LeBron James & Michael Jordan’s 10 Best Games In Florida

  • 10. Michael Jordan

    Feb. 14, 1990
    49 points
    It’s a sports trivia regular: what jersey number did MJ wear beside no. 23 and no. 45? By this point, almost 25 years later—has it really been that long?!—you all probably know the story. Someone snuck into Chicago’s locker room in Orlando before a regular season game during the middle of the 1989-90 season and stole Jordan’s jersey. It was only about 90 minutes before tipoff, which had the team’s equipment manager getting creative. After discovering none of the fans’ replica jerseys in the crowd fit, they went with the extra uniform they always brought in case of an emergency. It was a no. 12 and it had no name on the back.

    “That has never happened to me before,” Jordan told the Orlando Sentinel after the game. “It’s pretty irritating because you’re accustomed to certain things and you don’t like to have things misplaced.”

    Despite the harsh words, Jordan didn’t mind. He scored 49 points that night while taking 43 shots. If he looked frustrated and intent on putting on a show, it’s probably because he was. It had nothing to do with the jersey, either. Reggie Theus was playing for the Magic at the time, the player, it was revealed in The Jordan Rules, that MJ hated the most.

    Orlando actually won this game, though no one remembers that or probably even cares.

    1 of 10
  • 9. Michael Jordan

    Game 2, 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals
    38 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 blocks
    Jordan might’ve just returned from baseball, but Nick Anderson should’ve known his history. You don’t talk smack to MJ and you don’t challenge him. Yet after the Bulls lost Game 1 of their ’95 semifinal series in Orlando, with Jordan faltering down the stretch, Anderson did the unthinkable.

    “Number 45 doesn’t explode like number 23 used to,” Anderson told the media before Game 2. “Number 23, he could just blow by you. He took off like a space shuttle. Number 45, he revs up, but he doesn’t really take off.”

    Wow.

    What happened next was predictable. Jordan threw up the ultimate F-U and brought back the old 23, rebelling against the NBA in the process. Chicago tied the series easily and Mike threw up a classic, repeatedly embarrassing Anderson with jumpers in his face.

    “Forty-five is in mothballs, 23 is back,” a normal-looking Craig Sager said.

    We never saw 45 again.

    2 of 10
  • 8. LeBron James

    Game 4, 2009 Eastern Conference Finals
    44 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists
    Let’s blame LeBron for everything. Let’s blame him for not taking Cleveland to a title. Let’s blame him for running Mike Brown out of town. Let’s blame him for the Decision. Let’s blame him for losing focus in the 2010 Playoffs. And yes, let’s blame him for blowing the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals against the Magic.

    That season, the Cavs had the NBA’s best record, going 66-16 during the year before annihilating their first two opponents in the playoffs. How dominant was Cleveland? In the playoffs’ first two rounds, they went 8-0 and neither Atlanta or Detroit ever came within single-digits of them. The conference finals didn’t go according to plan, but that wasn’t LeBron’s fault. We all tried to pin it on him but can you fault a guy when he averages 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 boards, and 2.4 stocks (blocks plus steals) per game.

    Because Orlando advanced in six, this performance will forever be overlooked. This 49-minute masterpiece in Game 4 was desperately good.

    3 of 10
  • 7. LeBron James

    Game 1, 2013 Eastern Conference Finals
    30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 blocks, game-winner
    At the time, we never could’ve known it but the final bucket in this game probably saved a dynasty. Down one in the closing seconds of overtime, James caught an inbounds pass against Paul George, swiveled, and drove to the rim, getting all the way there for a buzzer-beating layup.

    It was a fitting end to a classic game. Before the series started, not a single ESPN analyst picked the Pacers to win—not a single one—and to make it worse, only five of 20 even picked the series to go the distance.

    Instead, there were 18 ties and 17 lead changes in Game 1, and after a Paul George triple with 2.2 seconds left, it looked like the Pacers were going to steal it.

    LeBron, however, had other plans. This was the difference in a tight seven-game series.

    4 of 10
  • 6. Michael Jordan

    Nov. 6, 1996
    50 points, 6 rebounds
    Jordan was famous for his statements games. From LaBradford Smith to Jeff Van Gundy, MJ never shied away from a challenge and in the opening weeks of the 1996-97 season, he got one from the Miami Heat.

    Coming off a disastrous playoff sweep against Chicago the year before, many of the Heat’s best players were talking smack leading up to the rematch. They had been waiting on this game. Tim Hardaway wanted to guard MJ. Pat Riley wanted to finally stick it to Phil Jackson. The two teams would meet for the Eastern Conference championship later in the spring, and this game set the tone.

    Chicago won by six as Jordan finished with 50 points.

    “We were faced with a challenge,” he said after the game. “I think those are the fun games. On the road, against a team that’s undefeated and you played well against in the past and they’re sitting back at home waiting for you.

    “The scenario is perfect for a competitor, and that was ideal for me.”

    It was a classic game from Chicago. The Heat busted out of the gate, going up 15 in the second quarter with Alonzo Mourning playing possessed. But Jordan just kept on coming, making a Miami newspaper eat its words after running the headline “Hardaway wants to guard Jordan.”

    Be careful what you wish for.

    5 of 10
  • 5. Michael Jordan

    Game 4, 1996 Eastern Conference Finals
    45 points, 5 assists
    The ’95 Eastern Conference Final was supposed to be a bloodbath. Chicago had won 72 games during the regular season; Orlando, 60. The teams had been evenly matched during the regular season and the year before the Magic sent the Bulls packing in the playoffs.

    With Scottie and Michael and Shaq and Penny, it was a series fans were looking forward to all year. Alas, the series everyone expected never materialized. The Bulls won Games 1 and 3 in blowouts, and then Jordan drove the hammer home in a closeout Game 4.

    He scored 45, outlasting a furious early punch of energy from Orlando. As the game went on, you could see it in the Magic players’ faces. They wanted to go home. They wanted to give up. Jordan obliged.

    6 of 10
  • 4. LeBron James

    Feb. 3, 2011
    51 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists
    How good was LeBron in this one? At the time, LeBron and Jordan were the only two players in the last 25 years with at least 50 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in a game. James did it on 25 shots, making 14 of 17 free throws, scorching the division rival Magic for 23 points in the first quarter. It also tied him with Kobe Bryant for the second-most road 50-point games (nine) in the last 25 seasons.

    This was no ordinary 50-point game, either. LeBron went to Disney World to deliver a message. During the offseason, upon seeing James leave Cleveland for the Heat, Magic GM Otis Smith said he thought ‘Bron was “more of a competitor.” Smith added that the great ones usually do it on their own by staying in one place. Finally, he stoked the finishing touches by saying the balance of power would never shift as long as Kobe was still around because Bryant had proven he could do it on his own.

    LeBron responded in the only way he could, and this game sent Orlando on a second-half tailspin the rest of the year. They’d succumb in the first round to Atlanta, well below expectations.

    7 of 10
  • 3. LeBron James

    March 3, 2014
    61 points, 7 rebounds
    Going up against the team they’d later sweep in the first round of this year’s playoffs (Charlotte), LeBron put up the best game of his career: 61 points on only 33 shots, eight three-pointers, and even five assists. The Heat won in a romp, blowing it open during a third quarter that saw the 6-8 forward unleash a spellbinding 25-point run. James set three career highs and three new Heat records that night, completely overshadowing a 38-point, 19-rebound effort from Charlotte’s Al Jefferson.

    Yet what was most impressive about this performance wasn’t the 40-foot triple off the bounce, or the way James narrowed in on the 60-point mark like a trained missile. It was an aspect that’ll be forgotten and glossed over once this game fades from memory and becomes nothing more than another sick statistical box score in LeBron’s great career.

    With Kevin Durant surging toward his first NBA MVP, this performance was a hold up haymaker from James, reminding everyone just what he could do when he put his mind to it. It started a month-long string of back-and-forths between the league’s two best players, and had James pushing Durant to the brink of individual greatness. That all started here.

    8 of 10
  • 2. Michael Jordan

    Game 3, 1992 Eastern Conference First Round
    56 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks
    Closing out a series on the road is almost always a difficult task, especially when facing off with a young, upstart, tough-talking team like the ’92 Heat. Made bold by loveable, trash-talking villains like Glen Rice and Steve Smith, Miami jumped out by 14 after the first quarter. Chicago, as they did all postseason, answered the bell.

    Jordan hit for 56 points–teaming with Scottie Pippen for 87 total points on 32-for-53 shooting–and also had one of the single greatest highlights of his career. In an embarrassing undressing of Miami’s Keith Edwards, MJ stripped him, then lost him with a behind-the-back move on the other end, then lost him again with a crossover, THEN dunked on both Edwards and poor Alan Ogg. It was a fitting punctuation point to a fun three-game series that saw Jordan score 135 points.

    9 of 10
  • 1. LeBron James

    Game 7, 2013 NBA Finals
    37 points, 12 rebounds
    Once upon a time, fans had LeBron pinned as a choke artist. Were we really that stupid? Overlooking how he almost always comes through when it matters most, James had a lot riding on this game, and some made the case it was the most important game of his career. He responded the way he always has, and slayed San Antonio with one huge fourth quarter bucket after another, including the pull-up jumper that put Miami up four with less than 30 seconds left.

    “I work on my game a lot throughout the offseason,” he’d say afterward. “I put a lot of work into it and to be able to come out on the floor here and (have) the results happen out on the floor is the ultimate. The ultimate. I’m at a loss for words.”

    James joined Jordan as the only players to win back-to-back regular-season MVPs and Finals MVPs.

    It was a fitting end to Miami’s best season in franchise history, and because of the impact and the stakes, this is an obvious choice for the top spot on this list.

    10 of 10
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Let’s kill the cliché. Florida isn’t just for the old and retired and worn down, okay? Every once in a while, something exciting happens there.

Take this Saturday, for example. The Nike LeBron 11 will be dropping in the infamous South Beach colorway, which, if we know our history, should leave most sneakerheads foaming at the mouth. Right alongside that release is a South Beach collection from Jordan Brand, which will also feature the Flight 45 and True Flight.

Whether it’s sneakers or statistics, we’ll never stop comparing LeBron James and Michael Jordan. To celebrate the launch of those two South Beach collections this weekend, let’s do it again here with this countdown of the 10 best games the King and His Airness have had in the state of Florida.

Follow me on Twitter at @seanesweeney