Michael Jordan delighted Chicago Bulls fans in March 1995 when he returned to the NBA after playing baseball. The superstar shooting guard played the final 17 games of the 1994-95 season and helped the Bulls go 13-4. Chicago was the fifth seed in the 1995 playoffs and felt good about its chances to make a deep postseason run with Jordan back in the fold.
However, Charles Barkley — who was close friends with Jordan — knew his pal wouldn’t lead the Bulls to the championship.
Charles Barkley on Michael Jordan reaching promised land: “That’s impossible”
Barkley spoke with Jim Gray of NBC Sports when Jordan announced he was coming back to the NBA. The Phoenix Suns forward was happy for MJ, but he told Gray there was no way the Bulls would win the championship.
“Chicago is a good team,” Barkley said. “It’s gonna be very difficult for them to win three series in a row. So obviously, he (Jordan) makes your team a lot better, but I think for them to get through three rounds in a row is gonna be very difficult. In the beginning, he might have a big adrenaline rush, and he’s going to play well, but as far as reaching the level he reached a few years ago, that’s impossible. I don’t think anybody can ever attain something two years later that they had. That’s impossible.”
Jordan averaged 26.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 5.3 assists over the last 17 games of the 1994-95 season. His Airness led the Bulls to a first-round series win over the Charlotte Hornets to begin the 1995 playoffs. However, Barkley’s prediction came to fruition in the second round.
Bulls lost to Magic
The Bulls faced the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals and got humbled, losing the series in six games. It was the only playoff series Jordan lost from 1991 to 1998.
Although Jordan averaged 31.0 points against the Magic, he ran out of gas in Game 6. The 10-time scoring champion shot 8-of-19 from the field in the final game of the series and didn’t have his legs underneath him since he wasn’t in tip-top basketball shape.
Jordan was devastated after losing to the Magic. He couldn’t believe his comeback didn’t end with a championship and felt like he let his teammates down. Usually, after his season ended, Jordan would take a few weeks off before working again. However, the night the Bulls lost to the Magic, the five-time MVP told his trainer — Tim Grover — that he wanted to start working out the next day.
In the summer of 1995, Jordan filmed Space Jam. There was a basketball court on the film set and weights for Captain Marvel to use so he could get back into basketball shape. Not only did Jordan transform his body back into a basketball one, but he also played pick-up games with other NBA stars at the “Jordan Dome.” Barkley was in Space Jam, so he was one of the stars who played with Jordan.
Jordan was in phenomenal shape by the time training camp started for the 1995-96 season. After getting bounced by the Magic, the All-Star was ready for his revenge season and destroyed the league in 1995-96.
Michael Jordan took back his crown
Jordan and the Bulls were on another level in 1995-96. The team went 72-10, and Jordan won his eighth scoring title and fourth regular-season MVP. Black Jesus averaged 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists and played in all 82 games.
The Bulls defeated the Miami Heat and New York Knicks to set up a rematch with the Magic in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan couldn’t wait to demolish the Magic since they eliminated him the year before. The UNC product averaged 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, helping Chicago sweep Orlando in four games.
The Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics met in the 1996 Finals. Behind Jordan, Chicago won the series in six games and took back its crown. Jordan and the Bulls were once again on top of the basketball world, and they needed to be humbled first to reach the mountain top once more.