Michael Jordan had just finished his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1985 when he boarded an international flight for a European tour with Nike. Jordan posed with the Eiffel Tower in Paris and held a training session with young players in London. He also came to the city of Trieste in northeast Italy to play in an exhibition game with two local clubs and that happened to produce one of the great forgotten moments of his career.
Jordan’s fame was starting to take off as he arrived in Italy in August 1985. He had helped North Carolina win the NCAA championship in 1982 and had won a gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics with Team USA in 1984. Jordan had just been named Rookie of the Year with the Bulls, and was a month away from releasing the ‘Air Jordan 1’ with Nike.
On the brink of becoming one of the most recognizable people in the world, Jordan put on an orange-and-black Stefanel Trieste jersey and scored 30 points against Juve Caserta in the exhibition run. This was Jordan at the peak of his raw athletic powers, with springs in his legs and an incredible agility he could call on in mid-air. A young Jordan was defined by his athletic grace more than his power, but the two gifts came together for one amazing moment in Italy.
Late in the game, Jordan attacked the basket in transition and took off for a dunk. The force of his slam shattered the backboard, sending glass everywhere as the game was paused to clean it up.
YouTube also has full highlights of Jordan’s performance in the game. Just watching the way a young Jordan moves around the court is captivating; he has several instances of aerial acrobatics in this game that are worth your time. Just check out how beautiful this still picture is.
Jordan Brand vice president Howard White told the story of what it was like to see the play happen in person:
“Glass was everywhere. The backboard exploded. I’m looking at his eyes, his ears …looking for little bits of glass,” remembers Howard White, VP of Jordan Brand. “In the moment, it was wild. It was a little scary, because we didn’t know where the glass was going. They were playing and then there was that moment. I don’t know of any moment where one can detect something otherworldly has happened, but that one has become something grand. For MJ, though, it was just a moment in the game.”
Read another account of the game here.
Jordan’s career is full of iconic moments, from “The Shot over Ehlo” to the “The Shrug” to the “Flu Game” to his final jumper with the Bulls, with hundreds more sprinkled in between. It feels strange to find an ‘underrated’ Jordan moment considering how celebrated his career is, but the shattered backboard dunk certainly qualifies.