Nba player

“How do I keep Michael Jordan?” “

As an NBA player, Pat Burke was indeed one of a kind. “Unique” is one of those words that is used too often in sports analysis, enough to lose meaning. Nothing can be “very unique” because to be unique is to be alone. If you think it’s foolish to call a woman “very pregnant” then you understand. It is either / or, yes or no, a binary condition. But what makes a guy with career averages of 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds over three NBA seasons unique? Specifically, how is such a player mentioned along with arguably Michael Jordan’s greatest player?

Burke attended high school in Florida and played four seasons at Auburn University. Undrafted, he has rebounded in Europe for most of his 12 professional seasons. But for three years, Burke was an NBA player, the first and still the only one of his type. And once, he faced, albeit briefly, the legendary Jordan.

Pat Burke is the only Irish native to play in the NBA

The only NBA player from Ireland, Pat Burke played three seasons and had a one-on-one battle – albeit briefly – with Michael Jordan. | Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images

Pat Burke was born in Tullamore, located in County Offaly, in central Ireland. Spelled Tulach Mhor in Irish, the name translates to “great mound”. So you could say that Burke was a big man from a big mound. When he was 4, his family moved to Cleveland. He started playing hockey before his family moved south for better weather conditions.

Burke rose to 6-foot-7 by 16, and the Cape Coral High School basketball coach recruited him. By the time he left Auburn he was 6 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds of sturdy Irish banger. He arrived in the NBA in 2002 with the Orlando Magic, and that’s when he crossed paths with Michael Jordan, who was in his final season (and this time he meant it) with the Washington Wizards.

He told Kieran Cunningham of the Irish website Buzz that he was a very interested viewer of The last dance when it premiered on Netflix in 2020. And why not? Burke was the only Irishman to face MJ head-to-head in an NBA arena. It was January 2003, and it was unlike anything the great man had ever imagined living.

Burke faced Michael Jordan in an unexpected way

The Magic was visiting the Wizards in what was then known as the MCI Center in Washington. Orlando moved closer to three points early in the fourth quarter before the Wizards fell 18 points combined in the fourth quarter to Larry Hughes and Kwame Brown.

With two minutes to go, Burke has had his moment. Coach Doc Rivers emptied the bench during a timeout. The Magic were down 106-91. Jordan was still on the pitch for Washington. The great Irishman could not have dreamed of the following:

“I was sitting on the bench looking at the clock. I had told the coach that I had never played against Michael; he told me I would have a chance. But the hour was ticking. … Then I got the green light. I have never warmed up so quickly. I went to the field and looked to see who I was covering – Michael Jordan!

“He just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t hurt me, big boy.’ I bumped into him, trying to protect him, and it went through my mind, ‘How do I keep Michael Jordan?’ “

Burke had the best of the game, in a way. He blocked a shot from Hughes and recovered the rebound. After Orlando scored on the other end, a stoppage of play allowed Wizards coach Doug Collins to take Jordan off the field. After 58 seconds of playing time, the Jordan-Burke showdown was over.

Pat Burke has built an accomplished career spanning 5 countries and 2 continents

Pat Burke did not face Michael Jordan while playing for Polish club Asseco Prokom Sopot in 2008

Pat Burke (31) did not face Michael Jordan while playing for Polish club Asseco Prokom Sopot in 2008. | Wojciech Figurski / Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

After a season with the Magic, Pat Burke returned to Europe. He played two seasons in Spain before spending two years with the Phoenix Suns from 2005 to 2007.

Besides Spain, Burke has also performed in Greece, Russia and Poland. The highlight of his professional career was a EuroLeague title with the Panathinaikos in 2000. But he remembers his NBA days most fondly. He shared a rookie season with Hall of Famer Yao Ming, after all. But he also won three national titles in Greece and one in Spain and Poland.

But it is his NBA time that Burke remembers most fondly.

“I remember being in Atlanta and walking past their arena,” Burke said. “They had a big banner announcing the international names of the NBA. And up there, there were Ming and Burke! It was an honor in itself.

And, hey, for almost a minute Pat Burke played Michael Jordan to a draw as the main defenseman. It may not be unique, but it is rare.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and RealGM.

RELATED: Michael Jordan Stunned Shaquille O’Neal By Retiring In 1993 After Winning His Third Title In A Row: “I Just Want To Say I Miss Playing With Him”


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