The Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons square up in Paris this Thursday. The last time the City of Light played host to the Bulls was in 1997, when Michael Jordan’s legendary team came to town. Let’s take a look back at how that memorable event played out.
It was a preseason tournament, the McDonald Championship. This competition was the product of early attempts to create some sort of platform for international basketball, which involved six professional teams each year.
The Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks slowly found their feet, but as the nineties came to an end and the competition gained traction, there was only one name being uttered across France.
Jordan in Paris? That’s better than any royalty, French fans said when they heard the greatest player in the world would be playing in their capital for a series of games.
There was a sense of whipped frenzy, excitement, and yet an element of mystery. They hadn’t seen him play in the flesh yet, they weren’t sure of what level of eminence to expect.
Victory over Paris Saint-Germain
The Bulls and Jordan were thrown head-first into their McDonald Championship camp, against hosts Paris Saint-Germain. Chicago claimed an 89-82 win in the opener as fans, members of media and celebrities watched with bated breath.
Though PSG were able to slow Jordan’s free shooting and scoring that day, he was still able to snap up an impressive 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals, despite playing with an infected toe for which he had received treatment.
All PSG’s Yugoslavian coach Bozidar Maljkovic could say after the game was “without Michael Jordan, we would have won.” Wasn’t that always the case?
While those watching could bask in the joy of what they’d just seen, the scene within the Bulls setup wasn’t as rosy. They knew Jordan had been their saviour, but the support act was severely lacking, especially with notable injuries to Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
The opposition reaction
Perhaps PSG had sensed that too, the man to target was Jordan himself, and they did attempt to double up on the big man, but as Jordan himself rightly pointed out after the game, there was a sense of nervousness, anxiety and perhaps even reverence riffling through the opposition side.
When the PSG coach shouted at his top scorer Eric Streulens to get physical with Jordan, Streulens made an exaggerated attempt to bump Jordan out of a post-up and then seemed to apologize almost immediately.
On another day it might’ve been a different result, but for the most part, simply the effects of playing on the same court with someone of his caliber did the job, just as LeBron James is seeing this year as he inches his way past 38k points to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s points records.
Life in Paris
It wasn’t just the games that Jordan was confined to being a superstar in. He would often pick Paris to strut around and seamlessly blend in to the background without being noticed. His celebrity presence in the capital hadn’t altogether gelled yet and it was the perfect place for him to seek out his own time.
Of course, there were still public moments, which the locals adored. From traveling to French bars and clubs to signing autographs at electric stores, doing promotions in radio stations to even being spotted in McDonalds itself, the European life suited Jordan and the Bulls very well.
How things ended for the Bulls
The tournament came to an end, the Bulls the unofficial world champions, Jordan supreme with a blistering 27 points in 29 minutes in the final rout of European Champions Olympiakos, it was a sight to behold.
“I hope the fans have been pleased, even for the little time I was on the court for” Jordan said in one of his final press conferences “I hope I made some kind of impact”.
He sure did. When the Bulls return this Thursday to play the Pistons, the fans will perhaps remember what happened the last time his team arrived to play, and wonder whether they’ll ever see anything so great ever again.