The superstar in the making, the kid from Wilmington, N.C., Michael Jordan, wasn’t exactly a stranger to the basketball world outside the United States, before the 1984 L.A. Olympics.
One year earlier, Team USA had a hectic summer agenda before making a trip to the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela (August 14-29). In one of the friendly preparation games for that tournament, the USA traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, M.J. paced the team to an easy win with a spectacular display of his superb flying ability.
The 1983 USA PanAm Team coached by Jack Hartman (Kansas State) featured some of the leading collegian players of that era. Besides Jordan, who was the star of this group, the team’s core featured a skilled duet of lefty forwards Sam Perkins and Wayman Tisdale, and a tremendous complementary outside shooting by 6’6″ Chris Mullin and an 18-year old Georgia Tech recruit, 5’11” PG Mark Price.
Puerto Rico aggressively opened the game on both ends of the floor. On offense, its chances to win in this friendly contest were encouraged by a great play of the Puerto Rican basketball legend, sharp-shooting guard Ruben Rodriguez, who was knocking down jumpers from the corner almost at will.
However, as expected, high-flying Jordan soon took matters in his own hands and quickly silenced the capacity crowd in the San Juan’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum. More experienced Puerto Rican guards tried hard to contain super-agile Jordan, but this soon became their mission impossible. Whenever the kid from North Carolina had a creative pause, Mullin made up for M.J. with his sizzling outside shooting!
The climax of the game came with its most spectacular play. Future NBA referee Leon Wood led the 3-on-1 break and launched a stunning no-look pass to his cutting teammate with the #9 on his uniform. Jordan caught the ball and went up for a spectacular two-handed slam over P.R. guard Angelo Cruz.
In the 1983 PanAm Games, it was all business for Jordan and his teammates. M.J. paced the team by averaging 17.3ppg on 44.8% shooting, and the USA easily cruised to a perfect 8-0 record. The final game vs. Puerto Rico was another formality for Team USA, which posted an easy 101-85 win.
One year later, Jordan will introduce himself and his game to a worldwide auditorium with his masterful performance at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. While leading the USA to collect the Olympic gold, the 1984 Naismith college player of the year averaged team-best 17.1 points per game.