-boggling second 100 for the match. Waugh wrote in his Autobiography that it was the experience of a lifetime - every delivery that made contact with the bat sent a bolt of pain through his hand, the agony so numbing that he could barely see or feel anything other than put bat to ball.
That exhibition of resilience had a spectacular effect: England were utterly demolished in the 2nd knock and the next 2 tests as well, the Ashes retained!
But miles away, MJ had anchored the Bulls to yet another NBA triumph, against the powerful Utah Jazz side featuring all-time greats Malone and Stockton. It is revealing to look at the scores in the best-of-seven finals:
Game 1: 84-82 MJ 31
Game 2: 97-85 MJ 38
Game 3: 93-104 MJ 27 Malone 37
Game 4: 73-78 MJ 22
Game 5: 90-88 MJ 38
Game 6: 90-86 MJ 39
And it is that epic Game 5 which will be talked about for a long long time! The Jazz pulling back 2-2, the Bulls needed to win that tough away game to ensure they didn't have to play the deciding Game 7(if it came to that) on Utah's territory.
A flu-stricken MJ dragged himself out of the locker room after vomiting all night and throughout the match day. No sleep, no food, complete dehydration, no practice either.
The Bulls in the first quarter had no answer to the raucous 20000 strong crowd(in excess of 105 decibels) or the rampaging Jazz playing a rough physical game, Utah surging to a 16-point lead. MJ manages to pocket 17 in Q2 and the Bulls get their act together. But he had to pull out midway through Q3 and the Jazz sweep to a comfortable 77-69 lead in Q4.
MJ returns and promptly fires a 3-ptr, pulls them level with Jazz and gets the lead with an 18-footer(79-77, 3:55). Stockton retaliates and puts the Jazz ahead by a few. MJ's basket on the run makes it 83-84(2:40). The squiggly-wigglies are out as Pippen converts a free throw(84-85, 0:46.5). Referee calls for a time-out.
And like in every MGR-Nambiar movie, MJ delivers at the finish with this 3-ptr(88-85, 0:27) following a free throw. Barely able to stand, MJ rests on the bench with 6 seconds to go. The Bulls win 90-88 in the end, MJ 38 points in the 44 minutes he spent on court, influenza be damned.The two teams clashed again in the 1998 finals, MJ(45 pts) sinking a 3-ptr at the buzzer to make it a hat-trick of titles for the Bulls(Game 1: 85-88 MJ 33, Game 2: 93-88 MJ 37, Game 3: 96-54 MJ 24, Game 4: 86-82 MJ 34, Game 5: 81-83 MJ 28 Malone 39, Game 6: 87-86 MJ 45 Malone 31)