‘The Shot’ that changed the Bulls’ trajectory and became my favorite NBA moment

It had become clear that either the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Chicago Bulls were next in line to challenge the Detroit Pistons for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

The Cavs were talented enough. They had big man Brad Dougherty, sharpshooter Mark Price, up-and-coming guard Ron Harper, star forward Larry Lance and then a stellar sixth man in Craig Ehlo. The Bulls couldn’t necessarily match talent for talent, but they did have a player in Scottie Pippen that had the tools to be a star. And, of course, they had Michael Jordan, who was already establishing himself as the future of the league.

So hanging in the balance was the heir to the East throne.

The Cavaliers went 57-25 that season, had tied for the league’s second-best record and had gone 6-0 during the regular season against the Bulls. The Bulls were still on their slow climb to respectability, with a lineup that also included Horace Grant.

Michael Jordan (23) right with Craig Ehlo of Cleveland.

Michael Jordan (23) right with Craig Ehlo of Cleveland.

That’s why Jordan hitting “The Shot” in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference first-round series on May 7, 1989, over Ehlo carried so much significance.

On that play, Jordan hangs in the air for a long while, finally unleashing the foul-line jumper after Ehlo jumped past him and silenced the Cleveland crowd.

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Part of what made the play so special was the reactions afterward. Jordan pumped his fist repeatedly before his teammates embraced him. And Bulls coach Doug Collins frenetically ran around the court, grabbing and hugging anyone he could get his hands on. Pippen danced off the court. Ehlo, meanwhile, crumpled to the court, distraught.

I was hooked. Growing up in Chicago, I started paying close attention to the Bulls only when Jordan arrived. I watched the occasional game, but was more apt to go to Chicago Stadium to watch Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and Keith Magnuson, not Bob Love, Chet Walker and Jerry Sloan.

Then Jordan came aboard. That changed everything. And then came “The Shot,” which solidified my love of the Bulls and then the NBA.

More than anything else, Jordan’s shot was the genesis of the Bulls’ come-up. And us Bulls fans knew that this was just the beginning.

Jordan and the Bulls were far from champions at that point. The win against the Cavaliers represented just his second playoff series victory.

Jordan would say later, “We started to get over the hump of loser’s mentality. We were starting to become a winning franchise. And the sky was the limit.”

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Indeed it was. The Bulls went on to the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons that season and two years later began their run of six NBA titles in an eight-year span.

Follow Larry Starks on Twitter @LarryStarksNBA.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Jordan hit ‘The Shot’ and Bulls shed their ‘loser’s mentality’

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