It was 25 years ago today, at General Motors Place in downtown Vancouver, that Michael Jordan added one of the great regular-season chapters to his already teeming Chicago Bulls legacy.
For the Grizzlies, in their first season as an expansion team, it was a red-letter day—the first time Jordan, now the owner of the Hornets, and the defending champs would play a game in Canada. For the Bulls, it was a bit of a chore, the sixth game of a seven-game, 12-day road trip they took early each season to accommodate the circus coming to Chicago.
In the early going, the Bulls played like a team that was tired of being on the road, Jordan in particular. This was an eye-opener for the locals, including one of the players for the Grizzlies, forward Antonio Harvey, who had grown up with Jordan as his idol. Vancouver was 2-12 at the time and would win 15 games that year. Jordan’s Bulls were 11-2 and would win 72 games.
This did not look like it would be one of those wins. Harvey picks up the story, which he told me for my book, Facing Michael Jordan:
“He was having a real tough night,” Harvey said. “I think he was 4-for-15 from the field, he had only 10 points, and he sat out most of the third quarter. Just a really poor night for a player like Michael Jordan. We came from behind and we were winning the game in the fourth quarter.
“We were an expansion team, it was our first season. We won 15 games that year—everyone was there to see Jordan, not us. But our fans were really into the game, they were giving us a standing ovation because it looked like we were actually going to win. It was a really cool moment for a team that was supposed to be as bad as us.”
Talking Trash to Michael Jordan? Bad Idea
Then one of the Grizzlies did something always unadvisable when facing Jordan—he talked trash. The player was Darrick Martin, a second-year guard who had been plucked from the Timberwolves in the expansion draft.
Martin was averaging 6.5 points in 17.0 minutes at the time but felt he had some standing with Jordan because he’d been one of the players who appeared alongside Jordan in the movie Space Jam the previous summer. With 8:35 to play in the game, Martin knocked down a 3-pointer that put the Grizzlies up, 85-78.
Martin approached the Bulls bench. Again, Harvey:
“The long and short of it is, Darrick thought they were kind of like friends because of the movie because they had hung out during the summer and Darrick thought that meant he could talk trash. So—I have to clean it up, I can’t tell you what was said word-for-word—but Darrick started yelling, ‘Aw, Mike, it’s just not falling tonight, Mike!’ And he ran by their bench and yelled, ‘I told you we were going to beat you, Mike!’”
The Grizzlies could have had a signature win in the franchise’s first season. For the Bulls, it would have been mostly a meaningless loss and Jordan might have stayed on the bench for the rest of the fourth quarter. But Jordan is a bear you don’t want to poke. Martin poked him. Jordan told coach Phil Jackson he wanted to go back in.
“Michael is listening to Darrick and finally, he gets up and checks back into the game,” Harvey said. “He proceeded to score, I think it was 20 points in a row, in just a few minutes. (Jordan scored 19 points in a row, in a six-minute span.) He was doing it all — he was posting up, he was driving to the basket, he was dunking.”
Jordan’s 19 points carried the load for the Bulls, who held the Grizzlies to three the rest of the way. So an 85-78 lead turned into a 94-88 loss.
“Michael hit a fadeaway, falling toward our bench,” Harvey said. “After it went in, he went and leaned down in front of Darrick Martin and said, ‘Shut up, you little (expletive)!’”
Byron Scott’s Lament
The Grizzlies didn’t last long from there. The team would go just 101-317 in its first six seasons in Vancouver before the franchise was bought and moved to Memphis. Among those 317 losses, though, was one of the great Jordan-led wins of the Bulls’ championship era.
More than Martin, the guy who suffered most was Byron Scott. While Martin’s mouth got the Grizzlies in trouble, it was the veteran Scott who spent most of the fourth quarter trying to defend Jordan.
“And Byron was at the end of his career, thirty-four or thirty-five years old, trying to keep up with Michael Jordan,” Harvey said. “And Michael was playing angry, which is not a good thing if you’re guarding him. After the game, Byron Scott comes into the locker room and you could tell he was heated, he was not happy with the way that game ended. We had a chance to win a big game on our home floor.
“So it was quiet, and he turns to Darrick and says, ‘Hey, man, do me a favor. Don’t talk (expletive) to my guy. Reserve that stuff for your guy.’ Oh, it was something else. It was maybe the greatest performance I have ever seen firsthand, it was that good.”
Harvey, for one, learned a lesson that day.
“That was the thing you learned from playing against him,” he said. “You can’t give him any motivation.”