Legendary sports writer Jack McCallum used that word in the title of a Sports Illustrated article published in the May 15, 1989, issue, and it read foreign to 12-year-old me. I remember grabbing a dictionary to look up the meaning. The definition read, “Incapable of being fully explored or understood,” which captured everything about Michael Jordan. A week prior, on May 7, the Bulls star dispatched of the Cleveland Cavaliers with a game-winning, last-second shot that would go down as one of the most important footnotes of his illustrious career. And Money did it while wearing the “Black/Cement” Air Jordan IV, creating a defining moment for the shoe in the process.

Even the most casual sports fan knows the play. With three seconds left on the clock, Jordan takes the inbound pass, drives left, and rises above the outstretched hands of his defender Craig Ehlo. Jordan freezes himself in time and momentarily hangs in the air, while his would-be foe’s momentum carries him away. The Bulls star finally shoots, scores, and celebrates with a series of fist pumps, while Ehlo and other Cavs players crumple to the floor in agony. His red Bulls jersey and his sneakers have become cultural artifacts. Especially the shoes. The outsole pattern and the black, gray, white, and red color scheme of the Air Jordan are among the most recognizable in all of footwear, largely due to Jordan’s frozen moment in mid-air.

Jordan hit plenty of game-winning shots during his career. His jumper to win North Carolina the 1982 NCAA National Championship over Georgetown lives as “the birth of Michael Jordan,” as Jordan himself put it. Byron Russell, the one person who can empathize with Ehlo, fell victim to Jordan’s “Last Shot” in a Bulls uniform during Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. But the Cleveland bucket pushed the early Jordan narrative to new heights.  

“Un-fath-om-able.” That’s the word Cleveland center Brad Daugherty used to describe Jordan’s shot to close the series. “'Simply unfathomable.''