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NBA Finals

On this day in NBA Finals history: Michael Jordan’s midair, switch-hands layup

Even Magic Johnson couldn’t believe Jordan’s play from Game 2 in 1991

It’s hard to think of an adjective that couldn’t be used to describe Michael Jordan’s marquee play from the 1991 NBA Finals.

Graceful. Dazzling. Majestic. Indomitable. Peerless. Ballsy. Dope.

On June 5, 1991, in the fourth quarter of Game 2 between the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, Jordan drove down the court and threw a no-look pass to teammate Cliff Levingston, who made a move to the basket from the left wing. But when the defense collapsed on him, Levingston kicked the ball back to the top of the key, where Jordan stood, ready to take flight.

With the lane as clear as the Red Sea before Moses, Jordan took one left-handed dribble toward the hoop and powerfully leaped into the air with the basketball extended in front of him. His Airness was destined to throw down a tomahawk jam, but when his former University of North Carolina teammate, Lakers big man Sam Perkins, appeared in his sight, Jordan completely flipped the script. In midair, he switched the ball from his right hand to his left, and instead of a dunk, he finished the sequence with an acrobatic layup off the glass.

The play, known simply as “The Move,” sent the Chicago Stadium crowd and the game’s broadcasting crew into a frenzy. “Oh! A spectacular move by Michael Jordan!” play-by-play announcer Marv Albert yelled. Moments later, when the replay rolled, analyst Mike Fratello couldn’t contain himself either.

“Looks like Michael Jordan is trying to find a way to miss the shot,” Fratello said of Jordan’s display of pure athleticism. “Instead of taking the easy one, he tries to make it hard, and still comes up … ”

Here’s what Jordan had to say about the play after Chicago’s dominating 107-86 Game 2 win over the Lakers to even the series at 1-1: “Cliff threw it back to me and I saw a clear lane to the basket, so I was going to dunk the ball. I exposed the ball. But then I saw long-arms Sam Perkins there and it was just instinct to change it. And I changed it to my left hand and was able to get it off.”

Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson also broke down the dunk-turned-layup after the game.

“When he came down the lane, he just went one way, put it in one hand, floated about 5 more yards and said, ‘Well, I don’t know’ … and then he went off the glass,” Johnson said.

Man, if only Twitter were around back then. Timelines would’ve absolutely blown up at the sight of Jordan’s sorcery.

Aaron Dodson is an assistant editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson of the Arizona Cardinals, he is one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.