By Gio Gloria 

“I’m back.” 

No two words could have created the same media frenzy in the 90s than those written by Michael Jordan back in March 18, 1995 to announce his return to the NBA. It sent shockwaves throughout the basketball world back then and it surely would have broken the internet if it was done in today’s media environment. 

“All seems right in the world right now because MJ’s back,” sports anchor Robin Roberts said on Jordan’s return. 

After more than a year and a half away from competitive basketball, Michael returned to the game, and it could not have come at a more opportune time. The Chicago Bulls were barely above .500 at 34-31 and Jordan’s insertion into the squad gave them a much-needed shot in the arm. He was naturally rusty after being away from the game for 21 months, but he eventually regained his old touch before the playoffs began. Not having a full season with the team, however, affected their postseason chances and in the end, former Bull Horace Grant and the Orlando Magic took down Chicago in six games. 

“All the world’s a stage when your name is Michael Jordan so the spotlight that shines brightly on your triumphs, also burns intensely on your mistakes,” SportsCenter anchor Dan Patrick said after the Bulls lost Game 1. 

 

Nothing drove Michael more than a challenge (and a little slight on the side). Drop 30-plus points on him (coupled with the myth of “Nice game, Mike.”) and he’ll get right back at you with 30 points of his own the next time you guys play each other, in the first half of the next game you play each other. Celebrate early (and in front of the Bulls bench) during the playoffs? He’ll sweep your team for the rest of the series. Ending the season without a title? He’ll be back in the gym planning his revenge tour. 

Seeing Michael discussing the conventions of trash talking (while swinging a bat and smoking a cigar) prior to Game 3 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals showed how much the game (and the game within the game) meant to him. His level of competitiveness was something he wanted to impress on a Bulls squad that only had Scottie Pippen left from the 1991 title team. The others never experienced the growing pains Chicago endured in the 80s nor did they pour their blood, sweat, and tears during the first Bulls three-peat. Whether it was playing pickup against the league’s young stars after filming Space Jam or taking on the likes of Steve Kerr in practice, Jordan took every opportunity to show them what winning meant and what it took to do so at the highest level. In the process, he left no stone unturned and when the 1995-1996 season ended, he led Chicago to a 72-10 record and more importantly, a ring. 

Michael’s return to the top had a bittersweet ending as his father James Jordan, who he regarded as his best friend, was no longer there to watch his games and celebrate his titles with him. Jordan was emotional prior to his first game back from his first retirement and right after he won the NBA title in 1996, the first one after his dad’s murder. The footage of him rolling on the floor after winning the championship was raw and emotional, providing a somber tone to what was the best run by any NBA team.  

With only two episodes left before The Last Dance concludes, it can be said that the second three-peat Jordan and the Bulls went on was their greatest act. Michael didn’t need to prove anything after accomplishing a feat neither Magic Johnson nor Larry Bird achieved, while the Bulls won 55 games without their biggest star. When Jordan returned, Chicago set the record for the most wins in the regular season, lost only 43 games during the 3-peat, and fought through all the drama and pressure stemming from constantly being in the spotlight. The approach he had to the game of basketball showed that the greats remain relentless, constantly pushing the envelope and raising the bar for excellence.