Michael Jordan's First Game-Winning Shot Clinched NCAA Championship

Michael Jordan cuts down the net after UNC’s national title win. Snipping the strings after a big game is a tournament staple that started with N.C. State’s stunning upset victory in 1947. HUGH MORTON/NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION/UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA LIBRARY AT CHAPEL HILL

This article, and others celebrating 30 years of Michael Jordan's record-breaking career, is found in Newsweek's Special Edition: Jordan 30 Years of Greatness.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the 1981–1982 season was an odd place to play basketball. Despite being the most talked-about and arguably the most prestigious basketball program in the country, the Tar Heels were simultaneously facing the pressure of a quarter-century NCAA championship drought. The last University of North Carolina team to win the big dance, Frank McGuire's 1957 champs, beat Wilt Chamberlain and the heavily favored Kansas Jayhawks in a triple-overtime victory known afterward as "McGuire's Miracle." The people of Chapel Hill had since grown tired of waiting for their team to repeat.

For the 1982 NCAA tournament, UNC had a better chance at victory in the form of Michael Jordan than they'd had in any player since McGuire's legendary team. Though he was a freshman, Jordan had basketball instincts near their professional-era level, plus speed that rivaled that of the UNC track and football teams' fastest athletes. Jordan and the Tar Heels, including future NBA standouts Sam Perkins and James Worthy, were ready to make their first run at a title in 25 years.

After coasting to victory in the ACC tournament, North Carolina received a first-round bye. That setup would pit them against the winner of Ohio State and James Madison, the East division's eighth and ninth seeds respectively. James Madison beat OSU by 6, and UNC squeaked past James Madison by a single basket in their first taste of the tournament.

The Sweet Sixteen saw the Tar Heels pitted against the Alabama Crimson Tide. UNC bested Alabama 74–69. Carolina's final opponent from the East bracket was Villanova, coached by Rollie Massimino and sporting a 24–8 record playing in the then-competitive Big East division. Despite the best efforts of future All-American John Pinone, Villanova fell to the Tar Heels by a 10-point margin. The semifinal games would pit Jordan and his Tar Heels against Akeem Olajuwon—who would later change the spelling of his name to Hakeem—and the University of Houston Cougars (a contest North Carolina won) and Louisville against Georgetown (Patrick Ewing led the Hoyas to victory).

The championship game—Georgetown versus North Carolina—was the first taste of the spotlight for more than one future professional star. Ewing and Jordan led the pack, but Perkins and future Hall of Famer Sleepy Floyd suited up as well. Despite Georgetown's epic regular season and UNC's underdog status, the Tar Heels went on to win the championship after Jordan hit a jumper with 17 seconds left to put them on top. The first of many game winners for MJ was also the biggest shot of the 1982 NCAA tournament.

This article, written by Issue Editor Tim Baker, was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Edition: Jordan 30 Years of Greatness. For more on the greatest basketball player to ever grace the court, pick up a copy today.

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