The Breakdown: The Shrug

VIDEO: The Shrug

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — The 2015 NBA Finals begin tomorrow night, but 23 years ago today was Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers, which marks one of the great moments of Michael Jordan‘s career: The Shrug.

If you don’t remember The Shrug, the video is above. Let’s go to the tape for a moment-by-moment breakdown…

0:18 — We see fans streaming into the building, let by a screaming young man wearing a tank top and shorts, who may or may not be dressed to actually play in a basketball game instead of watch it.

0:30 — The Portland Trail Blazers are taking the court, which apparently entails them walking up a few flights of stairs in an old stairwell with wires and cables hanging poking out. Which is quite a juxtaposition to what we normally see these days, with refined architecture and squeaky-clean arenas.

0:36 — The Bulls huddle up and just in front of the camera, Cliff Levingston puts his left hand over Michael Jordan‘s right ear. At first I thought he was just messing with MJ, but Jordan didn’t recoil, which suggests this is something he’s used to. Suddenly, it all makes sense, when Levingston barks out, “WHAT TIME IS IT??” right in Jordan’s ear. So the hand over the ear move is purely practical. This may be one of Levingston’s most important contributions to the Bulls.

1:28 — The Blazers open the game red-hot, making their first seven field goal attempts and jumping out to a 21-15 lead. It is here we get our first glimpse of a younger and sleeker Phil Jackson, looking like a crooked politician in one of the Michael Keaton “Batman” movies.


1:42 — The Bulls players circle up, and while several players are talking, there’s one Bull who isn’t saying a word: Michael Jordan. He comes out of that huddle focused, chomping his gum so hard. You just know bad things are about to happen to the Blazers.

1:47 — Oh man. Danny Ainge tries to get the ball to Clyde Drexler in the post. Jordan jumps the entry pass, steals it, dribbles directly up the court at Ainge, then he avoids Ainge while somehow making him sail into the scorer’s table. No wonder the Celtics won’t make any trades with the Hornets.

1:57 — This is just a peak ’90s moment. These may be the male leads from a Paul Reiser vehicle. (Also, one high five wasn’t enough. GIVE ME TWO HIGH FIVES FOR THAT FADEAWAY JUMPER. Also, my man in the background has an awesome mustache.)


2:09 — Jordan is starting to cook. Meanwhile, Ainge is sooooooo mad. How mad? Mad enough to pound his fist! That’s really, really angry, you guys!

2:25 — OK, game reset: The second quarter is beginning, with the Bulls leading 33-30.

2:37 — Welp, Drexler isn’t giving in. He get a steal and goes coast to coast, and finishes with a nasty dunk in traffic. Drexler was always a much more spectacular dunker than I felt he got credit for. I kinda feel like this Bulls fan after seeing that dunk…


3:05 — Jordan hits a couple of threes, which leads to a shot of Levingston on the bench waving a towel and screaming, “He. Is. Hot. Whooo!” If there were a spiritual successor to Levingston in this year’s Finals, I’d have to go with Draymond Green.

3:11 — Love this from Johnny Bach, Bulls assistant coach: “I said to Phil, ‘Phil, do you sees what’s happening?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ (laughs) We couldn’t believe it.”

3:36 — This is how you know MJ is cooking: Scottie Pippen misses a layup on the break and MJ’s right there for the follow-dunk. The Blazers are also leaving him room to shoot, which is probably a topic for a different day.

3:49 — Cover that man! I mean, look at this…


On this play, Jerome Kersey‘s actually pulling up his shorts to prepare to defend MJ as Jordan is sticking a three in his face…

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 2.34.47 PM 1

4:08 — And then right after we hear that MJ has set an NBA Finals record with 5 three-pointers in a half, he goes and hits his sixth three pointer — again, wide open — and as he runs back down the court next to Cliff Robinson, Jordan throws up The Shrug.


Why is he shrugging? Because he can’t believe all of these shots are going in? Or because he can’t believe they aren’t really defending him, much less double-teaming him and making him give up the ball?

Anyway, it’s all downhill from there, mostly literally for the Blazers. Jordan had 35 in the first half, and finished with 39 in a 122-89 blowout win. The Bulls went on to win the series in Game 6, their second consecutive Finals win (and second of six).

Michael Jordan made a career out of giving us moments. But this one may have been his greatest moment of all of them.


  1. Antonio Perez says:

    23 years ago and it seems like yesterday

    that was history in the making

    Jordan from 3

    the man was on fire

    poor cliff

    • u210 says:

      it was already a history

    • Esteban says:

      Sí Antonio, parece que fuera ayer. Es un recuerdo inborrable ver los partidos de los Bulls de esos 8 años con mi papá. Es inevitable emocionarme cuando lo pienso o lo digo.

      Siempre agradezco haber vivido esa época histórica como decís. Fuimos unos privilegiados.

    • steven says:

      hey like cliff said years later “what more could I do I had a hand in the man’s face?” he was probably the only 1 who did at least try get a hand up…….but still MJ couldn’t be stopped regardless.

  2. Dexton says:

    Is it just me or no one played defense when he shot those 3s? I guess players were too busy guarding the paint than the perimeter?

  3. Greg says:

    As great as this was to watch, what should really now blow your mind is that Klay Thompson scored 37 points this year in ONE QUARTER with a perfect 9 of 9 threes & 13 of 13 fg…and as a side note, the 2nd best George Gervin scored 33 in a quarter before the 3 point line existed!

  4. JM says:

    3:49 – Drexler should have won 1992 DPOY for that tough defensive action!

  5. WetheWarriors says:

    Nowadays – they score 37 points in 1 quarter! How times have changed

  6. Mud says:

    I remember watching that game and it’s still fresh in my mind. I’m fortunate enough to witness the GREAT MJ and now the King Lebron.

  7. steve nash says:

    i want klay or curry to do the shrug

  8. liquidcobra says:

    Oh man….this took me BACK. LOL

  9. Fiddozz says:

    Nowadays you see an athlete making the “shrug”after just hitting 2baskets in a row!!!!!

  10. Atonasu says:

    I’m smiling like the kid I was back in the days.

    Thank you Michael. You are and will always be the greatest ever.

  11. Eric says:

    Michael Jordan The Greatest of All Time the only one…

  12. Frank d'Tank says:

    Players today can easily score, because defense is soft. Try to get 20pts in a quarter back in the 90s without getting hammered

  13. jdean says:

    Klay and Gervin di all that in the regular season. That was in the finals on the biggest stage and they were not all threes. MJ’s arsenal was greater than Klay shooting three’s.

  14. Kal says:

    he is shrugging because he never had any worthwhile competition, never once had to play a 3 star superteam 4 times like LBJ (+ pre-finals matchups vs superCeltics and Pistons, not to mention superWarriors this year and Nowitzki) or 3 times like Kobe (+ pre-finals matchips vs Spurs, Kings not to mention Nash three times and Miller, Iverson, Garnett along the way) …

    but yeah, Jordan did have it tough before this Finals. … shrug.

    • LoversGPS says:

      Jordan never faced a superteam? Seriously, did you just start watching basketball in the last 10 years? Jordan faced off against some of the toughest defense and most complete teams the league has ever seen. Basketball of the 90’s featured strong Alpha males, Beta males and disciplined role players on just about every team in the league. Hawks, Dominique & Moses. Celtics, Bird, McHale, Parish. Detroit, Dumars, Rodman, Thomas, Aguirre. Warriors, Hardaway, Mullin, Richmond. Rockets, Olajuwon, Maxwell, Thorpe. Clippers, Manning, Harper. Lakers, Magic, Worthy, Green. Heat, Long, Rice. Bucks, Dantley, Robertson. Knicks, Ewing, Oakley, Starks. Sixers, Barkley, Hawkins. Trailblazers, Drexler, Kersey, Porter, Williams. Spurs, Robinson, Strickland, Elliot, Cummings. Supersonics, Kemp, Payton, Pierce. Jazz, Malone, Stockton. Pacers, Miller, Person, Schrempf