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100 Days of Hoops: Day 94

Michael Jordan announces his retirement from basketball in the Bulls training facility before the 1993-94 NBA Season.  Jordan would return eventually. (Photo Credit: NBA.com)

It’s the final seconds in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals.  John Paxson just made the three to put the Bulls up 99-98 with 3.9 seconds remaining.  To this point of the game, Michael Jordan had scored all nine points of the quarter until Horace Grant found John Paxson wide open to make the three.  The Bulls were up one and about four seconds away from something never been done in the NBA in almost thirty years.

The Suns inbound to Oliver Miller who hands it off right away back to Kevin Johnson.  Johnson crosses over Horace Grant, KJ finds an open lane and puts up a runner and as his shot goes up, Grant blocks the shot attempt and time expired.  The Chicago Bulls are the first team to win three championships in a row since the Boston Celtics from 1964-1966.  Michael Jordan, the obvious Finals MVP, averaged 41 points per game in the six-game series and was all smiles in the press conference.

“Magic, Bird, Isiah never did this,” Jordan told the press.  “I won’t say I’m better than those people but I’d say in terms of success consistently, that puts me right up there with them, if not a step above.”

And he was right, Magic and Isiah only went back-to-back, and Bird missed three-peat status by losing to the Lakers in 1985.  A month after Jordan and the Bulls won the third straight title, his father had been shot.  Let’s fast-forward to October to get closer to the 1993-94 NBA season.

In early October, Jordan called for a press conference in the Bulls training facility in Deerfield, IL.  When a press conference was announced, many basketball fans wondered if Jordan was actually going to retire.  Bulls owner Jerry Resindorf started the press conference by saying it was a bittersweet day for such a respected athlete and Chicago fans worldwide panicked.  Jordan confirmed the rumors, that he would retire basketball to play baseball.

Wait, what?

Even though Jordan had already won three, part of the basketball world already called him the Greatest Of All Time, why did he leave a sport he was the best in?

Jordan is never hesitant when he explains how his father initially wanted him to become a major league baseball player.  But even Jordan in that press conference said he would still make this decision even if his father were around.  He was also quick to mention how there wasn’t anything else he had to prove now that he’s accomplished so much in the NBA.  Jordan and Reinsdorf confirmed that Michael was to join the White Sox farm system, the Birmingham Barons. Damn, Michael, you were #1 in Chicago and couldn’t cut a deal with Chicago’s #1 team at the time?  I get it, the White Sox at the time were closer to a championship than the Cubs but still Mike you could’ve done better. At least you helped the White Sox and Birmingham Barons merchandise sales, so that’s good for their fans (and especially Jerry Resindorf).

A few days after that press conference, Jordan was spotted at what was then known as Comiskey Park II (now Guaranteed Rate Field) for Game 1 of the White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series.  Jordan left the game early for his safety, as people started to recognize him at the game.  The White Sox eventually lost the series in six games and the Blue Jays defended its title and went back-to-back.

Jordan began Spring Training in February for the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A minor league affiliate to the White Sox.  In Jordan’s book For the Love of the Game, he claimed he could have retired as early as 1992, citing the Dream Team run and the Bulls back-to-back championships took a toll on him, especially mentally.  Jordan’s baseball career isn’t really anything to write home about either,  it wasn’t like basketball, where everyone tried to mimic his skills but surely the Birmingham Barons appreciated it. Especially the number of people who would show up to games on a nightly basis. Jordan eventually batted a .202 average with 3 home runs, 51 RBI’s and 30 stolen bases.  Jordan’s baseball career wasn’t particularly great, but he was the subject of conversation everywhere he went.  Even the sports media knew this and wouldn’t give him an easy time.

In Chicago, the Bulls finished the 1993-94 season 55-27 and third in the Eastern Conference.  In the playoffs, Chicago swept the Cavaliers in three games, then faced the New York Knicks in Round 2.  The Bulls-Knicks rivalry was at its peak in 1994.  The Knicks prevailed in seven games after what Scottie Pippen believes to be a blown call in Game 5.  With the final seconds winding down, Hubert Davis of the Knicks looks to make the go-ahead basket in the waning seconds, Pippen tries to go for the block and Davis falls to the ground.  Referee Hue Hollins called a foul on Pippen which sent Davis to the free throw line.  It was a late whistle and Pippen’s contact with Davis’ arms was after the shot.

“That’s a call you don’t normally get,” Hubert Davis recalled fourteen years after the game.  The Knicks went on to lose the NBA Finals to the Houston Rockets in seven games.

In November of 1994, the Bulls retired #23 for Jordan and released The Spirit, a statue you can see inside the United Center today.  A few months later Jordan sent a fax to the Bulls training facility in Deerfield, IL.

i'm back

Thanks again for being in the news, Michael. (Photo Credit: Complex.com)

Jordan came back wearing #45 because he couldn’t wear his retired number 23, but he switched it back in the middle of the playoffs.  At one point in the Bulls 1994-95 season, the team was 31-31.  Jordan propelled the Bulls to win thirteen of the final sixteen games as the team finished 47-35 and the 5th seed in the East.  The Bulls beat Charlotte in four games and eventually lost to Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway of the Orlando Magic.  Former Bull Horace Grant was on the Magic as well and the Orlando beat the Pacers in the following round en route to its first NBA Finals appearance.  It wasn’t over for Jordan and the Bulls though. We now know #45 Jordan was mortal but it was far from over.  The Bulls would be back for sure but would they be the same?

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