When Doug Christie arrived in Sacramento in 2000, he was a highly-regarded defensive stopper with a developing 3-point shot. Four years earlier, however, Christie was on his third team in four years, unsure if he had a place in the NBA.
One game against Michael Jordan and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls helped convince Christie otherwise.
Christie had been traded from New York to Toronto a month earlier, and the expansion Raptors immediately plugged him into the rotation. Still, earning minutes for a team that would finish 21-61 didn’t make Christie feel like he had made it. But on March 24, 1996, Toronto handed Chicago one of its ten losses that whole season, and Christie played an integral part, as relayed by Eric Koreen of The Athletic:
That day, the 25-year-old Christie logged 26 minutes for the Raptors — most of them spent guarding the greatest player of all time.
Christie’s numbers that day were solid: 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting — including 3-for-3 from deep — to go with three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Meanwhile, Jordan was his typical self, with 36 points on 14-for-22 shooting. However, Jordan’s would-be game-winner was released a few tenths of a second too late after the Raptors defence had successfully forced the ball out of his hands earlier in the shot clock.
“In the timeout, (then-assistant coach) Darrell Walker said, ‘OK, (veteran Raptors guard) Alvin (Robertson), you’re going to stick on him for the last shot,” Christie recalled earlier this week in an interview over the phone. “And Alvin kind of paused and looked like, ‘Hey, the young fella’s been doing a good job on him. Let him go.’ For me in many ways, because Alvin was such a great defender and a friend of Michael’s, it was a validation for me. At the same time, it was just one of those times where you’re like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Christie successfully defended Jordan on the final possession and earned his respect in the process; Jordan even gave him his autograph after the game was over.
The experience of guarding Jordan helped Christie learn techniques that would serve him well in future seasons, like doing most of his work before the offensive player even caught the ball to prevent deep post position. Christie also developed the practice of “journaling” in which he outlined how the matchup would go ahead of time and then returned to his notes after the game was played. That journal helped Christie for future matchups and gave him ideas for other defensive assignments.
Christie also acknowledged that playing Jordan ended up being helpful later in his career because his frequent playoff foe Kobe Bryant copied so much of Jordan’s game, something that has resurfaced in Christie’s memory as he watches “The Last Dance”:
“He learned to be so efficient with what he did. That was impressive,” Christie continued. “As I watch the documentary it makes me upset, because I’m like, ‘Those are the things that he passed on to Kobe,’ and that’s the guy who’s most responsible for keeping me from getting a championship ring.”
It’s strange to think of Christie as ever lacking confidence in himself, especially on the defensive end, but so many young players need time to adjust to the professional level, and Christie was no exception. Being able to not only hold his own against Jordan, but also earn a victory, proved to be a “turning point” in Christie’s career.
As the world tunes into “The Last Dance”, much of the discourse is about how Jordan motivated himself with perceived slights or manufactured gripes. Jordan was also responsible for inspiring others, and without even meaning to, he had a lasting impact on a Sacramento great.