The Shot Of The Shot Is No. 1

As sports fans, we live for the action. The movement, the speed, the grace and physicality of the athletes, and the path of the ball in the air.

With HD technology, we bring the action into our homes. And with the Internet, we have the ability to watch the action over and over again.

Yet a still photograph, a single frame of action, can elicit feelings and responses that video can’t. Don’t think so? Just browse through Sports Illustrated‘s 100 Greatest Sports Photos of All Time.

From Aaron to Alcindor and Ali, the list includes photos of the greatest athletes of the last century. Bannister, Dimaggio, Gretzky, Mays, Montana, Phelps, Robinson, Ruth, and Woods. The list goes on and on, and includes nine shots of NBA action.

The nine include the No. 1 sports photo of all time, according to SI. It comes from NBAE photographer Fernando Medina, and is of maybe the most iconic moment in NBA history.

The Chicago Bulls had a 3-2 series lead in the 1998 Finals, but they were on the road, they were running on fumes and Scottie Pippen injured his back in the early minutes of Game 6. The Bulls all knew that this was the end of the line, with Michael Jordan was set to retire, and Pippen and coach Phil Jackson set to leave Chicago.

When John Stockton hit a 3-pointer to put the Jazz up 86-83 with 42 seconds left, things looked desperate for Chicago. But then Jordan got an open lane to the basket for a layup and the Bulls only needed one stop to give themselves a chance to win. The Jazz didn’t even get a shot up, as Jordan left Jeff Hornacek to swipe the ball from Karl Malone in the low post.

Jordan calmly dribbled the ball up the floor and his teammates cleared out. He ran the clock down to under the 10 second mark, shook Bryon Russell, and rose for a 19-foot jumper, the last shot of his storied Bulls career.

On the opposite end of the floor, Medina sat with his camera.

This week, Medina answered a few questions about that moment, that shot, and having his photo honored by SI

Michael Jordan's game-winner in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images What do you remember about that moment?
Fernando Medina:
Just that there was a high probability that Jordan would take the shot and I wanted to make sure I framed it right and that it was in focus. I was part of NBA Photos’ team of photographers covering The Finals. We had discussed how we wanted to cover possible game-winning shots. Since the Bulls were going away from me and the action would happen on the opposite end of the court, I just made sure my mechanics were right. Did you know at the time that you had just taken an iconic photograph?
Actually, not really. The image was photographed on slide film, so unlike the digital cameras of today, I had no way of seeing the photo until it had been developed by a film lab. Joe Amati, with NBA Photos, approached me on the court immediately after the game, wanting to know if I had gotten the photo. I knew the camera had triggered, but, I had no way of knowing if the flash strobes had fired, and told him as much.

I then went over to the Bulls hotel to cover their arrival back from the arena. When they arrived on the team bus, fellow NBA Photographer Andy Bernstein was with them. I followed him into an elevator along with Bulls guard Ron Harper who was holding the NBA Finals Trophy. We ended up on the Bulls floor and next thing I knew, we were in a suite and there was Michael Jordan, sitting at a grand piano with a cigar holding a bottle of champagne, singing “I want to be like Mike”. A member of the NBA Entertainment video crew used a lamp sans shade to light the scene. Walter Iooss was also there, covering Michael. It was surreal.

Afterwards, Andy and I headed to the local film lab that NBA Photos was using to develop the game film that evening. That was the first time I saw the image. No one had found it yet in the dozens of bags of slides from that night. Knowing how I had marked the specific film bag, I found it, opened the box of slides and it was the second image I pulled from the box. I held it up to the light and looked at it for a moment, handed it to Amati, and never saw it again until it was published in ESPN Magazine. That was the first time I was able to actually “see” and truly appreciate the photo. What’s your favorite part of the photo?
That’s easy, the myriad expressions of the fans in the stands. An NBA team executive I know has a 3′ x 5′ framed copy in his office. You can spend quite some time lost in all the expressions. I saw none of that when I took the photo. All I concentrated on, at the time, was a wide shot including Jordan, the ball, most/all of the players on the court and the shot clock. Anything special about the camera/technique in getting that shot?
The NBA Photos team uses a system, designed by LPA Design, of FlashWizard 2 transceiver units that allow an unlimited number of cameras, either manned by a photographer or preset as a remote, to be triggered by one photographer simultaneously while synched to a single set of flash strobe units mounted high above the court on the arena’s catwalk. This results in well-lit, high-quality images from unlimited multiple angles of any play. Also, another factor that worked in my favor was the close proximity of the fans to the court in Utah. In most arenas, the stands are farther away from the court and would not have been as well lit as in EnergySolutions Arena. Is it harder to get a great shot from the opposite end of the floor than from the near side?
I wouldn’t say it’s harder, just that your objective may be different. Your subject is facing away from you, but, as this image proves, if you plan ahead, you can end up with a decent frame. I didn’t get Jordan’s face, but I got a few hundred other ones that tell the story of that moment in history. Also, it’s actually easier, if your trying to get the shot clock as part of the image. What does it mean to you to be honored by Sports Illustrated like this?
I am honored and very humbled by this recognition. To me, it represents what this country is all about. Who could foresee that a poor refugee from Cuba would end up with the opportunity of photographing Michael Jordan taking his last shot as a Bull to win the 1998 NBA Finals, and make good on that opportunity! Amazing. To think of all the great photographers and their great photographs through time and history, I find it hard to believe that God blessed me with the image chosen as Sports Illustrated‘s favorite, so far. Thank you very much to those at SI who liked my work enough to bestow it with such an incredible honor.


  1. Jesie says:

    The best shot ever!! There wil never be another MJ!! There will be great players like Kobe or L.James, K.Durant but never as great as Jordan!!!!!

  2. IGGY says:

    game 6, 6.6 seconds, 6th Nba title, 23 = 2×3 = 6…just noticed…

  3. richard says:

    well like most great athletes they finish off their careers on a different team. Joe Montana, Bobby Orr, But this is the image that comes to mind when i think of Michael Jordan. This is a fairy-tale ending for his Chicago career. This could be debated as the greatest image in sports let alone the NBA.

  4. Edson says:

    Drible em cima do Bryon Russell a la Garrincha e 6 titulo para um dos Gênios do esporte.. o maior da história do basquete!!!

  5. hangtime says:

    Too bad Michael Jordan pushed off Bryon Russell to get this shot.

  6. Marcus Vinicius says:

    The photo is wonderful. The faces and the expresions of Utah Jaz’s fans told all the story.

  7. VLAD says:

    Still the greatest man who ever played the sport!!
    Without him the game will never be the same…..

  8. The shot clock says:

    The shot clock. 6.6 seconds left.
    6 time NBA champion, 6 time NBA Finals MVP!

  9. MiamiSHORTSEASONchump says:

    Michael Jordan will forever be no.1 player in NBA.. no.2 is Kobe.. and to those asking for Lechoke? fck,, lechoke isn’t in top 30 too.. .. A real King never quit.. QUITNESS is for lechoke….. last ring for lechoke..and its a short season ring… doesn’t count for you to be called a champ..

  10. tyrone says:

    Michael Jordan would have had the a great ending to his career if he didn’t go to the Washington Wizards

    • Christiaen says:

      It is called the love for the game….he just didn’t know how to quit.
      If the fire still burns within you, it’s just hard to listen to reason.
      I think he knows deep down, he should have never played for the Wizards, but on the other hand, maybe he would still be asking himself now what if….
      In a way Chicago was the end of his career. The Wizards were just (sour) dessert.

    • toytoygogie says:

      LOL, MJ didn’t go to Wizards to play basketball as a game. He was there to dedicate his salary for the 9/11 attacks. Sort of he’s playing the game as entertainment and can say not at his best at all, not as him the MJ that we use to be entertained from 1998 below.

  11. princess says:

    historic moment for basketball as Michael show his prowess once again as he finish off his career with the Bulls.

  12. I don’t get it. Maybe I’m dumb but isn’t “The Shot” the shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Craig Ehlo sometimes around 1988 in around the second round of the Eastern conference play-offs?

    I always thought this one against Bryon “Don’t call me Byron” Russell’s called “The last dance”?