Ever since coming into the NBA world, the 5’10” tall, 162 lb Michael Adams had to prove himself worthy of getting playing time. The physically underwhelming guard with an awkward shot release wasn’t exactly what the NBA GMs were looking for out there on the market in the mid-1980s.
But after mostly sitting out throughout his rookie campaign with the Sacramento Kings, this Boston University product finally got his chance to prove what he could do with the 1986-87 Washington Bullets. In 20.7 minutes of action per contest, he came alive with averages of 7.2 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.0 rpg and 1.3 spg.
It was the Denver Nuggets who liked the promise Adams showed in the nation’s capital and decided to give him a full-time starting job. Throughout the next four seasons, from 1987-88 to 1990-91, Adams found himself a new home in Colorado while becoming one of the most explosive NBA point guards.
Unleashed to show what he could do in head coach Doug Moe’s freestyle version of a run & gun offense, the pesky point guard created havoc for opponents on both ends of the floor.
On defense, he pressed opponents and often came up with steals, leading into the lightning-quick Nuggets transition in which he dished the rock to the team’s stars, Alex English and Fat Lever. If he was left alone, Adams specialized in launching and hitting the transitional three-pointer.
Adams’ most productive career year came in 1990-91 when the Nuggets got a new coach – the ‘Guru of go’ Paul Westphall. All of a sudden, the Nuggets offense went from ‘run & gun’ to a warp version of ‘run & gun.’ And it was Adams, the team’s quarterback, who became instrumental in installing coach Westphall’s vision of constant whole court pressure and 7-8 second attack waves.
Playing at such a wild tempo, the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets experiment didn’t turn out well for the team overall, which finished the season with a 20-62 record and the last in the Midwest Division standings. But every once in a while, on some special nights, the Nuggets’ novel style of play caught some of the opponents off guard and out of sync.
Such was the case on December 26th, 1990, when the 6-20 Nuggets visited the 6-19 Kings in Sacramento. And with Kings guard department standing at only two names – Rory Sparrow and Travis Mays – it was an ideal opportunity for Adams to smash the team that once when he was a rookie, gave up on him.
That night in ARCO Arena, from the very first minute, it was Michael Adams’ show all over the court! He smoothly went around his defender for an uncontested lay-up or an assist to an open teammate. Then he pressed some more, came up with a steal, and did it all over again. And as the game progressed, the Kings didn’t match up to his potentially deadly perimeter shooting, and Adams shot the lights out!
Adams lit up the Kings with 44 points in 37 minutes of action while converting 17-26 shots from the field and 7-11 three-point shots. He also dished out a total of 10 assists and collected 5 steals! That particular game still stands as one of the primary examples of what Adams could do in his prime.
As one of the premium guards in the NBA, who could not be pushed around anymore, Adams finished the 1990-91 season with his career-best numbers of 26.5 ppg and 10.5 apg.
This accomplishment secured him the starting job in another team, which kind of passed on him in the past – the Washington Bullets. It was Bullets GM Wes Unseld who embraced Adams in the summer of 1991 and got him the keys to the team from the nation’s capital between 1991 and 1994. Adams responded in his style, and in 1992 he was picked for the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team.