Michael Jordan completed his run to the title in ESPN’s College Basketball Greatest of All Time bracket on March 31, defeating Nancy Lieberman, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Stephen Curry, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in public voting conducted on Twitter and Instagram. Though his NBA career is widely considered a more prominent part of Jordan’s basketball legacy, his greatness was established in the collegiate ranks, as Jordan led the North Carolina Tar Heels to a national championship as a freshman and was a key figure during the ACC’s golden era.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas bore witness to the rise of Jordan, playing against him five times in the North Carolina-Duke rivalry during the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons. Bilas reflected on what he experienced in watching and playing against Jordan as a competitor during that period.


Your first meeting against Michael Jordan was Jan. 22, 1983, about 9½ months after he made the iconic shot to beat Georgetown in the ’82 title game. What did you already know about Michael Jordan heading into that game at Carmichael Auditorium (a 103-82 North Carolina win), and what did you learn about him in that first meeting?

Bilas: We had played against the North Carolina players in fall pick-up games in both Chapel Hill and Durham. It didn’t take us very long to figure out exactly who the best player was, and it was Jordan. He was so athletic, quick and powerful … and his hands were huge. When our teams first met in Carmichael, it was a mismatch. Carolina were the defending champions, and we started all freshmen. Jordan was too good for us, but the entire Carolina team was too good. That team should have reached the Final Four that season, if not won it. People tend to forget that Carolina had Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, and Brad Daugherty on that team, too. They were spectacular. But Jordan (a career-high 32 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) was the best player, and impossible for us to contain. He was simply amazing, and never took a play off. Amazing.

What do you remember about Mike Krzyzewski’s game plan to neutralize him?

Bilas: Whatever the game plan was, we couldn’t properly execute it against Jordan our freshman year. We tried to limit his catches and pressure the ball and show help, but we were simply too young and inexperienced to limit him or limit Carolina.

Did the approach to defending Jordan change after his career-high 32-point outing in Game 1? Did those alterations matter?

Bilas: There were really no major changes in plan, it was simply that we were not old enough or experienced enough to be able to execute on the plan at the highest level. And, that’s where North Carolina and Jordan were … at the highest level. In the second game against Carolina, Jordan was defending against a run-out and leapt up to block a shot. In doing so, he hit his head on the backboard. I had never seen anyone hit their head on the backboard, and Jordan didn’t graze his head, he hit his head. That was superhuman.



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