Michael Jordan’s golf outing with Danny Ainge led to 63-point game in Bulls-Celtics 1986 playoff series

Michael Jordan is best known for his incredible career as a basketball player, but that was hardly the only sport that he played. Aside from his notorious stint as a minor league baseball player, Jordan was an avid golfer. While many players stay off of the links during the season, Jordan never shied away from his golf habits even ahead of playoff games. 

One such occasion was detailed in Episode 2 of ESPN’s, The Last Dance, a documentary that follows Jordan’s rise in the NBA and the Chicago Bulls’ 1997-98 championship run. After Game 1 of the Bulls’ 1986 first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, in which he scored 49 points but lost, Jordan golfed with then-Celtics guard Danny Ainge and author Mark Vancil. Jordan apparently had a rough day on the course, and so he vowed revenge against Ainge’s teammate, Dennis Johnson, who was his primary defender in the series. 

“I took a few bucks off of Michael that day, and we’re talking trash to each other,” Ainge said. “That might have been a mistake.”

“We get done, we get in the car, we drop Danny off first,” Rare Air author Mark Vancil recalled. “And Michael says, ‘Hey, tell your boy D.J. [Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson] I got something for him tomorrow.'”

For most players, this would have been a joke. For Jordan, it was a prediction. When Game 2 arrived, Jordan scored a still-standing playoff-record 63 points in an overtime loss to the Celtics. Larry Bird famously described his performance as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” 

Was Jordan’s historic explosion his way of letting off steam after a few lost bets and a bad day on the golf course? We can’t say for certain, but the notion of a second-year Jordan promising to unleash such a performance on one of the best defenders in the NBA is completely on-brand. Few stories better capture the combination of confidence and internal motivation that made Jordan special. 

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