In honor of the much-anticipated 10-part documentary on the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls — in which the first two episodes of “The Last Dance” premiere tonight at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN, I was curious to refresh my memory of Michael Jordan’s list of accomplishments against the Charlotte Hornets, of course the predecessor to the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans.
Jordan enjoyed immense success against every team in the league, but he really feasted on the Hornets while they resided in Charlotte, owning averages of 32.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals in 37 regular season games. Buoyed by a 53.0 FG%, a 40.0 3PT% and an 81.9 FT%, he terrorized the Hornets with a remarkable 60.1 true shooting percentage, only scoring more efficiently against the Milwaukee Bucks (60.2 TS%) over the course of his illustrious career.
As a member of the Bulls, Jordan posted a dominant 29-5 W/L record against the Charlotte Hornets. Before going on to beat them just once in three regular season matchups while with the Wizards (and then once in three tries after the franchise moved to New Orleans), he also managed to disappoint Charlotte fans by knocking the Hornets out of two postseasons in their franchise history.
In the first round of the 1995 playoffs, the Bulls eliminated the Hornets in four games. Jordan averaged over 32 points per game on more stellar shooting, and he received good help from Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc to offset performances by Larry Johnson (20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Alonzo Mourning (22.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.3 blocks).
Three years later, the Bulls and Hornets met again, this time in the 1998 Eastern Conference Semis. Jordan’s 29.6 points per game proved much more valuable than Glen Rice’s 22.6 PPG as Chicago only dropped one game in the best-of-seven series.
As for his biggest single-game scoring performance against Charlotte, it came in Jordan’s final appearance against the team before they moved to New Orleans, a splendid 51-point outburst when the Hornets visited Washington on December 29, 2001.
Did you catch the likely reason for the explosion? In the preceding game for the Wizards, Jordan’s double-digit scoring streak had ended at 866 games when he was held to only six points on 2-10 shooting from the field by the Pacers. How did arguably the greatest player to ever lace them up respond? By scoring 24 of Washington’s first 27 points in the first quarter against the Hornets!
While that 51-point performance was special, a 45-point performance in the final campaign of his career against the New Orleans Hornets, who were in the midst of their inaugural season, is more memorable for some, especially for fans of Jamal Mashburn or Kobe Bryant. On this night, Mashburn nearly matched Jordan’s total with 39 points of his own, and a 24-year-old Bryant went off 42 points against the Jazz en route to his first 30-point season scoring average.
For those fortunate enough, do you have special memories of MJ in any of his battles against the Hornets franchise, whether in Charlotte or New Orleans? Or for those wanting to venture out onto a ledge, how do you think Zion Williamson’s career will compare when all is said and done?