It was just the fifth game of his pro career, but the Bulls rookie Michael Jordan was already a nationwide phenomenon. He was all over TV and radio news, newspaper and magazine covers. Everyone, wherever the Bulls played, wanted to take a glimpse of the new global sports sensation.
In Denver, on November 1st, 1984, the spectacular rookie had to face one of the best NBA perimeter defenders of that time, the Nuggets shooting guard T.R. Dunn.
The 6’4″ Nuggets defensive specialist was voted to the NBA All-Defensive Team three times in a row (1983-85) and was known across the league for his stiff perimeter defense and excellent rebounding. As expected, from the very start of the showdown in the McNichols Sports Arena, Dunn played stiff defense on Jordan. But already then, at the very beginning of his pro career, MJ feared no one!
MJ knew that Dunn would be just another test of his skill set and abilities. He was confident that he could stick the jumper over Dunn whenever he wanted. Alongside scoring, MJ displayed a great ability to spot up the open teammates and accurately distribute the ball at the right moment.
As athletic as he ever was, MJ knew he could go to the basket at will. On several occasions, that frontal attack led him straight towards the Nuggets leading shot-blocker 6’10” center Wayne Cooper. When Cooper rejected one of his shots from the lane, MJ recuperated, regained possession, and went for a reverse lay-up.
Next time down the floor, Jordan set up the play. When Quintin Dailey’s shot was rejected, Jordan came up with another offensive board, which resulted in yet another great play. With Nuggets power forward Calvin Natt trying to block his shot from the lane, Air Jordan suddenly suspended in the air, switched hands, and went for a spectacular left-handed lay-up!
That night the Nuggets handed out the raging Bulls their second loss of the season by winning the high-scoring affair in by 113-129. Natt led all scorers by scoring 31 points on 11-15 shooting from the field.
This was one of just nine games of Jordan’s rookie season in which MJ Jordan scored 19 or fewer points – MJ scored 17 points on 7-15 shooting, and added 5 boards, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 blocked shot.
But being known for his tremendous competitiveness, thriving to be the best in whatever he does, MJ certainly didn’t forget this November loss in Denver. When the Nuggets visited the Chicago Stadium on January 14th, 1985, Jordan was on top of his game.
“He didn’t forget. When Denver came to our building, later on, Michael hurt his ankle in the third quarter, and we wanted him out of the game, which we were winning. He just kept saying, ‘I gotta play. I gotta play.‘ And he went back out there and finished up with a triple-double on T.R. Dunn. Message sent and received. The next day in practice, I said, ‘Michael, take it easy. Let the ankle heal.‘ I’ll never forget what he said: ‘No, I can’t, Coach. I’ll lose my rhythm.‘ And he practiced hard that day on an ankle nobody would have even played on.”Fred Carter, Chicago Bulls assistant coach 1983-85
Facing Dunn and Bill Hanzlik again, MJ torched the Nuggets with 35 points on 11-16 shooting, completing the triple-double with 14 boards and 15 assists, en route to an easy 113-122 Bulls win!