In its advertisements for last Sunday’s National Basketball Association All-Star Game, NBC revived Michael Jordan’s last-second series-winning shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers from the playoffs of two seasons ago. It only appeared for an instant at the end of the ad: Jordan sinks the shot and then throws a series of fists in the air. We knew what it was right away, however; its use in the ad reminded us what an indelible moment it is. And we fleshed out the vision ourselves: it was Jordan hitting the last-second shot after Cleveland had taken the lead with eight seconds to play in the fifth and deciding game of the first round of the playoffs. Craig Ehlo, who remains a nemesis for the Bulls, guarded Jordan determinedly but loosely–not wishing to draw a foul–and went reeling and spinning off the court as the shot went in. Coach Doug Collins ran down the side of the court and then into the center of the court to join his celebrating team. Announcers Jim Durham and Johnny “Red” Kerr went wild as the crowd went silent, with Kerr screaming “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and Durham responding “Man, Redhead!” That’s an audio tape WLUP still revives when the witty repartee on that station needs a little punching up.

We were forced to return to the radio last week, when the Bulls traveled to Detroit to play the arch-rival Pistons. On television, the game belonged to cable’s SportsChannel; and though we plan to be cable-ready for the NCAA basketball tournament next month, we weren’t yet there. So, left in charge of the baby, we sat down to her dinner, with Durham and Kerr describing the play in the background (and sometimes, we should admit, spoon frozen in motion and the baby’s mouth agape in the foreground).

Chicago is, of course, one of the nation’s media centers, so one would expect that we’d have more-than-competent radio announcers doing the play-by-play for our various sports teams. Yet we must admit that Chicago is especially blessed with distinctive if sometimes overly, um, idiosyncratic crews. Baseball has long been the game best suited to radio; its rhythms and pauses welcome conversation for the fan in the stands, and they are equally accommodating for the analyst. The White Sox have struggled with their radio crews of late, but the Cubs always have Harry Caray and Thom Brennaman, both of whom we like, even though both have more than their share of critics. Caray is a baseball institution who has earned the right to make however many errors he can. He has a voice that sounds like baseball, and if he keeps the listener in the game trying to spot his miscues, well, good. Brennaman has almost the opposite problem. He’s so professional and smooth he gets knocked for acting older than his years, for putting on airs. If he were 47 instead of 27, however, he’d be well respected. As it’s radio, we just pretend he’s 47, and we don’t mind him a bit. Wayne Larrivee and Hub Arkush do a terrific job with the Bears, and last season they filled the vacant Dick Butkus ex-jock spot with a suitable foil, Gary Fencik. Pat Foley also has his critics among fans of the Blackhawks, but we love to hear him shout, “And he scoooores,” in that voice like a hockey-crazed opera tenor. As for Durham and Kerr, they cross over so many dichotomies–homers/experts, cheerleaders/analysts–so quickly and so gracefully that we’ve come to respect them as much as any other sports-radio crew in the city.

On this evening they were doing a simulcast, as they usually do at road games, and the one unfortunate part of their analysis was that they kept reminding us poor folks in radioland that the game was on television, because they were referring to the instant replays. Otherwise, however, it’s amazing how well they wore both hats at once–describing the events in detail without bleeding all over the game for those cabled fans who could see it. In the end, we were able to judge their performances as both television and radio commentators, because we asked our friend Boom-Boom to tape the game and we picked it up from him later that night and watched it a couple of days later.

The game was important for the Bulls because they were in desperate need of a big win. In their last home appearance, the players had been eloquent about how inconsistently they had played on the road and how playing well on the road was the touchstone of any team with aspirations to win the championship. The game in Detroit was their final game before the All-Star break, and it was the last game of a sequence that saw them play nine of ten on the road. They were coming off road losses in San Antonio and in Los Angeles to the Lakers, a nationally televised game in which the Bulls, including Jordan, had gone utterly flat in the fourth quarter. In fact, Durham and Kerr informed us, the Bulls had won only one game on the road against a team with a winning record since November (a surprise of the 76ers in Philadelphia); this record was obviously beginning to weigh on the team’s confidence. The Bulls were developing a reputation for being something of a head case, a team that had improved its talent since last season but that still hadn’t jelled.

They put that speculation to rest for the time being with their tense, exciting win over the Pistons. We celebrated it as it happened on the radio, then we went back to the tape to see how they did it. The Bulls, we are happy to report, have developed a scheme to beat the Pistons consistently. The game in Detroit had several similarities with the Bulls’ previous win over the Pistons in Chicago.

The Pistons like to run set plays. The Bulls, on the other hand, have a basic format in which they give Jordan and Scottie Pippen the maximum amount of room to improvise. When the Bulls play the Pistons, Jordan and Pippen are clearly the two most-talented offensive players on the court (undebatable with Isiah Thomas injured), but the Pistons counter with the two best defensive players: Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars. Dumars and Rodman match up exactly at big guard and small forward with Jordan and Pippen, but 48 minutes is a long time in a basketball game and a long time to be guarding Jordan and Pippen–especially with only six fouls to give–so the Pistons like to begin the game at their defensive end with Thomas’s replacement Vinnie Johnson on Jordan and the hated Bill Laimbeer on Pippen. They’re saving Rodman and Dumars for the pressing moments late in the game; and as Laimbeer has frequently manhandled Pippen in the past, they may even get to a point where they can put both Dumars and Rodman on Jordan.

The Bulls’ strategy, therefore, is simple: make the Pistons go to their strongest defense at the earliest possible moment of the game, and keep up the pressure by forcing the ball up the court. They do this by concentrating on Jordan and, especially, posting him down low. Up front, they go not to Pippen right away but to Bill Cartwright. If Cartwright can get a couple of quick fouls on the Pistons’ James Edwards, then Edwards must come out for John Salley. Salley is tall, but he doesn’t have the bulk to guard Cartwright, meaning that Laimbeer must switch over to guard center, with Salley on Horace Grant and, finally, Rodman on Pippen. Then they go to Pippen.

In both their last meeting at the Stadium and last week’s game at Detroit, the Bulls got Edwards into early foul trouble and were then able to go at Rodman. As for the Bulls’ defense, they shut down the Pistons’ trademark pick-and-roll play and forced them to shoot outside. Without Thomas, and with Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson cold, the Pistons couldn’t rally.

Rodman and Laimbeer are two of basketball’s most notorious villains. Rodman is an avowed hot dog with a fondness for cantering up and down the court like the steed of a military officer. On this evening, he had the phrase “Wild Thang” shaved into the hair at the back of his head, complete with musical notes. Laimbeer is a cheap-shot artist and a constant complainer in his relations with the referees. He had his cheek broken in preseason play and has taken to wearing a clear plastic mask to protect his face during games. Kerr called him “the Phantom of the Palace” because the Pistons’ home arena is called the Palace, and there is something about Laimbeer of one of those classic screen monsters. Like the Phantom of the Opera, like Michael Myers, like Jason, he is masked, but his is a clear mask. Cinema ghouls wear masks typically to hide their disfigurements–both psychic and physical. Laimbeer wears a mask, allowing that he is a freak, a tortured soul, but it allows others to see through it, as if he were proud of his faults and eager to put them on display, as if he were satisfied and happy in what he has become.

It feels so good to beat these guys.

The Bulls opened going consistently to Jordan, who was being guarded by Johnson, but he was cold from the field. The Pistons led 26-25 at the quarter. The Bulls rallied, however, in the second quarter, with Pippen leading the way. They took Edwards off the court with his third foul, then Pippen led the charge, including a coast-to-coast jam on a fast break right in the face of Salley. The Bulls led 44-41 at the half.

We have to rely on our initial radio impressions for the second half; the Boomer hadn’t rewound his tape all the way, so it shut off at intermission. After putting the baby down, however, we came back downstairs, fixed dinner, got the paper, and listened to Durham and Kerr do the game. The Bulls fell behind again in the second half, and appeared about to fold, as they had against the Spurs and the Lakers. Jordan, however, caught fire. He was not about to let the other players win or lose it for the team this time; he was determined not to let the Bulls fall. He scored the last ten Chicago points, a streak that could have been broken by a Will Perdue lay-up had he not muffed it. That boner seemed for a short time the Bulls’ swan song until Jordan got them back in the lead.

Then, with the Bulls up a point with 15 seconds to play and with their ball on the inbounds, the pass came in to Jordan, who was fouled immediately by Dumars. “Ooooh,” Kerr groaned, like Fat Albert having an orgasm. Yet Jordan missed one of the free throws, and the Pistons came back with a chance to tie or win. Durham did the play-by-play while Kerr watched the clock in silence. Laimbeer took a three–missed. Dumars got the rebound–missed. Rodman pulled the ball down–missed. Pippen–

“Yes!” Kerr screamed.

It was all we needed to hear.