When Michael Jordan picked up a Miami newspaper on November 6 1996, he saw something he didn't like. There were Hardaway's words: "This year they're going to take us seriously." Those are fighting words to a guy like Jordan, who is looking for any kind of motivation these days.
Jordan left no doubt he took Hardaway's statement personally: With a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter, he helped the Bulls push a 57-53 lead up to 79-63. Jordan ended up scoring 12 points in the period, including a nifty over-the-shoulder shot over Alonzo Mourning. Jordan was fouled on the play and after hitting the free throw, he smiled at the crowd as he waltzed up court. They applauded. Jordan had 15 points in the first quarter alone. By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, Jordan had 26 points. He obviously was taking advantage of having the slow-footed Sasha Danilovic guarding him.
Scottie Pippen said: "I've been with him long enough to know that it was a personal challenge,. I'd say he met the challenge."
"He wanted to make a statement," said Miami coach Pat Riley. The Heat bench realized as much.