This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m reimagining The Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11.
The Jordan Challenge was a significant milestone in basketball gaming. In celebrating the career of Michael Jordan, it achieved what once seemed impossible: adding actual retro teams, rather than just a collection of Legends on Decade All-Star squads. Retro teams would be established as the norm, and the mode also paved the way for NBA’s Greatest the following year in NBA 2K12. The Jordan Challenge is a mode that I’ve profiled in a Wayback Wednesday feature, as well as gone back and finished. It’s a lot of fun, and a great achievement in one of the best NBA 2K titles.
With that being said, The Jordan Challenge isn’t perfect. As I’ve previously noted, the ten challenges do lack variety. Three of them are set in the 1990 season, recycling the 1990 Chicago Bulls and taking up spots that could’ve gone to other memorable games from MJ’s career. It doesn’t ruin the mode, but looking back, the inability to license certain players did limit it somewhat. With that in mind, I’m doing something a little different for this week’s Wayback Wednesday, and reimagining The Jordan Challenge with some additional and alternative games. Let’s take a look back…way back…
Before we begin, I’ll outline my reimagined vision of The Jordan Challenge. Under this model, I’m including a game from every year of Michael Jordan’s career, which extends the number of games from ten to fifteen. Since this is a fantasy, best case scenario situation, I’m also assuming that all of the necessary players will be licensed, and trying not to double up on teams as much as possible. I’ll also be keeping a couple of the games that absolutely must be included in any version of The Jordan Challenge, but to make up for that, I’m also suggesting a handful of bonus challenges that would be unlocked after completing the main ones. Let’s begin!
January 26th, 1985: Air Jordan vs The Human Highlight Film
There’s a reason The Jordan Challenge began with MJ’s 63-point game against the Boston Celtics in the 1986 Playoffs. Although he had a fantastic rookie season that few others could rival, Jordan’s first NBA campaign didn’t really produce a defining game. There were plenty of great ones, just none that are historically significant. He did have a great duel with Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks on January 26th 1985, though. Since I’m removing the Hawks challenge from 1990 and Nique is too important to leave out, I think this 117-104 Bulls victory in which MJ put up some big numbers is the perfect candidate to replace it.
Challenge: 45+ points on 65%+ shooting, 10+ rebounds, 8+ assists, hold Wilkins to 30 points or less, and win the game.
April 20th, 1986: The Arrival
This is the record-setting 63-point game against the Celtics, and a game that I just can’t replace. It’s too significant in both NBA history and Michael Jordan’s career, and it’s also pretty fun as well. Furthermore, with MJ missing so many games in the 1986 season, there aren’t a lot of other games to choose from; especially since he came off the bench for eleven of the eighteen regular season games he played. That might have been a fun idea for a challenge, but really, the existing game labelled The Arrival is the logical choice here. There’s no need to make any changes to the challenge’s goals either, as hitting 63 points with pre-prime MJ already ups the difficulty.
Challenge: 63+ points on 50%+ shooting, and 6+ assists.
March 4th, 1987: Burning the Bad Boys
With so many clashes with the Bad Boy Pistons to choose from, it’s a difficult pick. However, I’m going to roll back the Bad Boys challenge to a regular season game in 1987, in which His Airness scored 61 points. He matched that season high against the Hawks in the second to last game of the season and then dropped 59 on Detroit the following year, but I’ve already got a Hawks game and I’m trying to avoid doubling up. I’m a little uneasy about not choosing one of the classic Playoff games between the two teams, but with the amount of points, rebounds, and steals, as well as shooting percentage, this game would make for an enjoyable entry in The Jordan Challenge.
Challenge: 61+ points on 50%+ shooting, 7+ rebounds, 3+ assists, 3+ steals, and win the game.
December 12th, 1987: Houston, We Have A Problem
Since I’ve used the Pistons for the 1987 challenge, I’ve decided to go with the Houston Rockets for the 1988 game. Taking place early on in the ’88 season, this was a great matchup between Michael Jordan and fellow Class of 1984 alum, Hakeem Olajuwon. MJ had a great game, ending just two rebounds shy of a five-by-five in the victory. The Dream didn’t have too bad a game either, scoring 31 points to go along with eight rebounds. Including this Rockets team also sneaks a few extra NBA legends into The Jordan Challenge, including Ralph Sampson and World B. Free. Those Bulls featured Artis Gilmore, along with Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant in their rookie seasons.
Challenge: 44+ points, 9+ assists, 3+ rebounds, 5+ steals, and win the game.
April 13th, 1989: Triple-Double
I was very strongly considering Game 5 of the first round which featured “The Shot” but I’m saving the Cavaliers for another challenge. Including this game from one of MJ’s best all-around seasons would also get Reggie Miller into The Jordan Challenge, and test our abilities on the sticks. The contest came in the midst of MJ’s run of ten triple-doubles in eleven games, and featured his highest combined points and assist totals of the season. It wasn’t enough to get the victory as the Bulls ended up losing by four, but I like the idea of including a triple-double in The Jordan Challenge. To make it fairer, I’m suggesting one that came in a loss, allowing for a sole focus on the stats.
Challenge: 47+ points, 13+ assists, 11+ rebounds, 4+ steals, and hold Miller to 25 points or less.
March 28th, 1990: 69 Points
MJ’s regular season career-high for points is another game from the actual Jordan Challenge that I’ll keep. Given that the mode is restricted to eight minute quarters – though I’m thinking of lifting that restriction in my reimagining – it’s tough as the clock is really working against you. It’s still a lot of fun though, and at this point of his career, His Airness was still very much up to the task. The original challenge omits the need to grab at least eighteen rebounds, and since that would make it ridiculously difficult, I think I’ll stick with that. Getting the six assists while also shooting 50% or better from the field on route to 69 points makes it challenging enough already.
Challenge: 69+ points on 50%+ shooting, 6+ assists, and win the game.
June 2nd-12th, 1991: 1991 NBA Finals
Keeping this challenge has the benefit of making sure that Magic Johnson is still included, and extends The Jordan Challenge by a few extra games. I liked the way it changed things up by challenging you to match MJ’s numbers over the course of the 1991 NBA Finals, rather than replicate a single game. Being his first championship, it’s also far too significant to replace. The 1991 campaign was another strong one in the middle of Jordan’s prime, but he definitely saved his best for last. It would also be a real shame to lose the ability to recreate “The Move“, and triggering those special animations was what made The Jordan Challenge so immersive.
Challenge: Average 31+ points and 11+ assists, shoot 55%+, and win the series.
June 3rd, 1992: The Shrug
Again, this game and the moment it created are too iconic not to include. There’s no way a Clyde Drexler-led Portland Trail Blazers team should be left out of the mode, either. Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals was just a lot of fun to watch – if you’re a Bulls fan, anyway – and as a record-setting performance it belongs in The Jordan Challenge. The toughest part of the challenge is holding Drexler under 20 points, though it’d be even tougher if the total was a strict sixteen, the amount that he actually scored. Scoring 35 or more in the first half tends to be pretty easy, especially after you hit six threes since you can then go back to driving and dunking as much as possible.
Challenge: 35+ points and 6+ three-pointers in the first half, hold Drexler to 20 points or less, and win the game.
June 16th, 1993: His Airness vs Sir Charles
Since we’re already assuming that 2K has licensed Reggie Miller in this reimagining of The Jordan Challenge, let’s also assume that Charles Barkley is in the game. This allows us to represent the one championship series that was missing from the original mode, with a standout game from the first threepeat. MJ put up amazing numbers in that series with 41 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 6.3 apg, and 1.7 spg, and honestly, it’d be well worth including the whole series as we’ve done with the 1991 NBA Finals. I will restrict it to just one game however, and that contest is Game 4, taking place on June 16th. It’s the most points His Airness scored in a Finals game, so I believe it’s only appropriate.
Challenge: 55+ points, 8+ rebounds, 4+ assists, and win the game.
March 18th, 1995: Double Nickel
Yet another game that was originally included in The Jordan Challenge, and one that I can’t really replace. Much like his 1986 campaign, Michael Jordan’s abbreviated 1995 season doesn’t have a lot of games to choose from, and it was definitely far from his best. I was tempted to include one of the Playoff games against the Orlando Magic with Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway, or even one of the first round games against the Charlotte Hornets with Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. We can’t leave the New York Knicks out of The Jordan Challenge though, and the Double Nickel game at Madison Square Garden signalled that His Airness still had it.
Challenge: 55+ points on 55%+ shooting, 2+ assists, and win the game.
January 10th, 1996: NBA Finals Preview
Ironically, although the 1996 regular season was a return to form for Michael Jordan, as well as an historic campaign with the Bulls winning 72 games on route to their fourth championship, it wasn’t his best NBA Finals series. Bothered by a back injury suffered in the first round against the Miami Heat as well as the stellar defense of Gary Payton, MJ’s Finals performance – though still MVP-worthy – wasn’t up to his usual standard. It’d be a shame to lose that Seattle SuperSonics squad though, so I’ll keep them and feature the game from January 10th; a contest that foreshadowed the eventual Finals matchup while being a much better outing for His Airness.
Challenge: 35+ points, 14+ rebounds, 5+ assists, and win the game by 10+ points.
June 11th, 1997: The Flu Game
It was simply one of the best performances in NBA Finals history, especially when you consider the circumstances. Alright, so it was more likely food poisoning rather than the flu, but the point was that MJ was not well. Despite that, he turned in yet another heroic performance, putting up numbers and hitting the game-clinching shot before being helped off the court by Scottie Pippen. I didn’t manage to trigger that animation when I completed the challenge, but as with the other iconic moments The Jordan Challenge recreated, it’s awesome that it’s in the game. There’s absolutely no way that The Flu Game should be replaced in this reimagining.
Challenge: 38+ points, 7+ rebounds, 5+ assists, and win the game.
June 14th, 1998: Michael’s Last Dance
Well, we should probably just rename it “The Last Dance”, for reasons we’ll get to in a moment. Either way, it was MJ and the Bulls’ last championship, their sixth in eight years. As far as all-around numbers are concerned, it’s not among MJ’s all-time best performances, but putting the team on his back with 45 points including the game-winning shot to clinch the championship still makes it legendary. It wouldn’t be our final image of Michael Jordan in the NBA, but as Bob Costas rightfully noted, if it had been, it would’ve been perfect. There are a couple of other interesting games from the 1998 season to consider, but come on; there’s no way I can remove this one!
Challenge: 45+ points, 4+ steals, 1+ assist, and win the game.
December 29th, 2001: Still Got It
Guess what, we’re not done yet! This reimagining includes the Washington Wizards years. It’s quite likely that MJ himself probably wouldn’t be keen on it but since we’re already imagining that Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller have signed on, we’ll put that aside. I was thinking of the game in which MJ scored his 30,000th point, and it would certainly be bizarre to take on the Bulls. However, his 51-point outburst against the Charlotte Hornets would make for a better challenge, and tie in with his current ownership of the team. Jordan also became the oldest player to score 50 points at age 38, a record that stood until 39 year old Jamal Crawford broke it in 2019.
Challenge: 51+ points, on 55%+ shooting, 7+ rebounds, 4+ assists, and win the game.
February 21st, 2003: 40 at 40
I originally considered MJ’s last game at Madison Square Garden, in which he scored 39 points in a loss. It was a bittersweet ending compared to what we thought was his MSG finale in 1998, and in that regard, it kind of sums up the whole comeback with the Wizards. However, on February 21st against Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets, His Airness became the only 40 year old player to score at least 40 points, tallying 43 of them against the eventual Eastern Conference Champions. I know that most of us like to pretend the Wizards years didn’t happen, but they did have their moments. This one would serve as a fitting conclusion to a revamped Jordan Challenge.
Challenge: 43+ points, 10+ rebounds, 3+ assists, 4+ steals, and win the game.
That does it for the main challenges, but as I mentioned, what if completing them all unlocked a few bonus teams and games? Here are a few suggestions…
May 7th, 1989: The Shot
Since we didn’t include it among the main challenges, featuring it here is no-brainer. One of the most famous shots of Michael Jordan’s career, and Playoff history for that matter, The Shot was the culmination of a hard-fought series with one of the Bulls’ perennial rivals, the Cavaliers. Hitting a game-winning shot during this challenge would obviously trigger MJ’s memorable fist-pumping celebration, and if possible, attempting a running shot at the foul line while doing so should also trigger the iconic shot itself. Jordan’s overall numbers in that game were quite impressive, so beyond the game-winner, Game 5 of the 1989 Playoffs is a good one to recreate.
Challenge: 44+ points, 9+ rebounds, 6+ assists, and win the game.
May 17th, 1992: Riley’s Knicks
One of the most hard-fought series against another constant rival, it’s memorable for the time that Michael Jordan and Xavier McDaniel came nose-to-nose. There was no love lost between the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks in 1992, but despite the rough play of Riley’s squad, MJ put up numbers and the team from the Windy City won in seven games. I’m going with the series-clinching seventh game due to its stakes, and the fact that it was one of MJ’s highest scoring games during the 1992 postseason. The Double Nickel game is a must-have, but it would’ve been nice to have a matchup of the Bulls and Knicks at the height of their rivalry.
Challenge: 42+ points, 6+ rebounds, 4+ assists, 2+ steals, and win the game by 15+ points.
May 12th, 1995: Better Wearing #23
Despite the title of this challenge, it’s actually the game before Jordan infamously switched back to wearing number 23 in the middle of the Bulls’ second round series with the Orlando Magic. It was MJ’s blunder down the stretch of this game that prompted Nick Anderson to remark how he wasn’t quite the same player wearing number 45. The Bulls did win one game after MJ switched back to 23, but it’d likely be impossible to replicate the number change with only one 1995 Bulls squad. As it stands, this loss was MJ’s second-highest scoring game of those Playoffs, and as an important milestone in his comeback, it’d be an appropriate bonus game to unlock.
Challenge: 40+ points, 7+ rebounds, and 4+ assists.
January 11, 1997: Big Three vs Big Three
It’s often been said that the NBA is a copycat league, and after the Bulls won 72 games and a fourth championship with Dennis Rodman joining Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to form a Big Three, teams were trying to make major moves of their own in the 1996 offseason. The Houston Rockets rolled the dice on a trade with the Phoenix Suns, and created their own Big Three with Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Clyde Drexler. Despite both trios getting on in years, the teams were among the best in the league. They met twice in January of 1997, and it’s the Bulls victory on the 11th that I’m adding to The Jordan Challenge.
Challenge: 32+ points, 6+ rebounds, 7+ assists, and win the game by 15+ points.
May 31st, 1998: Close Call
The rematch with the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals almost didn’t happen, as Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers pushed Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to the brink in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls escaped with a five point win, closing out a series that helped make their Last Dance one of their most dramatic. I feel this game would be a good counterpart to the main challenge with the Utah Jazz. In that game, MJ scored 45, but his other numbers weren’t that noteworthy. In Game 7 of the Pacers series, he only scored 28 points in the win, but tallied a few more assists and rebounds. It also means a second appearance for Reggie Miller.
Challenge: 28+ points, 9+ rebounds, 8+ assists, and win the game.
So, there you have it: fifteen main challenges, plus five bonus games, for a revamped version of The Jordan Challenge! It may seem greedy considering what we did get was still awesome, but it’s fun to think of the possibilities had 2K been able to license players like Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller, and if they hadn’t limited the mode to ten games. We can obviously add players and teams to NBA 2K11 through modding, but as far as I’m aware, we can’t actually modify the games in The Jordan Challenge. Nevertheless, while it’s interesting to envision what might have been, it remains a groundbreaking mode, and a fitting tribute to the Greatest of All-Time.