Over the course of 15 NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, Michael Jordan won 825 games, 706 in the regular season, and 119 in the playoffs. And of those 825 victories, perhaps none meant more to MJ than the one that took place on Father’s Day in 1996.
It was on that day that the Bulls were attempting to finish the greatest season in NBA history. After winning a then-record 72 games in the regular season, Jordan & Co. had marched through the NBA playoffs, losing just one game in their first three series leading into an NBA Finals matchup with the Seattle Supersonics.
The Bulls were clearly the better team and easily won the first three games. But the Sonics never quit and won the fourth and fifth games in Seattle, sending the series back to Chicago for Game 6, which Chicago won easily. It was Jordan fourth NBA title but the first without his father by his side.
James Jordan, of course, had been tragically murdered three years earlier, an event that played a major part in Jordan retiring from the NBA for the first time. He and Michael had been very close and he was famously a part of each of the Bulls’ first three championship celebrations. Knowing this was the first championship he wouldn’t celebrate alongside his dad, Michael was completely overcome with emotions, which led to maybe the most human moment we ever witnessed from Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan struggled coming back to the NBA in 1995 without his father by his side
lt’s certainly understandable why Jordan chose to retire in 1993 following the death of his father. James Jordan had always been very supportive of his son’s dream of becoming a professional basketball player and attended the vast majority of his son’s games with the North Carolina Tar Heels and Chicago Bulls. In addition, before the elder Jordan’s death, the two had discussed the possibility of MJ attempting a career in professional baseball, which MJ obviously did.
But once that dream came to an end in the spring of 1995, Jordan faced a new challenge as he returned to the NBA. But the challenge wasn’t only once again becoming the game’s greatest player after a year and a half away, it was playing without his father there to support him.
And he initially struggled with it.
Ahead of his first game back with the Bulls in March 1995, Jordan admitted to feeling “nervous” and “naked” because James wasn’t there, saying everything “seemed so different.” And that first short run back was a bit of a struggle, at least at points, and the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round by the Orlando Magic. But Jordan obviously got comfortable again and led Chicago to a historic season in 1995-96.
MJ led the Bulls to an 87-13 overall record in 1995-96 and won his fourth NBA title on Father’s Day
After the early exit from the ’95 NBA playoffs, Jordan dedicated himself to truly getting back in basketball shape, often reflecting on his father during that offseason leading into the 1995-96 campaign.
In his first full season back, Jordan and the Bulls were essentially unstoppable. MJ won his fourth NBA MVP that season, playing all 82 games and averaging an NBA-best 30.4 points per game, also adding 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.2 steals. Chicago went 72-10 in the regular season, at the time the best record in NBA history, and then steamrolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Obviously the No. 1 seed, the Bulls swept the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the first round, defeated the fifth-seeded New York Knicks in five games in the second round, and then exacted revenge on the second-seeded Magic in a four-game sweep of Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the NBA Finals against Seattle, Jordan averaged 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.7 steals in the six-game series victory. In the closing game on Father’s Day, Jordan certainly didn’t have a great game, making just five of 19 shots for 22 points. But it was still enough to lead Chicago to an 87-75 victory and a fourth NBA championship in six years.
And while he didn’t provide many highlights on the floor that night, the true highlight of the night came afterward.
Jordan was overcome with emotion after winning an NBA title on Father’s Day
Following the Bulls’ Game 6 victory, Jordan was interviewed by his good friend Ahmad Rashad and was very emotional in explaining just how special it was to win his first NBA championship without his dad by his side on Father’s Day.
“I can’t even put it into words, on Father’s Day, what this means to me. I know he’s watching. To my wife, to my kids, to my brothers and sisters, this is for Daddy.”Michael Jordan
But there more to come.
In the locker room afterward, an iconic photo was taken of Michael Jordan lying on the ground on the ground with the came ball, clearly emotional over the Father’s Day victory. A new layer was added in 2020 during The Last Dance documentary in which many heard the audio from that moment for the first time. And it’s arguably the most human moment of Jordan we’ve ever seen.
Jordan’s journey back to the top of the NBA was complete. He went on to win two more titles with the Bulls and undoubtedly had his father on his mind for both.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference