Michael Jordan’s breakthrough Bulls moment on opening night in 1989

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, NBA Opening Night (Photo: KIMBERLY BARTH/AFP via Getty Images)
Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, NBA Opening Night (Photo: KIMBERLY BARTH/AFP via Getty Images) /

The NBA is back, and as fans are excited to watch opening night, we can revisit Michael Jordan‘s 54-point statement game to kick off the 1989-90 season. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to a strong start to their season against their division rivals, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jordan notoriously had huge games vs. Cleveland; this includes back-to-back 50-point games in the 1988 playoffs. The following playoffs, Jordan hit his famous “The Shot” in the 1989 playoffs.

MJ’s career high in points was also against the Cavs, and it even occurred later in the 1989-90 season when he scored 69 points. For the opening night in the 1989-90 season, however, Jordan only managed to drop 54 points on Cleveland.

Jordan shot 19-for-31 from the field while adding 14 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals to a monstrous box score total. Even with Jordan dominating, the Cavs played tough and managed to keep things close. The Bulls won each of the first three quarters by one point, two points, and one point. In the fourth, the Cavs stormed back and looked to win the game…

… at least, they did before Jordan would hit a clutch jumper with 3 seconds remaining on the clock. Cleveland’s hopes quickly faded away as the Bulls would go on to win the game 124-119 in overtime.

Michael Jordan supplied Bulls fans with one of the most memorable opening nights in franchise history in 1989.

On top of Jordan’s great performance, he had help from his teammates. Scottie Pippen scored 19 points while adding 7 assists and 3 rebounds. Bill Cartwright scored 17 points while adding 15 rebounds. This would signify what the Bulls needed to do to have a successful season. Jordan needed help from his teammates. The question that remained was, would he get the help?

Jordan and the Bulls would go on to have the most successful season in franchise history up to that point. Chicago went 55-27 on the season, while Jordan averaged 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 2.8 steals per game.

The Bulls would reach the Eastern Conference Finals and face the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons for the second straight season. Unfortunately, the Bulls would fall to the Pistons once again in the playoffs, this time in seven games.

Pippen had a famous meltdown in Game 7, suffering from a migraine, holding him to just 2 points on 1-for-10 shooting from the field. Horace Grant wasn’t much better, shooting 3-for-17 and totaling just 10 points.

There was light at the end of the tunnel, however, as the 1989-90 season was also Phil Jackson‘s first as head coach, and there was a feeling that maybe the Bulls could turn their fortunes around in the near future. Oh, how right they would be.

The Chicago Bulls would go on to win six NBA titles in the next eight years, creating one of the greatest dynasties across all sports. As for Jordan, his six Finals MVP awards, to go along with the titles, solidified his place as the greatest to ever play the game.

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