Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
To many, particularly those who understand its purest meaning, Game 1 is the first contest of a seven game series to determine the league champion.
To some/Tyronn Lue, it evokes memories of Allen Iverson leading a humble Sixers squad to a shock win against the rampaging L.A. War Machine.
To old heads, it was the scene of the ’85 Memorial Day Massacre and all 148 Boston points that went with it.
However, to the Bulls faithful, the sneakerheads and the 2K generation, Game 1 of the Finals will forever be associated with The Shrug - Michael Jordan’s gesture following a relentless 35-point first half offensive onslaught in 1992.
The Shrug turns 23 this year and social media is expected to be quick to celebrate the numeracy of this anniversary.
The trigger for The Shrug was Jordan’s sixth three-point field goal just prior to halftime. As he made his way up the floor, Jordan turned to the crowd/announcers’ table, shook his head, raised his palms and shrugged his shoulders.
A victimless expression of disbelief? A harmless, non-verbal “Are You Not Entertained?“?
The answer is no, well, not really.
You see, caught forever in the frame of Jordan’s moment of contemplation, is Survivor survivor and everyone’s favourite NBA uncle, Cliff Robinson.
In brief, Cliff was the first guy off the bench on a balanced, experienced and exciting Blazers squad. A second rounder in ’89, he would quickly prove to be a steal, being named Sixth Man of the Year in ’93 and making the All-Star team the following season.
However, in a classic case of wrong man, wrong place, wrong time, John McClane/Robinson is often remembered as simply the “other dude” in The Shrug clip.
And here’s the real hurt: lost in the writer’s cramp of anyone trying to manually record the Chicago box score is the fact that Cliffy himself was having a great first half.
For real. It just wasn’t a first half for the ages.
As mentioned in the NBC pre-game analysis, Robinson proved too versatile and aggressive for Chicago forwards not named Pippen or Grant, going 7 of 10 from the field for 14 points through the first two quarters. This included three big dunks, the nastiest of which left Scott Williams helplessly spectating.
Cliff Hanger came to play in Game 1. But, like anyone who accepted an invitation to compete in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, there was only one name on the minds of all who witnessed that particular evening.
This isn’t much of a Finals story, but hopefully this context will encourage some to reconsider throwing dismissive one word comments in Cliffy’s direction when The Shrug memes/GIFs flood our timelines.
NB: The Shrug was actually the second major shrugging incident of Jordan’s career.