by Aaron Kaplowitz
It was a shot that meant everything in a game that meant nothing.
Trailing the Western Conference All Stars by two points with under ten seconds of overtime remaining in the 2003 All-Star Game, Jason Kidd delivered the basketball to Michael Jordan on the right wing, and like everyone else on the court, stood around and watched the master go to work. Jordan, having just turned 40 years old and playing in his final all star game, was given the opportunity to deliver a parting buzzer beater on the grand stage.
In a scene that we had witnessed on so many unappreciated occasions, Jordan caught the ball and, with his unmatchable determination, commenced his final soliloquy that would pave the way to a stage exit.
Guarded by Shawn Marion, a most unpopular task, Jordan feigned a backdown dribble with his left hand, and quickly – although less quickly than in year’s past – spun to his right and took one dribble toward the baseline. He composed himself, squaring his body to the basket, and elevated for an astonishingly difficult fadeaway over the sinewy six-foot-seven Marion. Falling back, with his right leg kicked forward, Jordan lofted a high-arcing shot over Marion’s outstretched arm, sending the ball on a 1.5-second flight high over the rim before it impossibly splashed through the net.
So fitting. The greatest basketball player of all-time would leave his final mark against the best of the next generation. Steven Spielberg couldn’t have directed it more poignantly, but, this script was Shakespearean, wrought with irony and tragedy. Instead of hitting the game-winng shot, Jordan watched helplessly as Jermaine O’Neal fouled Kobe Bryant on a last-second three. The 24-year-old would hit two of three free throws, enough to tie the game and solidfy his role as the heir apparent.
It’s fun to romanticize about Jordan’s final stint in the Wizards uniform that clashed so drastically with his likeness. Who can forget the block on Ron Mercer? Or how he managed to reinvent himself as a small forward? His 43-point game against the Nets…And of course, his final All Star game…
But there’s always that pang of doubt about MJ’s decision to come out of retirement for a second time as a Wizard. Who could have asked for a more perfect final act than The Shot over Byron Russell? Of course, the answer to that is Michael Jordan. And of course, things don’t always work out like they do in the movies.
But for those 1.5 seconds, we got one more chance to experience that knowing feeling that the greatest ever was going to do it again. Granted, the shot was a production of sorts with everybody knowing and accepting that Jordan would get the ball. That, however, doesn’t detract from the sheer wonder of the shot, it only enhances it.
For the game Jordan shot an UnJordanlike 9-27 from the floor, as he struggled to keep up with the athleticism and length of those stars enjoying their prime. But he was able to hang with them and restore his pride with the unforgettable shot over Marion.
For those who grew up on Jordan, this was a final bittersweet display of an aging genius holding onto his unwavering determination. One person can only get so many storybook endings, but reminding a transfixed generation of fans that he can still capitalize in the clutch was an epilogue for the ages.
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