On this date 32 years ago, second-year player Michael Jordan put on a record-setting performance in Game 2 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Celtics, scoring 63 points in a 2-OT loss.
MJ’s performance surpassed Elgin Baylor’s 61-point performance from the 1962 NBA Finals and still stands as the NBA Playoff scoring record. Jordan averaged 43.7 points per game in the series, but was unable to prevent the Bulls from being swept by a more experienced, more talented Celtics team. The Bulls set a dubious mark by posting the second worst record for a playoff-qualifying team in history, going just 30–52 during the season.
Jordan had publicly battled Bulls management to even play in the series. In the third game of the regular season, he broke a bone in his left foot and was sidelined for over 60 games. The Bulls wanted him to sit and heal completely for the following season. Jordan forced the Bulls to play him on a limited basis. He was ready to roll come playoff time.
In the game, Jordan was 22-for-41 overall, did not attempt a 3-pointer and made 19 of his 21 free throws.
Game 2, where the record was set, was ranked by TV Guide as the 26th Most Memorable Moment in Television History, and is credited with boosting the NBA’s popularity surge and eventual rise to near the top of the United States television sports market, trailing only football by the mid-90s.
Said Larry Bird: “I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan. He is the most awesome player in the NBA. He was hitting outside shots, driving to the hole. We had about everyone on the team guarding him.”
The Celtics went 67-15 that season and went on to win the NBA title. That team featured five future Hall of Famers (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Bill Walton). Hall of Famer George Gervin was on the Bulls, but was in his last season and played only five minutes in Game 2.