An NBA game is 48 minutes worth of basketball, maybe a bit longer if overtime periods are necessary. However, the result of the game can go down to the last second; sometimes the winning team is not the best team, but the team who can get the last shot off before time expires. Some NBA fans love that the game can boil down to one moment, while others hate that everything else that came before it ultimately means nothing. Whatever a fan’s stance is on that, there is no denying that the last few, precious seconds of regulation in a hotly-contested game is one of the most heart pumping experiences there is in the NBA.
Who has the most buzzer-beaters in NBA history? The record for the most game-winning buzzer-beaters in NBA history belongs to its biggest star ever, Michael Jordan. The former Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards star hit 9 game-winning buzzer-beaters in his career. His first buzzer-beater came in 1989 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, while his last buzzer beater came in 2002, his only buzzer beater in his short stint with the Washington Wizards. Jordan’s 9 buzzer-beaters put him ahead of other all-time great scorers, such as Kobe Bryant (8), Joe Johnson (8), LeBron James (7), and Paul Pierce (7).
What is a buzzer-beater?
A buzzer beater is the term used for a basket that is made just as the quarter expires. The requirement is that the ball must leave the player’s hand before the “buzzer” goes off; as long as the shot has been attempted, it will be counted if it is made despite time already being over. Technically, a buzzer beater can happen at the end of any quarter, but its mostly used to indicate made baskets at the end of the 4th quarter and any overtime period (basically in an instance where the game can be decided).
It is important to note the difference between buzzer-beaters and game-winners. A game-winning shot is the final shot that decides the game, but occurs while there is still time on the clock. Buzzer-beaters can either be the game-winning shot (the final shot is the final play of the game and decides the end result) or the game-tying shot (forcing an overtime period). Game-winning buzzer-beaters are what is usually referred to as buzzer-beaters, although both types are valid and common.
List of NBA Game Winning Buzzer Beater Leaders – All Time
Michael Jordan – 9
Kobe Bryant – 8
Joe Johnson – 8
*Lebron James – 7
Paul Pierce – 7
How was Michael Jordan able to score so many buzzer-beaters in his career?
Michael Jordan is one of the most famous and accomplished athletes in the world, let alone in the NBA. He was a fierce competitor and a mentality monster, which combined with his gifted physical abilities, has made him stand over the rest of the NBA during his playing days, and many still think no other player has reached heights quite as high as Michael Jordan. One of Jordan’s greatest abilities was his reliability in the clutch; he could be trusted to hit big-time shots on the biggest stage time and time again.
His 1st buzzer-beater was against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 NBA Playoffs. A first-round matchup had gone to 5 games (back when the first round of the playoffs were best-of-five series), and with the game on the line, Jordan hit a midrange jumper over the Cavaliers defender that is know remembered as “The Shot.” It is one of only 2 buzzer-beaters in a series-deciding game in the playoffs (such as a Game 7, winner-takes-all situation), and Jordan’s first buzzer-beater is arguably his most memorable. Another series-winning buzzer-beater happens to also come by Jordan’s hands against the Cleveland Cavaliers, this time in the second round of the 1993 NBA Playoffs to complete the sweep (some like to call it “The Shot II”).
Jordan hit 2 buzzer-beater winners each against the Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Jazz, including one in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals, and 1 buzzer-beater apiece against the Charlotte Hornets and the Detroit Pistons. As a Bulls player, Jordan hit all but one of his buzzer-beaters; his final buzzer-beater game-winner came when he was wrapping up his career on the Washington Wizards. In 2002, Jordan hit his last-ever buzzer-beater against none other than the Cleveland Cavaliers (also called “The Shot III”).
Who are the other players who have come close to Michael Jordan’s record for most game-winning buzzer-beaters?
While Jordan’s 9 game-winning buzzer-beaters are an incredible feat and a record that continues to stand, a few players have come close. Kobe Bryant, who’s playstyle and mental approach to the game nearly mirrored Jordan’s, hit 8 game-winning buzzer beaters in his career, including many high-profile, very difficult shots in big-game situations. The only other player to hit 8 buzzer-beaters is one that the casual fan may not know about, but people who follow the NBA closely can attest to the dominance of this player: Joe Johnson. Popularly known as “Iso Joe” for his masterful 1v1 scoring, the former Hawks and Nets player would get the ball in his hands in late-game situations and his skillset allowed him to give his teams a last-gasp win.
The player with the most buzzer-beaters who is still active is LeBron James, who has hit 7 game-winning buzzer-beaters in his career so far. Often criticized in his early years for passing the ball up in clutch situations, LeBron James has matured into becoming the shot-taker at the end of games, and has hit some big daggers so far. LeBron still plays at a high level for the Los Angeles Lakers, and has a chance to maybe match Jordan’s record or even surpass it before he retires.
The buzzer-beater is truly one of the most electric moments in basketball, and causes frenzied celebrations for the winning team and a heart wrenching sorrow for the losing team. What went down in the entirety of the game can all fall away to the background, as the result of a long, hard-fought battle is brought to the last seconds. When the game is on the line, you want the ball in the trustworthy hands, and no one was more deserving of the last shot in NBA history than the great Michael Jordan.