All Online Exclusives

Bragging rights

Former W&M standout Curtis Pride ’90 recounts his memorable game-winning shot against NBA legend Michael Jordan

May 13, 2020
By Nathan Warters

Michael Jordan scored some memorable game-winning shots during his legendary NBA career, perhaps none more famous than his Game 6 jumper to lift the Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz for the 1998 championship.

But how many people can say they had a game-winning basket against the man many still believe to be the best to ever play?

Former William & Mary basketball standout Curtis Pride '90 is in that exclusive club.

Pride, who played 11 seasons of Major League Baseball and is currently the baseball coach at Gallaudet University, spent some time with Jordan in the fall of 1994 and came away with some amazing memories.

"He was a very nice guy who loved to have fun," Pride recently said in an email.

Jordan is back in the news because of an ongoing 10-part ESPN documentary called "The Last Dance," which tells the story of Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty.

More than 25 years ago, Pride and Jordan played for competing teams in the Arizona Fall League, an offseason developmental league run by Major League Baseball. Jordan was in the midst of a temporary retirement from the NBA, during which he switched his attention to the baseball diamond.

During off days, Jordan and the players, coaches and front office personnel played pickup basketball games at a local gym that was closed to the public. In 5-on-5 games, Jordan and the coaches would play against the players.

Jordan, the Hall of Fame basketball icon with six championships, won most of the time. But there was at least one occasion where Pride's team had the upper hand, with the former Tribe standout scoring the winning points.

Pride remembered one time when he did a quick crossover to his left to drive past Jordan for a game-winning left-handed layup.

"He just put his head down and walked off the court without saying anything," Pride said of Jordan. "But he did turn it up a notch defensively the next time he guarded me."

Terry Francona, the Cleveland Indians manager who won two World Series championships as the skipper of the Boston Red Sox, was Jordan's manager with the Scottsdale Scorpions, and he was a teammate of Jordan's on those pickup basketball teams.

Francona recounted those hoops games on a recent episode of the Starkville podcast, a national show hosted by Jayson Stark and former major leaguer Doug Glanville.

Francona said he misfired on a 3-pointer at the end of one game, and Pride scored off the rebound to dethrone Jordan's team.

"Michael, with that kind of waddle that he had, comes up next to me and says, 'Hey man, I always shoot last,'" Francona said. "And I didn't say anything, and I was still huffing and puffing, and he looked at me and said, 'Seriously, I always shoot last.'"

"He got about five steps ahead of me, and I said, 'Michael, now you know how I feel watching you try to hit a curve ball," Francona continued. "And he took about two more steps and just hit the floor. The more you could treat him like a normal guy, the more he liked it, but he didn't like losing."

How competitive was Jordan? Pride remembers him kicking the ball off one of the rafters in the gym after a loss.

Pride, a two-time all-defensive selection at William & Mary, matched up with Jordan when their teams played. He took it upon himself to try to shut down the man who scored 32,292 points in his NBA career.

"As a former Division I college basketball player, I took it as a challenge to guard Michael to see how well I could contain him," Pride said. "He and I guarded each other almost the whole time. I was happy to say I scored some baskets on him, including a nice drive by him to win a game."

Jordan lived up to his reputation as a fierce competitor during those pickup games, but he didn't talk much trash to Pride.

Actually, Pride was more of a trash talker in at least one of their interactions. Pride was bringing the ball up the court with his team ahead, and he asked Jordan, "What's the score?"

"The next thing I saw, his eyes turned into these intense white see-through eyes, and that was when I quickly passed the ball to someone else so I wouldn't be at his mercy," Pride said.

Jordan retired temporarily after the 1992-93 NBA season to take a swing at baseball. He played one season of minor league baseball with the Double-A Birmingham Barons and then spent a season in the Arizona Fall League.

Jordan returned to the NBA in 1995 and won three more NBA championships with the Bulls.

Pride, who played for the Mesa Saguaros, said Jordan tried his hardest to be one of the guys around the other baseball players, but it was difficult with all the fans pawing at him for autographs or pictures. There were security guards whose only purpose was to keep space between Jordan and the crowds.

Pride is an inspirational figure. He reached the major leagues in 1993 with the Montreal Expos, becoming the first deaf player to reach the big leagues since 1945.

Pride is in his fifth year serving in Major League Baseball's Department of Diversity and Inclusion. He works with the Major League Baseball Office of the Commissioner as the league's Ambassador for Inclusion with the primary focus on people with disabilities.

He made a big impression on Jordan.

"I was honored when ESPN asked him what were the highlights of his AFL experience, and Michael mentioned meeting me was one of his three highlights," Pride said.