Jordan Scores 61, Joins Chamberlain in Surpassing 3,000 Points

Times Staff Writer

Coach Doug Collins of the Chicago Bulls has been straining all season to describe adequately a once-in-a-lifetime basketball player. He finally thought of something the other day. “When God said, ‘I want to make a basketball player,’ He made Michael Jordan,” Collins said.

Well, here comes Mr. Jordan, right into the record books.

Jordan scored 61 points Thursday night and became the first player in 24 years--and the only man other than Wilt Chamberlain--to score 3,000 points in a single National Basketball Assn. season.

He now has 3,024 points, with one game remaining--tonight at Boston. With nine more points, Jordan can catch Chamberlain for the third highest one-season point total of all time.


Wilt’s record totals of 4,029 (in 1961-62) and 3,586 (1962-63) are out of reach.

“I think it’s a great compliment to be mentioned in the same sentence as Wilt, and a great achievement,” Jordan said. “It caps off a great season for me.”

Although the Atlanta Hawks double-teamed and even triple-teamed him, Jordan broke the 3,000 barrier by scoring his 38th point on a layup early in the third period and already had 48 points by the end of three quarters.

With that layup, Jordan also scored 23 Chicago points in a row--another NBA record.

He has scored 53, 50 and 61 points in his last three games.

“The guy is phenomenal,” Collins said.

“Michael is one of the greatest ever to play the game,” Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello said.

Maybe most phenomenal of all Thursday night was that a breathing-room-only Chicago Stadium crowd, announced as 18,122, left the creaky old arena talking about the shots Jordan missed .

At one point, Jordan missed a runaway dunk. No one could remember seeing him do that before.

He also missed Chicago’s last two shots--a soft eight-footer from a crowded lane with four seconds remaining, and an under-control shot from midcourt at the buzzer. As a result, the Bulls lost the game, 117-114, after leading most of the night, and in all likelihood they also lost their shot at a .500 season, their record falling to 40-41 with only the Celtics left to play.

A subdued Jordan said afterward that he doubted he would ever score as many points in one season again, and: “I wouldn’t want to. I’d much rather trade them in for more wins.”

He was 22 of 38 shooting for the night, and 17 of 21 from the line. He also led the Bulls in rebounds with 10 and in steals with 4.

By winning, meanwhile, Atlanta kept alive its bid for the NBA Eastern Conference’s best record. The Hawks are 57-24 to Boston’s 57-23, and they will meet Sunday at Boston Garden.

Should the clubs end the season with the same record, Atlanta will have the home-court advantage in the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker system. The Celtics are 0-3 at Atlanta’s Omni this season.

Even an appointment with Larry Bird might look like a breather to the Hawks, so exhausted were they after chasing Jordan. They tried several different methods during the first half, when Jordan scored 31 of his points, and roughed him up whenever they could. They were thrilled just to limit him to 13 points in the final quarter, and to see him miss the last shot.

“At the end, we knew who would get it,” said Dominique Wilkins, who scored 34 points for Atlanta. “Michael is their bread-and-butter man. We felt if he beat us with a 70-footer, then that’s how they would have to do it.”

Fratello warned, “If guys start to get carried away with their egos, saying that they held him, then they’re in trouble. All you can do is work hard and hold him to whatever you can.”

Jordan has been the talk of the town here and the talk of the league since the season began, or perhaps even since he scored 63 points in a playoff game last season at Boston, after missing four months of action with a broken foot.

He recently was named NBA player of the week for the third time this season, after a week in which he averaged 42 points, 7.3 assists, 5 rebounds and 3.7 steals, while shooting .544 from the floor and .816 from the line.

Jordan leads the Bulls this season in points, steals, blocks, minutes and free-throw percentage, ranks second in assists and third in rebounding. Quadruple doubles are not out of the question for this guy.

After such a game Monday night at Milwaukee, Buck Coach Don Nelson said: “We’ve seen him exceptional before, but this is the first time we’ve seen that total domination in every phase. It was one of those games that was so magnificent, if it wouldn’t have been against us, I would really have enjoyed his performance.”

The fact that the 6-foot 6-inch Jordan is not Chamberlain-sized, and the fact that he is not exactly surrounded by Laker-like talent, makes his accomplishments all the more amazing. It is part of the reason why his coach is pushing Jordan for NBA Most Valuable Player honors.

Said Collins before Thursday night’s game: “If you took Michael Jordan off this team, there’s not another player you could put in his place and have us sitting 40-40. That’s how valuable he is.

“I know I’ll get some argument from people about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but Michael Jordan night in and night out scores, rebounds, plays defense and runs the floor. I’m not saying those guys don’t, but Michael has such great athletic ability that he is beating double and triple teams, and still gets layups.”

Thursday’s game marked the 36th time this season that Jordan has scored 40 or more points. Chamberlain once did that 63 times in a season, and 52 times another season.

“I only know Wilt from films and what I’ve read about him,” Jordan said. “I’ve never met the man. All I know is the legend.”

Jordan’s talent and dedication leave people wondering whether he is capable of even greater feats than they have already seen. Recently, after taking a two-day break from basketball to attend his grandfather’s funeral in North Carolina, Jordan returned to Chicago for a game. “I walked into the building at 5:15, and he was already dressed and shooting,” Collins said.

The Bulls have been amazed by Jordan ever since obtaining him with the No. 3 choice in the college player draft of 1984, behind Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon and Portland’s Sam Bowie. Those who had seen Jordan play at North Carolina, even leading the Tar Heels to a national championship, knew Jordan was good, but few knew how good.

A North Carolina native, Jordan didn’t necessarily plan to play for Dean Smith. His high school principal wanted him to attend the Air Force Academy, the assistant principal pushed for North Carolina State, and hometown folks recommended North Carolina Wilmington.

Jordan had another idea. “I always wanted to go to UCLA,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But they never called. I don’t know why. Maybe they thought it was too far away. I probably would have gone there.”

Although he has regretted neither his choice of colleges nor Chicago’s choice of him for the pros, Jordan did have one unhappy experience with the Bulls. That was when they tried to prevent him from playing against Boston in last year’s playoffs, when they were worried that he would reinjure himself.

Jordan believed they were only worried about “protecting their investment,” and not about his personal happiness or, more importantly, the team’s chances of winning games. “That’s the only time I really felt used as a professional athlete,” Jordan said. “I felt like a piece of property.”

This season, Jordan has been the NBA’s leading scorer since opening night. His 63 playoff-game points are still a club record, but Thursday night’s 61 tied the regular-season record he established earlier this season against Detroit.

“We need the wins more than we need the points,” Jordan said after the loss to Atlanta. “I think the record meant more to the fans and the media than it did to me. I felt relaxed and no pressure. I wasn’t forcing anything, or trying too hard.

“Three thousand points is a lot of points, though, I know that,” Jordan said. “Well, I guess it’ll give me some memories.”