Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Look at the photos - Jordan isn't the only one in them



By MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service

The picture is a basketball artifact. The first famous shot Michael Jordan ever made. He is young and slim, a teenager in a white North Carolina uniform, with his tongue out and the ball just leaving his hands.

In the background is the Louisiana Superdome scoreboard, showing 17 seconds left and Georgetown leading 62-61. Everything would soon change.

The ball would go through, and North Carolina would win the 1982 national championship, and the public would have gotten its first dose of Jordan, the legend. A start, of sorts, to what will end Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

"Pressure? You don't think about it then," Jordan said that night, only a freshman, but with unflappable hints of what was to come. But back to the picture. Who is that Georgetown defender beneath Jordan's elevated elbows, turning for the rebound that would never come? Who, as Jordan now gets ready to turn out the lights, was his first victim?

"That moment comes up nearly every year," Eric Smith said over the phone. "I can never forget it.

"I know a lot of my friends who tell me, 'You helped make Michael Jordan what he is today."'

--

Eric Smith, current employee in the electrical industry and former Georgetown Hoya, wants you to know one thing.

Georgetown was in a zone.

"We were more concerned with (James) Worthy. He's the one who had been hurting us," he said. "They skipped-passed it to Michael. I ran at him but by the time I got there, he had gotten up in the air and got the shot off. The only thing I could do was go rebound. That's what's in the picture.

"I just happened to be the closest. I wish they would have taken that picture after I took off."

Timing is everything. Smith will forever be center stage, an unwilling accomplice for Michael Jordan's Great Shots, page 1. The picture is prominently displayed in the NCAA Final Four record book.

"I think I have a copy of it somewhere," Smith said. "I saw a replay of the game on ESPN not long ago. When I do watch it, I usually turn it off at the end."

At least he's a charter member of Jordan's broken hearts club.

Cleveland's Craig Ehlo is there, too. Jordan won a 1989 playoff series at the buzzer with Ehlo doing everything but stepping on his Nikes.

So is Utah's Bryon Russell, left a step behind when Jordan hit the jump shot for his last NBA title.

But someone had to be first.

"It was a great game. They made a great pass. He made a hell of a shot," Smith said. "You always imagine what could have been. That never goes away.

"Nobody remembers the second place team. We're the only ones."

--

The two players in the picture met a couple of years after that shot, but they have not talked since. It's been nearly 20 years.

Smith lives in the Washington, D.C., area, and went to a Wizards game this season, hoping to catch Jordan's eye at halftime.

He called out to him, but Jordan never responded. Maybe he didn't notice. Lots of people call out Jordan's name.

Like the rest of us, Smith will not see Jordan play again after Wednesday night. But he did once. Close up, in the middle of a dome, as Jordan soared above him, and displayed the future. How there would be moments when nobody could stop him. Like Eric Smith, in this one.

"I was glad to be a part of it," Smith said. "But I guess it's bad luck, my name coming up every year. After Jordan gets out of the game, maybe it'll go away."




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