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Sports Authority

‘Space Jam’ is a game for the ages

| Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the  eighth installment in a 10-part series discussing the best rivalry in sports. Join the discussion on Twitter by using the #BestRivalry. 

Over the past week and a half, on the off chance that you read this column regularly, you’ve seen some arguments for some of the great rivalries in all of sports. You’ve read about the illustrious competition in the Iron Bowl, the tradition of the Army-Navy match-up, Frazier and Ali’s epic battles, the Cold War competition between America and the USSR, and more. There are several more worthy rivalries that will get their days in the sun later this week, as well.

But none those are even in the same ballpark — the same universe, even — as the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

The rivalry may not be a prolific one, as the teams played each other only once, nearly 20 years ago. But the game has not been forgotten by dedicated fans, and the highlights, even now, rank it as an instant classic.

The year was 1996. On the one side, the best player in the game, in his prime, along with legends your parents had grown up watching. Team chemistry could be an issue at times as these legendary personalities clashed, and arguments among teammates could get pretty animated — in a hurry. But when the game was on the line, this lineup knew how to put on a show and get the job done.

However, the crowd favorites were undersized and the obvious underdogs compared to their opponents, a team filled with loads of foreign talent and a huge frontcourt. Many of their players had come from lowly beginnings, but their no-holds-barred coach and some highly controversial training methods had whipped them into shape just in time for this crucial matchup on the road.

The contest was billed as “The Ultimate Game,” and the stakes of this one time rivalry couldn’t have been higher. The animosity between the two squads was evident from the opening tip, as things got physical in a hurry. But the referees were determined not to let the whistle decide the game, and let the players have at it, even as the on-court violence began to escalate to a nearly comical level.

This early style of game clearly favored the visitors, and the sell-out home crowd was quickly taken out of the game. Things only got worse for the home team, as a pathetic effort sent them into the locker room down 48. After all the build-up and hype, the game seemed to be over before it started.

But then, halftime happened. Historians and fans have debated what exactly happened behind the closed doors of the locker room for decades. While the players maintain that the team’s leaders gave a series of motivational talks and came out with new life after the water break, some cynics allege that a mysterious and secret performance enhancing substance was passed around at halftime.

Regardless of what you choose to believe, the results were sweeping and immediate. The home team came out on fire, focusing in on their own brand of aggressive defense and putting their big opponents on the run. With the crowd finding its way back into the game, the home squad used its superior bench depth to go on an incredible run, even as their injuries began to rack up. Unheralded players stepped into contribute along with the superstars, with seemingly everyone playing a role in engineering the comeback.

As all great rivalry games do, the game came down to the final play. Up one point with 10 seconds to play, all the visitors needed to do was hang on to the ball and secure the win. But things unfolded like a Hollywood script, as the scrappy home team forced a monstrous turnover on the inbound and moved the ball up the floor.

Watching the highlights, even all these years later, these 10 seconds still seem to stretch on forever. But after a series of passes, the underdogs finally get the ball to their best player, streaking over the half court line, and what happens next is just loony. He disappears into a crowd of two defenders, then seems to hang in the air for eternity, even with the defense draped all over him.

And when Michael Jordan’s 50-foot arm threw the ball through the hoop as time expired — saving himself from enslavement, the Looney Tunes from destruction, Charles Barkley from a lifetime of therapy and ending a bizarre NBA lockout subplot — he puts the finishing touch on the greatest rivalry game ever played.

Tune Squad 78, Monstars 77. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Welcome to the Jam.

 

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu

Editor’s note: This is the  eighth installment in a 10-part series discussing the best rivalry in sports. Join the discussion on Twitter by using the #BestRivalry. 

 

Over the past week and a half, on the off chance that you read this column regularly, you’ve seen some arguments for some of the great rivalries in all of sports. You’ve read about the illustrious competition in the Iron Bowl, the tradition of the Army-Navy match-up, Frazier and Ali’s epic battles, the Cold War competition between America and the USSR, and more. There are several more worthy rivalries that will get their days in the sun later this week, as well.

But none those are even in the same ballpark — the same universe, even — as the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

The rivalry may not be a prolific one, as the teams played each other only once, nearly 20 years ago. But the game has not been forgotten by dedicated fans, and the highlights, even now, rank it as an instant classic.

The year was 1996. On the one side, the best player in the game, in his prime, along with legends your parents had grown up watching. Team chemistry could be an issue at times as these legendary personalities clashed, and arguments among teammates could get pretty animated — in a hurry. But when the game was on the line, this lineup knew how to put on a show and get the job done.

However, the crowd favorites were undersized and the obvious underdogs compared to their opponents, a team filled with loads of foreign talent and a huge frontcourt. Many of their players had come from lowly beginnings, but their no-holds-barred coach and some highly controversial training methods had whipped them into shape just in time for this crucial matchup on the road.

The contest was billed as “The Ultimate Game,” and the stakes of this one time rivalry couldn’t have been higher. The animosity between the two squads was evident from the opening tip, as things got physical in a hurry. But the referees were determined not to let the whistle decide the game, and let the players have at it, even as the on-court violence began to escalate to a nearly comical level.

This early style of game clearly favored the visitors, and the sell-out home crowd was quickly taken out of the game. Things only got worse for the home team, as a pathetic effort sent them into the locker room down 48. After all the build-up and hype, the game seemed to be over before it started.

But then, halftime happened. Historians and fans have debated what exactly happened behind the closed doors of the locker room for decades. While the players maintain that the team’s leaders gave a series of motivational talks and came out with new life after the water break, some cynics allege that a mysterious and secret performance enhancing substance was passed around at halftime.

Regardless of what you choose to believe, the results were sweeping and immediate. The home team came out on fire, focusing in on their own brand of aggressive defense and putting their big opponents on the run. With the crowd finding its way back into the game, the home squad used its superior bench depth to go on an incredible run, even as their injuries began to rack up. Unheralded players stepped into contribute along with the superstars, with seemingly everyone playing a role in engineering the comeback.

As all great rivalry games do, the game came down to the final play. Up one point with 10 seconds to play, all the visitors needed to do was hang on to the ball and secure the win. But things unfolded like a Hollywood script, as the scrappy home team forced a monstrous turnover on the inbound and moved the ball up the floor.

Watching the highlights, even all these years later, these 10 seconds still seem to stretch on forever. But after a series of passes, the underdogs finally get the ball to their best player, streaking over the half court line, and what happens next is just loony. He disappears into a crowd of two defenders, then seems to hang in the air for eternity, even with the defense draped all over him.

And when Michael Jordan’s 50-foot arm threw the ball through the hoop as time expired — saving himself from enslavement, the Looney Tunes from destruction, Charles Barkley from a lifetime of therapy and ending a bizarre NBA lockout subplot — he puts the finishing touch on the greatest rivalry game ever played.

Tune Squad 78, Monstars 77. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Welcome to the Jam.

 

 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jack Hefferon

Jack Hefferon is a senior Economics major from Armonk, New York, and resides in the luxurious Carroll Hall. When not doing sports-related things, he enjoys being messier than his roommates, chicken in the dining hall, oxford commas, and afternoon naps. Yes mom, he occasionally does homework, too.

Contact Jack