Breaking Down Michael Jordan vs. Fordham University


NBA legend Michael Jordan was held to just 11 points in his lone matchup against the Fordham Rams. (Courtesy of Instagram)

Standing at 6’6” and hailing from the University of North Carolina, the one and only Michael Jordan is undoubtedly a good basketball player, and many would argue the greatest of all time. Because of this, his entire career has been largely studied and analyzed more than almost any other player. Despite regular season box scores being scarcely recorded in college basketball during the 80s, Michael Jordan’s popularity has allowed many to dig up every individual performance of his career. He played a total of 101 collegiate games for UNC. So where does Fordham fit into this? On Dec. 2, 1983, arguably the greatest player to ever touch a basketball played against Fordham University.

Research for this article was not easy, as there is very limited information regarding specific college basketball games from this period of time. After looking extensively, I could not find a single video clip of the game between the University of North Carolina and Fordham University. However, I was able to uncover quite a bit using both The Fordham Ram and the Daily Tar Heel newspaper archives from both Monday, Dec. 5, 1983, and Thursday, Dec. 8, 1983.

It might surprise many that Fordham, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at the time, would play against a UNC team that was ranked #2 in the country. However, Fordham was a solid team at the time, finishing 19-15 in the 1983-84 season. Also, New York basketball was much more prominent overall at the time, with schools such as St. John’s University and Iona College being frequent NCAA tournament participants.

The game came in the Stanford Invitational Tournament. Fordham was heavily undermanned against a team that included not only Michael Jordan, but also future 5x NBA All-Star Brad Daughtery, notable NBA scorer Sam Perkins, future Houston Rockets athletic sharpshooter Kenny Smith and NBA players Joe Wolf and Dave Popson.

At the beginning of the game, the Rams held their own. The game was tied after five minutes of play. Fordham had an intense focus to not let Jordan score no matter what. They would not let him be the reason they lost the game. Fordham head coach Tommy Penders explained, “We tried to trap Jordan every time he put the ball on the floor.” Eventually, UNC pulled ahead. However, this was not without Fordham’s high efforts, as they again cut the lead to seven in the second half. Fordham was playing very well, but the Rams were simply overmatched.

UNC would go on to have six NBA players on their roster at the time of this game, with Fordham having none of their own. Fordham went on to lose the game by 17, with the final score being 73-56. This would not be without effort, proved by multiple quotes from their opposing team. Legendary UNC coach Dean Smith said about Fordham, “They were the first team that has taken us out of the pressure defense; they made us look slow, I kind of thought we were pretty good defensively until tonight. But they had 10 layups in the first half. I thought they made us look real foolish.” This is monumentus praise from a Hall of Famer and is no doubt something that Fordham basketball should be proud of.

Another quote came from senior small forward and future UNC coach Matt Doherty. Explaining his team’s performance, he would say, “There are some moments of greatness out there, but more often than not there are moments of sloppiness.” This is a credit to Fordham’s quality defense and immense hustle to even hang with such a fierce opponent.

So how did Jordan play? Not very well, as Fordham held the 20 point-per-game scorer to just 11 points, on a poor 5/16 shooting including 1/2 from the line. This was an off day for the future six-time NBA champion, and an incredible feat for Fordham to hold him to such low numbers when looked back at all these years later. For such a small school with no future professional players on the roster to only lose by 17 is impressive in its own right, but to hold MJ to 11 is even more so.

Although they didn’t win, this performance by the Rams should be remembered fondly and serve as a testament to the resilience and determination of this program. No matter the opponent, Fordham gives it their all and surprises many with their tough play.