Now 25 years later, John Paxson’s version of “The Shot” for the Bulls lives on
CHICAGO – There is no doubt that when Bulls fans talk about “The Shot,” the first memories will always turn to No. 23.
Michael Jordan’s last-second game-winning shot against the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round series on May 7, 1989 is one of the iconic moments of his career and the Bulls’ franchise. The replay has been shown thousands of times since and will continue to be replayed for years to come.
Another player on the floor that day would have to wait four years to have his special moment like that, but when he did, it was for an NBA Championship 25 years ago today on Wednesday.
With the Bulls trailing by two in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 20, 1993, John Paxson knocked down his version of “The Shot”: A three-pointer from the wing with 3.9 seconds left to knock off the Suns 99-98 to win the league championship.
Its was the third-in-a-row for that Bulls team, becoming first squad since the 1966 Celtics (8-in-a-row) to win three consecutive championships.
For Paxson, it was the greatest individual moment in his career, and as his career was winding down. In the 1992-1993 season, the guard was replaced in the starting lineup by B.J. Armstrong, playing in 59 games in the regular season while averaging 17.5 minutes a game. He was a spot player instead of a starter, averaging just 4.2 points a contest, relied on for his veteran leadership on a squad that already had back-to-back wins.
But Paxson saved his best for the final two games of the Finals in 1993, scoring 12 points in Game 5 at Chicago Stadium on June 18th, but it wasn’t enough to keep Suns from a ten-point win that forced the series back to Phoenix.
There the Bulls endured a miserable fourth quarter in Game 6, scoring just seven point up until the final minute. There is was Jordan who got things going for the Bulls as his layup with just over 30 seconds left got the Bulls within two. After forcing an airball from Dan Majerle with 14 seconds to go, the Bulls had a timeout to draw up a shot to tie or go for the lead, with many assuming Jordan would get the shot since he scored all nine points for the Bulls up till that point.
Instead it was Jordan who brought the ball up, passing it to Scottie Pippen, who drove into the lane. He then dished it to Horace Grant, who immediately turned toward Paxson on the outside. Left open by the quick ball movement, the guard had plenty of time to spot up and shoot from behind the arc.
He didn’t miss.
Paxson’s shot was true to give the Bulls as 99-98 lead as he raced toward the Bulls’ sidelines where he was lifted up by teammate Scott Williams. Horace Grant would block Kevin Johnson’s shot on the next possession to seal the Bulls’ third championship.
After one more season, Paxson would call it a career, and eventually join the team as Executive Vice President, a position he holds to this day. Yet there will never be another quite like the one 25 years ago, one in which he made his version of “The Shot” count.