Young Michael Finley, a Proviso East high-school (Maywood, Illinois) graduate, had most of his basketball dreams come true when he led his school to the 1991 Illinois High School State Championship and eventually made the all-tournament team.
But even in his wildest dreams, this teenager couldn’t have hoped that while still in high school, he would get the chance to face the best basketball player on the planet – the Chicago Bulls’ superstar Michael Jordan.
The player many today consider the G.O.A.T., not just in basketball but also in all sports, was, back then, on the verge of winning the first of three consecutive NBA Championships with the Bulls. Finley traveled to the Deerfield Multiplex (Deerfield, Illinois), where he got a surreal Space Jam opportunity to face Jordan and test his skills in a game of H.O.R.S.E and a 1-on-1 scrimmage!
For a teenager basketball star in the making, Finley did just O.K. He matched most of MJ’s shots in H.O.R.S.E., except, of course, for the jumper from the right-wing which Jordan made with his left hand!
Then, after Jordan won the game, Finley got an exclusive opportunity to play 1-on-one with His Airness.
Although Finley scored the first basket, Mike was just relentless, showing no mercy to anyone then or ever – even with Finley actively guarding him. Jordan scored on the next three trips to the basket, finishing off the game with a penetrating move resulting in an easy dunk for the final score – 3-1.
Interestingly enough, afterward, while talking about the rematch, the 1991 NBA MVP mentioned that they could again square off in about five years.
‘I think he was nervous. I think he brought all his buddies from school or whatever…they made you nervous, didn’t they? I give you a rematch. I don’t know, I see you in about five years, hopefully.’
As usual, Jordan’s words proved to be right on the money – he and Finley, the Suns’ rookie, coming in from the University of Wisconsin, would again meet as pros during the 1995/96 NBA season.
In two exciting and long-awaited match-ups, the much more experienced Jordan, on his way back from establishing the 1990s Bulls dynasty, easily dominated, scoring over the Suns’ rookie with ease. However, even with Jordan outscoring Finley 59-30, the two powerhouses split the season series at 1-1.
Finley, who showed a great deal of promise as a starting shooting guard for the 1995/96 Phoenix Suns, went on to enjoy a stellar 15-year NBA career with career stops in Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio, and Boston. He won his only NBA Championship Ring with the 2006/07 San Antonio Spurs.