This Week In Chicago Sports History: Jordan Rules Cleveland & The Late ’80s

WARR producer and Blackhawks reporter Sid “The Kid” is a reliable source of information when it comes to Chicago sports throughout the ages. Now every #throwbackthursday Sid gives you some of the top moments to remember for each week forward.

By Sidney Brown (@sidkid80)

In 1988, Michael Jordan was in the process of building his resume as the best individual in the NBA, but team and playoff success had eluded him in a hyper-competitve Eastern Conference.

In each of the previous two seasons Jordan and his Chicago Bulls saw their seasons end badly with sweeps in the opening round courtesy of the Boston Celtics. Improved regular season play provided a break in 1988, allowing the Bulls to match with another upstart team in the first round, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

As playoff foils, the Cavs would be a constant against Jordan from this point through the Bulls’ first three-peat in the 1990s, but Cleveland’s damned fate against the GOAT began to materialize with this series.

After scoring 50 points in Game 1 on April 28 of ’88, Jordan would explode for 55 points in the Chicago Stadium on May 1 to give his Bulls a 2-0 series lead with a 106-101 victory — Jordan would set a record for most points scored in an opening round series with 276 while leading the Bulls to their first playoff series win in 14 years, but it wasn’t easy, the series went to a deciding fifth game at the old Chicago Stadium on May 8th that the home team won 107-101. Jordan had 39 in that game and his enforcer at the time, Charles Oakley had 20 rebounds. 

The Bulls would lose to the hated Detroit Pistons in the next round (4-1) in the first of four straight playoff match-ups against The Bad Boys. Jordan would wrap up 1988 with his first MVP award along with his second consecutive scoring title and first Defensive Player of the Year award.

A Shot on Ehlo…

With his many individual accomplishments in 1988 (MVP, All Star Game MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Scoring Title) along with his first playoff series victory, Jordan was ready to take his game into new heights in ’89. In that spring’s opening round rematch against the Cavs things once again came down to a Game 5, this time on the road. 

After a back-and-forth affair, this final game would come down to a series of clutch plays. Jordan made a jumper with six seconds left, giving the Bulls a one point lead. Next possession saw Mike’s man,Craig Ehlo, respond with a layup (two of his team-high 24 points) to give the home team the advantage. 

Never one to be outdone, Mike went to work on the final play, delivering the game winner over Ehlo just above the foul line and clinching the series win as Johnny “Red” Kerr gave his legendary call to represent a breathless Bulls Nation. The final two of Jordan’s game-high 44 points have since gone down as “The Shot” and pretty much set the course of both franchises for the following decade. 

Heartbreak was still in line for the Bulls, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time but lost to Detroit in six games. In spite of that tough finale, Jordan’s status as the NBA’s best player and its toughest competitor became established during the 1989 playoffs.

20 for 20

The Chicago Cubs came into the 1998 season with little expectations and it actually was a down period in the team’s history.

Not only was the franchise still mourning the loss of legendary announcer Harry Caray, who died in February of that year, but nine years had passed since the Cubs were last in the postseason. A 20-year old rookie pitcher from the state of Texas gave the Cubs their first glimpse of hope in that new season with his devastating curves and fireball strikes. 

On a gloomy and wet May 6th Kerry Wood provided his signature performance, tying Roger Clemens’ mark for most strikeouts in a nine-inning game against a Houston Astros team that not only didn’t know how to hit but didn’t know what hit them.

Standing toe to toe with tough veteran Shane Reynolds, who struck out ten Cubs, Wood set a new National League record and delivered a career high 20 punch-outs and giving up only one hit en route to a 2-0 win at the Friendly Confines. 

This unforgettable performance would elevate Wood into one of the best young pitchers in baseball while making himself a household name throughout the sporting landscape. Wood didn’t shine as bright or as long as other legendary Texas hurlers like Clemens and Nolan Ryan but he remained an important part of the Cubs contending teams from their Wild Card berth in 1998 through the tragic Bartman-ended NLCS team in 2003.

But back on this day, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, no one couldn’t tell Cubs fans that Kerry Wood wasn’t the best pitcher in baseball or that he wouldn’t be soon.

In ’98 Wood would be rewarded as the NL’s Rookie of the Year after going 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA, 233 strikeouts and only 85 walks over 26 starts.

Sidney Brown is WARR Media's resident Chicago sports historian 

One response to “This Week In Chicago Sports History: Jordan Rules Cleveland & The Late ’80s

  1. Pingback: This Week In Chicago History: Sox Stomp Cubs Early In Championship Season | WARR - We Are Regal Radio·

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