One of Jordan’s toughest opponents “He never backed down, he shocked me a little bit.”

One of Jordan’s toughest opponents “He never backed down, he shocked me a little bit.”

Celtics legend Reggie Lewis faced Michael Jordan 24 times throughout his six-year-long NBA career, unfortunately, cut short by tragic death on July 27th, 1993. One of their most exciting matchups took place on December 6th, 1988, when the two great scorers combined for 71 points in a game! 

As a rookie for the 1986 NBA Champions 6’7’’, Lewis appeared in only 49 games played 8.3 minutes per game, thus averaging quiet 4.5 points and 1.3 boards per game. But the Celtics President, legendary Red Auerbach, knew what kind of great scorer’s mentality Lewis had and thus believed in him all along.

With Celtics leading star Larry Bird out because of an injury only six games into the 1988-89 season, the moment for Lewis to shine in the Celtics green had finally arrived.

It was clear the expectations for Reggie were very high at that time. There was a lot of pressure on him, but it didn’t seem to phase him at all.

Michael Jordan, ESPN

Lewis and Jordan went at each other from the first minute of the tied contest. Both of them really had to work themselves into a good shooting position. The difference was that MJ handled the ball most of the time for the Bulls, while Lewis had to find his opportunities within the Celtics offensive sets.

The 2nd year pro covered by the 1987-88 NBA Defensive player of the year in Michael Jordandid a quite admirable job in reading the Bulls defense, coming off the screens, and launching a wide array of mid-range jump-shots. Jordan had real trouble challenging those just like Lewis, who had quite a trouble matching MJ’s leaping ability and creativity at the other end of the floor.

He was a tough matchup. He had those long arms that really bothered me. I was trying to be aggressive with him. I was trying to take advantage of his passive demeanor, but he didn’t back down. He never relinquished his own aggressiveness. He shocked me a little bit.

Michael Jordan, ESPN

Amazingly, according to Michael Jordan’s recollection back from 2013, Reggie Lewis was, along with the Pistons All-Star shooting guard Joe Dumars, one of the rare players who never ever talked trash to him!

Joe never talked trash. And Reggie was the same way. If you started yapping at either of those guys, they just smiled at you. They had that inner confidence where they believed, ‘You can say what you want, but I’m still going to play my game.

Michael Jordan, ESPN

That night in Chicago, Lewis played 43 minutes, scored 33 points on 13-24 shooting from the field, went 7-10 from the charity stripe, and went along with 6 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals. Jordan played the same amount of minutes and outscored Lewis by five points, on 14-20 shooting from the field, went 10-11 from the line, to go along with 9 boards, 5 assists, and 5 steals in 100-105 Bulls home win.

He had success against Jordan in other games, too. Michael would have 37, and Reggie would have 32, so all the talk was about MJ, but Reggie was right there.

Brian Shaw, ESPN

Over the 1988-89 campaign, Lewis became one of the most promising young stars in the league, more than quadrupling his scoring average from the rookie season to 18.5ppg on 48.6% shooting from the field, to go along with 4.7rpg, 2.7apr, 1.5spg, and 0.9bpg in 32.8 minutes of play per game.

One of the Boston Celtics all-time greats, Lewis became an All-Star in 1991-92. He died the same off-season Michael Jordan retired from the game for the first time, before the 1993-94 NBA season.