Four anecdotes from Michael Jordan's first return to the NBA
Michael Jordan announced his return to the Chicago Bulls 20 years ago Wednesday - on March 18, 1995 - after nearly two full seasons away from the game.
It's a story that would break the Internet, television, radio and every other medium of communication today. A quick recap for those born yesterday: After three straight championships, Jordan retired at the height of his powers in 1993 and pursued another dream—playing professional baseball. He missed the entire 1993-1994 season, but three-quarters of the way through the next season, rumblings of Jordan's return grew louder.
Was he coming back? Would he return to form as the player that won three straight Finals MVPs?
Once Jordan made it official he would be resuming his basketball career, the intrigue only grew. We dove in to the SI Vault to highlight some of the repercussions of Jordan's decision:
Jordan kept Scottie Pippen from being traded
Jordan and Pippen were the Lennon and McCartney of their era. The duo was largely responsible for the team's success, and Pippen especially became synonymous with his teammate on the perimeter.
Pippen's solo career seemed bright, but friction with Bulls management, specifically over a larger contract and role for import Toni Kukoc, made him want out of Chicago. Jordan's return helped grease the wheels for Pippen to remain with Chicago ahead of the second three-peat:
But it was clear that before Jordan committed himself to a comeback of any duration, he wanted to be certain about what he was coming back to. Sources close to him indicated that he wanted Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to assure the continued presence in Chicago of disgruntled All-Star forward Scottie Pippen by renegotiating Pippen's contract. Pippen, who has an acrimonious relationship with Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, has asked to be traded, and Chicago has tried to accommodate him.
Pippen, of course, took back his trade request and won three more titles in Chicago.
Jordan wore 45 because of his father
Jordan's No. 23 uniform is one of the most iconic in all of sports, which made his appearance in a No. 45 jersey its own lasting memory. Jordan, who wore 45 while playing baseball, was allowed to wear his then-retired No. 23 when he returned, but he opted for his newer number, in large part due to his deceased father:
But Jordan refuses to compete with his own ghost, and if that surprises some people, it is only because they have not paid attention to his hints. He wore number 45 on Sunday, the number he wore in his baseball fling with the Chicago White Sox organization, refusing to take his retired Bull number 23 down from the rafters because, he said, his late father, James, saw the last game he played wearing that uniform, and he wants to keep it that way. But the new number also seems to be his way of saying that this is a new era, a new Jordan, and that nothing he accomplishes or fails to accomplish in this new incarnation should have the slightest effect on our memories of the old one.
Jordan would ultimately return to the famous 23 during the Eastern Conference semis against the Orlando Magic, a decision that proved quite costly for His Airness.
Jordan had to take a private jet to avoid the media crush
The return was only one of the biggest stories ever, so it was no surprise the media pulled out all the stops to try to figure out if, and then why, Jordan would come back:
Some news organizations got carried away in their pursuit of the story. At the Bulls' practice last Thursday at the Berto Center in suburban Deerfield, Ill., one reporter disabled the electronic gate to the parking lot in hopes of keeping Jordan from driving in without a word before practice. (Jordan heard about the maneuver, alerted the Bulls and had the gate opened manually.) On Saturday night the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis broke into regular programming to show the Bulls' bus arriving at the team hotel. Unfortunately, Jordan wasn't on it. He flew in on his private plane on Sunday morning and stayed at a different hotel from the rest of the team.
Jordan made the Bulls eight times more likely to win a championship
The Bulls were very good, but certainly not great, without Jordan during the 1994-1995 season. If anyone needed further proof just how much of a singular force Jordan was, just look at how hints of his return affected Chicago's title odds—despite Jordan not playing professional basketball for almost two years:
Leading the Bulls through that postseason obstacle course to the championship would be an unprecedented achievement, but bettors, at least, apparently have faith in Jordan. As his return seemed to grow increasingly likely, a Las Vegas line on Chicago's winning the title fell precipitously, going from 40 to 1 to 5 to 1.