For all the understandable emphasis placed by coaches on team play, collective responsibility and a constant focus upon those small details, sometimes the outcome of a game is reduced to an isolated piece of magic from one individual player. And that was certainly the case on Friday night in Istanbul, where the big battle between Turkish Airlines Euroleague leader Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and reigning champs Real Madrid came down to the final possession for the home team, which found itself trailing by one point with just 13 seconds left to play.
As the action resumed following a timeout with Gigi Datome sending the ball inbounds to Ali Muhammed, everything else that had gone before became irrelevant. This was the moment. Now or never. Make a basket or lose the game – it was that simple.
Muhammed took a few dribbles, turned away from Facundo Campazzo and fired a pass to Datome, a few feet outside the three-point shooting line and guarded by Rudy Fernandez. Datome drove inside, past Fernandez, past Campazzo, and headed straight towards the basket in pursuit of the game-winning score. His problem now was that Anthony Randolph, one of the EuroLeague's elite shot-blockers, was lying in wait. So what could Datome do?
The answer was nothing less than an imitation of one of the most famous shots ever executed by probably the greatest player in the history of the sport…Gigi went MJ.
Taking off with the ball in his right hand, Datome anticipated the contact from Randolph and evaded the attempted block by adroitly switching the ball to his left hand, in mid-air, keeping the ball away from the Randolph. He drove through the contact and rolled a shot off the fingertips of his left hand, all the time keeping his eyes on the basket, so that he could watch the ball bounce high off the backboard and drop through the hoop.
Michael Jordan, you will probably recall, famously did more or less the same thing in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals for the Chicago Bulls against the LA Lakers, in a moment regularly included in countdowns of the most memorable plays in basketball history. Well, MJ's score came in a finals game, true. And it was awesome. But it wasn’t a game-winner against the reigning champs with six seconds remaining, and he didn't have to retain his balance after receiving heavy contact from a powerful defender.
You might even say that Luigi Datome didn't only imitate Michael Jordan on Friday night…he made you wonder who had the bigger hand-switching shot between them.