In the 1984 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan was embarrassingly embarrassed by country music legend Kenny Rogers. But in a 3-on-3 game of H-O-R-S-E, MJ took over and dunked all over Rogers to win the game.
Michael Jordan took over a 3-on-3 game like it was the NBA Finals after being embarrassed by country music legend Kenny Rogers.
Michael Jordan’s competitive attitude is renowned. Jordan wants to win no matter what he’s participating in or who he’s competing against. It’s what propelled him to six NBA championships. It’s the reason he’s won five NBA MVP awards. It’s what inspired him to win a three-on-three game against country music icon Kenny Rogers.
What’s going on here?
That’s correct. Jordan took part in a three-on-three charity game hosted by Rogers in the late 1980s, which included some of the greatest NBA players of the time. Looking at the highlights, it’s easy to believe Jordan was playing in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Yes, I am very aware that Jordan never appeared in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, but that is beside the point. The point is that during this game, MJ was in full MJ mode and (unsurprisingly) appeared to take it personally when Rogers hit him with a pump-fake and sank a jumper.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kenny Rogers hosted a three-day event.
Rogers hosted an annual three-day fundraising event dubbed “Kenny Rogers Classic Weekend” at his Georgia home in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which included music concerts, fishing, golf, tennis, and a little three-on-three basketball. Consider MTV’s Rock N’ Jock before it became a thing.
Rogers has managed to get the help of several well-known figures. Aside from Jordan, who attended the event for three years in a row from 1988 to 1990, “The Gambler” managed to get visits from Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, and Isiah Thomas, all of whom were prominent NBA players at the time. Payne Stewart arrived. John McEnroe was in attendance. Woody Harrelson and Mark Harmon were among the actors that made visits. It was a huge occasion, so large that some of the activities were even shown on ABC.
In one three-on-three battle in 1988, Rogers was the star of the show for one play.
During a three-on-three game, Rogers pump-faked Michael Jordan and sunk a jumper.
Kenny Rogers, Michael Jordan, and Mitchell Layton (L-R) | Anna Webber/Getty Images; Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
The country music singer led a team that included Wilkins, golfer Hubert Green, and tennis player John Lloyd (each side had one sub) against Jordan, tennis player Kevin Curren, golfer Raymond Floyd, and actor Lorenzo Lamas in the 1988 edition of “Kenny Rogers Classic Weekend.”
Early on, it’s obvious that Jordan is taking things a bit more seriously than the others, as he stuffs a Kerr miss, earning him a push from Wilkins, whom he memorably defeated in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest that year.
Played to a score of 22, the game seemed to be tight throughout, and Rogers took a pass at the top of the key and squared up to shot at the midway mark. As Rogers went in motion, Jordan, the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year (and NBA MVP), came racing up the lane, only to see himself fly past as “The Gambler” pump-faked, side-stepped (it was more like a James Harden travel), and sank a 21-footer, much to the joy of the live audience.
Rogers “put Jordan in the popcorn machine,” according to legendary Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, who was on the call (I warned you this was a huge thing). As always, brilliant. Jordan, as you would imagine, took it personally and then seized over.
Jordan took over as the starting quarterback and guided his side to a 22-20 win.
Jordan didn’t get the block he was hoping for (and you know he was) on Rogers’ jump-shot attempt, but he got one when Kenny drove the lane the following time. Rogers didn’t seem to know when to “hold ’em” at the time, did he? Sorry for the inconvenience, but it has to be done.
Jordan scored a circus shot in the lane as the game came to a conclusion, sending the fans into a frenzy. Jordan grabbed another block with the game knotted at 18, but Rogers was right there to scoop up the ball and lay it in for a 20-18 advantage. MJ tied the game at 20 on the next possession with a 15-footer.
Rogers found Green with a great wraparound pass in the lane with a chance to win the game, but Jordan came rushing in to skew Green’s layup attempt. Wilkins retrieved the ball but missed a free throw, which Lamas recovered. Jordan showed no compassion on the next play, going past Rogers on the baseline, tongue out and all, and hitting a layup to give his team a 22-20 win, raising his fist as if he’d just won an NBA championship.
Where was this narrative while The Last Dance was being filmed?
Basketball Reference provided the statistics.
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