Michael Jordan’s legend only seems to grow in retirement. Kevin Garnett recently told a hilarious story about the time Jordan heard him trash-talking during his rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and responded by taking over the game in the fourth quarter. If Garnett’s story highlighted Jordan’s legendary competitiveness, a story told by Magic Johnson recently showed a less public side of Jordan’s personality: his passion for gambling.
Jordan’s love of gambling is no secret. There are stories of Jordan being spotted in an Atlantic City casino the night before a 1993 playoff game against the New York Knicks. There was a book written about Jordan piling up over $1 million in gambling debt over failed golf bets. And now, according to Johnson, one of the greatest moments of Jordan’s career happened because he was upset over losing a card game the night before.
Jordan’s “Shrug Game” against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals is a huge part of his mystique. MJ made only 27 three-pointers during the entire 1991-1992 regular season, but somehow hit six first half threes against the Blazers in Game 1 of the Finals. His response after hitting so many in a row was an iconic shrug. According to Johnson, that shrug was directed at him after the former Lakers star had beaten him in a card game the night before.
Lakers legend Magic Johnson just told me Michael Jordan’s shrugging his shoulders when he drained 6 3’s against the Blazers was because Magic beat him in a card game the night before. pic.twitter.com/6JLPDI97MD— Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson, M.A. (@ScoopB) February 14, 2020
Here’s a full transcription of Johnson’s story:
The night before he hit all of them threes against Portland, we’re playing bid whist at his house. His dad and I, we bust him up, we tore him up, I’m running six nose and five specials on Michael.”
So we play and I say: ‘Michael I gotta go home, you’ve got a game. Because remember, I’m working for NBC at that game, so I’m coming the game. He said: ‘nah MJ’ [Magic Johnson] because Mike was just so competitive. When he loses, he don’t want you to leave.
So we play and I say no I’m going home to the hotel. Remember, he made four, five in a row. When he made that last one, he turned to the scorers table — he was turning to me. He was so hot that night. He owed me a lot. Because I’m the one he was mad at, that’s why he took it out on Clyde Drexler the next day.
Bid whist was essentially the precursor to bridge. You can read the rules here.
Is Johnson telling the truth? Did Jordan really shrug at him and use his gambling frustrations as motivation against the Trail Blazers? We’ll never know, but it’s a story that’s too fun to be seriously questioned.
In case you needed more evidence of how much basketball has changed since the ‘90s: Malik Beasley hit six threes in the first half in his debut for the Timberwolves last month, and it mostly went unnoticed.
Give us all of the Jordan stories, please. They never stop being fascinating.