Michael Jordan’s first trip to the Orlando Arena displayed almost everything that made the legendary Jordan great. Jordan finished the night with 52 points, seven assists and four steals, but it was the home team that prevailed in thrilling fashion.
On this day 30 years ago, the Orlando Magic beat the Chicago Bulls for the first time ever, 110-109, thanks to a layup by Otis Smith in the final seconds. The two Chicago defenders Smith beat to the basket for the winning shot? Jordan and perennial All-Star forward Scottie Pippen.
After a 7-7 start, the Magic had lost eight of nine as they played host to the Bulls on Dec. 20, 1989. Chicago had won five straight and came in with a record of 15-7.
Orlando took an 87-79 lead into the final quarter and pushed it to as many as 10, but the Bulls answered with 10 straight points midway through the fourth quarter to knot the contest at 95. From there, the contest went back and forth, but it looked as though Jordan would have the last laugh.
Jordan gave the Bulls a one-point lead twice in the final 16 seconds. Down 106-105, Jordan knocked down a pair of free throws to put Chicago back in front. After Terry Catledge answered with two free throws for the Magic on the other end, it looked as though Jordan delivered the dagger.
With less than 14 seconds remaining, Jordan took the inbounds pass at the top of the key and dribbled to his right, drawing help from multiple Magic defenders. With 7.7 seconds remaining, Jordan was able to pull up and bank home a mid-range jumper to give the Bulls a 109-108 lead.
After a timeout moved the ball to midcourt, Reggie Theus inbounded the ball to Smith who was able to get the step of Pippen. Jordan tried to help on the play, but Smith was able to maneuver his body toward the rim for the scoop-in.
Without a timeout and just 2.3 seconds left, the Bulls were forced to heave one for Jordan who made the catch, but was immediately met by an Orlando double team. Jordan was unable to get a quality shot off and the Magic prevailed.
Smith led Orlando with 28 points while Catledge and Theus added 26 and 18 points, respectively, in the victory. Sam Vincent added 13 points and a game-high 12 assists. Nick Anderson tallied 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals for the Magic. Center Mark Acres grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds in the win. The Magic did not make a three-pointer.
In addition to Jordan’s 52 points, center Bill Cartwright scored 19 points, but on just 4-for-13 shooting to go with nine rebounds. Horace Grant recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
The Bulls would go to reach the Eastern Conference Finals and fall to the Detroit Pistons in seven games before beginning the first of two three-peats the following season. The Magic would win just 10 more games during their inaugural season and lose the next eight to Chicago. The first win over the Bulls came despite a Herculean effort from the greatest player in the world and in a thriller on this day three decades ago.