June 12, 1991. Michael Jordan officially arrived.
On this day 28 years ago, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their first championship in franchise history. It was his seventh season, he also won his second MVP award and he finally broke through as a winner when many of his critics doubted he do anything else but score. Ironically, I was born on June 13, 1991 the day after Jordan had officially arrived so I was never educated enough on the greatness of MJ until ESPN released their 10-part documentary on the final season Jordan had with the Chicago Bulls titled, “The Last Dance.” The documentary shows an in depth description of MJ’s entire career and we find out a lot about the legend that many people my age had no clue about. From the stats, to the influence, to the culture, to the spectacular plays. There was and there will never be another player like Michael Jordan. He revolutionized the game into what we see today and influenced an entire generation to come after him.
Let’s rewind to 1984, fresh out of college (University of North Carolina) coming off a game winning basket in the NCAA Tournament, it was almost certain that MJ would be a top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. It was June 19, 1984 New York City, New York and the Houston Rockets won a coin flip which rewarded them the number one pick who was almost certainly Akeem (later Hakeem) Olajuwon. The question now was what are the Portland Trailblazers going to do with the number two pick that they had? A year prior in the 1983 draft they took a guard by the name of Clyde Drexler who played the exact same position as MJ. With Drexler on the roster, the Blazers felt they had zero room for MJ on the team. “With the number two pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, the Portland TrailBlazers select Sam Bowie, center from the University of Kentucky.” At this time, passing up Jordan for Bowie made all the sense in the world. The Blazers were hungry for another big man and had not had one since the Bill Walton era in the 70s. During that summer, the Blazers were fined $250,000 (equivalent of $640,000 in 2020) for improper contact with Olajuwon and center Patrick Ewing.(the player who Jordan eliminated the most in his career) The Blazers never had contact with MJ. The Chicago Bulls drafted Jordan with the number three pick and the rest was history. Sam Bowie had a nine year injury-laden career and in 2005, ESPN named the Blazers’ choice the worst draft pick in the history of North American professional sports. MJ went on to win Rookie of the Year averaging 28.2 points per game plus leading the team in rebounding, assists, and steals. The Bulls went to the playoffs for the first time in 3 years, while also never missing the playoffs in his career. Bulls head coach at the time, Kevin Loughery said after three games with MJ, “he’s the best player on this team.” The rest was history.
1985-86 was a bit up and down for MJ. During the third game of the season Jordan fractured a bone in his left foot putting him on the shelf for at least six weeks, painful for the up and coming franchise and star of the NBA. In the documentary we find out that Jordan recovered faster than normal and would secretly go play games at his former college UNC. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf could have be admitted to the hospital for the type of anxiety this caused him so he allowed Jordan to play the final few games of the season on a 14 minute restriction. According to the documentary, Jordan was told there was a 10 percent chance his career could be over if he came back too early. Jordan said he saw it as a 90% chance his career wouldn’t be over while management wasn’t willing to take the chance. Jordan was asked whether he would take a pill for a headache if nine out of 10 would heal him but there was a chance one might kill him. “Depends on how f**king bad the headache is,” Jordan said. That quote showed the heart and mindset that Jordan brought to the game. “I would have listened to the doctors. I would have sat out if — and only if — they could have showed me a player with an injury comparable to mine, if there had been a player with my injury who came back and reinjured the same area. They couldn’t do it.” There was no one like MJ and that statement says a lot about who he was for the remainder of his career. By the end of the season, the Bulls were headed for not making the playoffs. They had a game against the Pacers to qualify — Jordan had 26 points but was taken out during the fourth quarter because of his minutes restriction and he watched from the bench as John Paxson came and saved the day rewarding the Bulls with the 8th seed and matchup against the beasts of the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics. Soon the world would meet the man they would within those 3 game against the Celtics, “His Airness” was born.
April 20, 1986 was the date. Boston Garden was the venue. Michael Jordan was the headliner. A day NBA fans will never forget. Jordan played a total of 18 games during the season and by Game Two of the playoffs, he seemed to be back at full strength. Jordan went on to score his playoff career high of 63 points against the number one team in the NBA but in a losing effort. In the game, Jordan was 22-for-41 overall, did not attempt a 3-pointer also sinking 19 of his 21 free throws. The Celtics went on to sweep the Bulls, but the legend was born. “I didn’t think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us,” said Celtics star Larry Bird after Game 2. “He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.” His Game 2 performance was so awe-inspiring that people forget about his Game 1 performance. He scored 49 points in 43 minutes – again, without shooting a single three. He went on to average 43 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in that series. No one has ever scored more than 63 points in the playoffs. Many call that Celtics team the greatest of all-time which makes it almost astonishing that someone could torch them the way Jordan did albeit in a losing effort. It’s important to mention this series because I believe that’s when Jordan realized he was unstoppable. The following season the Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant and after the 87 season, Jordan never felt the pain of first round defeat again.
By the end of the 93 season, Jordan had already won three NBA championships, three league MVPs, three Finals MVPs, one defensive player of the year award, eight all star appearances, six first team all-NBA awards plus slam dunk champion twice. He was the scoring champion seven years in a row, also leading the league in steals for three seasons. All around we never saw anyone like Jordan even up to that point. By the end of the 93 season, Jordan was drained from so many games and the media frenzy. MJ was a rockstar at the time and felt it was nothing else to accomplish in the sport. Tragically on July 23, 1993, James Jordan the father of Michael was taking a road trip back to his home in Charlotte after a funeral in Wilmington, NC. He had a flight scheduled back to Chicago the next morning. He never made it, he was found in a South Carolina swamp dead while his body draped over a tree limb. This day altered the life of MJ forever. His desire to play basketball wasn’t there anymore. From the media to the fans in other stadiums he would have to go to, seemed to be too much at this time for Jordan so he retired on October 6, 1993 at a press conference heard around the world. Ready to move on and take on new challenges, Jordan said that his father’s dream was always for him to play baseball. So on February 7, 1994 the Chicago White Sox decided to sign Jordan to a minor league contract and a new era of MJ was set to begin. His baseball career began in Birmingham, Alabama for the double A Barons. He began with a 13 game hitting streak, which rarely happens for a rookie in their first season playing professionally bringing his batting average to .327 by that late April. Because of a strike during the 1994 MLB season they decided to cancel the season due to money issues. Jordan batted .202 with three home runs, 51 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases. Impressive for someone who didn’t play baseball for 14 years. It had been 18 months since MJ announced he was no longer playing basketball. Rumors began to swirl after the baseball strike that Jordan was looking to return to the NBA. This truly sounds like a scene out of a movie the way MJ executed his transition from the NBA to the MLB and on March 18, 1995 using just a simple fax machine, MJ announced to the entire world, I’M BACK!
The question before the 1998 season was will the Bulls return with their full core to try to 3-peat for a second time and win the franchises sixth championship. Bulls GM Jerry Krause announced before the start of the season that Head Coach Phil Jackson will be returning for his last season and will be gone regardless if he goes 82-0. After the Bulls went on to win their fifth championship in seven years, MJ said in a press conference that he refused to play for any other coach besides Jackson. Going into the 98 season, Jackson decided to tell his players, this will be “The Last Dance.” As we all know, the Bulls went on to win their sixth championship in eight years in 98 cementing them as the team of the 90s making Jordan a phenomenal 6-0 in the championship round. In my opinion, I do believe the Bulls could have won again in 99. GM Jerry Krause helped build the team into the dynasty that it turned out to become. Jordan and Krause never had the great relationship but they made it work. Krause had personal problems with the coach he helped bring aboard but was ready to dismantle and rebuild by the end of the 98n run. It’s almost unbelievable how someone could let the greatest player to ever play walk away when he still had at least 3-5 years left in him. It will always been interesting to find out exactly why Krause wanted to break up the team when they had gas left in the tank. Scottie Pippen was truly undervalued/underpaid and was just about ready to move on from the Bulls. Dennis Rodman who arrived before the 95 season had his ups and downs with the Bulls but always showed up and did his job no matter what. But Bulls management had enough of Rodman’s off the court antics and were ready to move on from him as well while Rodman had his eyes set on a pro wrestling career. Without his two running mates and his head coach for 10 years, Jordan decided to retire for the second time in January of 99 around the time the NBA season was locked out and suspended. It hurt Bulls fans all across the world and the end was finally here. In the documentary, Bulls owner Reinsdorf said, “Things were out of our control. The roster would have been too expensive and that coach Phil Jackson didn’t want to be part of a rebuild.” Jordan responded with, “If you ask all the guys who won in ’98 … ‘We’ll give you a one-year contract to try for a seventh’, you think they would’ve signed? Yes, they would’ve signed,” he says. It really sounds like Reinsdorf wanted the team to continue, but for some reason he allowed Krause to dismantle the franchise and start a rebuild. Jordan went on to say, “It’s maddening [to leave with gas in the tank] because I feel like we could’ve won seven. I really believe that.” We all believe that MJ. Jordan made his final shot in a Bulls uniform to win that championship for the Bulls. On the court it was a storybook ending, off the court MJ was pushed out of Chicago thanks to a man who felt like he was bigger than the players. The Bulls have been back to the Eastern Conference Finals one time since Jordan left, never making it back to the Finals since the 98 season. In 2003, Krause resigned as GM. He explained, “The rigors and stress of the job have caused me some minor physical problems in the past few years.” It’s pretty astonishing to see that Krause was the last man standing. “The Last Dance” did not have to happen until at least the beginning of the 2002-03 season if they kept Jordan and Phil. Overall for someone born in the 90s and not able to remember the moments of Jordan, this documentary has made me realize the greatest player to ever live, play, walk, eat, dunk, dribble, defend, and talk, is absolutely the great Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Sports & Culture Editor for SWGRUS.