It’s hard to fathom that 2002 was 15 years ago. At the time, I was a sophomore in high school. I didn’t owe Sallie Mae thousands of dollars. I didn’t have any bills, and like today, my metabolism was as slow as AOL dial-up internet.
As you might expect, I was a basketball junkie. The return of Michael Jordan garnered a level of excitement that I could finally appreciate. I saw the Jordan era in Chicago, but honestly, I was too young to understand the levels of his greatness.
This brings me to talk about one of the greatest blocks in NBA History. It happened January 4, 2002. That day hallmarks a legendary time when Ron Mercer's soul left the then-MCI Center thanks to a heinous block by Jordan.
It was awesome because this version of Jordan was older and less athletic. I'm sure if the MJ from 1992 would have made the same play it would have been a blip on the radar.
To no surprise, the Washington Wizards' Jordan wasn’t dominant like his earlier years. In today's NBA, he would be berated for his shooting percentages, but for someone nearing eligibility for receiving an AARP card he could hang with the young crop of ballers in the league.
Although the tongue-wagging, slam dunks and reign across the league wasn’t a nightly spectacle, it came in spurts.
On said day, Jordan faced the Chicago Bulls for the first time in his career. Knowing how menacing and competitive Jordan was, it was a given that he was going to make life hell on his former team. In addition to scoring 51 and 45 points in back-to-back games and playing against the Bulls, a fire inside of him couldn’t be extinguished.
Many players weren’t afraid of this version of MJ because of his age. Most of Jordan’s competition was in grade school when he dominated the NBA. The fear factor was absent, which partly led to the block. It just so happened that Mercer was a casualty of Jordan’s fury. In an earlier possession, MJ went at Ron Artest, and Artest blocked the shot. After missing a game-sealing bucket, No. 23 chased Mercer down to pin his shot to the glass.
Let me break it down:
While sporting his Jordan XVII’s, His Airness was irate about the earlier play. He got a running start and hawked Mercer down. If you look closely, you can see the steam coming from his famous bald head. Mercer, who was a high-flyer in his own right, attempted to go over Hubert Davis, which forced him to attempt a lay up.
As Mercer soared to the hoop, Jordan came to the defense of his Tar Heel brethren, Davis. He emphatically grabbed the shot off the backboard with two hands.
What also stood out during the play and in the game was that Jordan surpassed 30,000 points during the contest, and there was a plethora of bad basketball players on the court. Can someone tell me why Chris Whitney, Marcus Fizer and Tyrone Nesby were on the floor? Was the state of the NBA that bad in the early 2000’s? That’s a conversation for later. But back to “The Block.”
Plays like that are what reminds me how superior Jordan was. Even at an age where he was vastly older than his peers, he continued to enthrall fans.
Although the playoffs and championships never materialized in Washington, there were some memorable moments. Thanks to Mariah Carey's dress and "The Block", Jordan's two-year term with the Wizards wasn't as bad as what people remember.