Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls in March 1995 after playing baseball the previous year for the Birmingham Barons. He averaged 26.9 points in the final 17 games of the 1994-95 season and was ready to embark on the 1995 playoffs.
The Bulls defeated the Charlotte Hornets in the first round, setting up a matchup with the Orlando Magic in the second round. The Magic were confident they could beat Jordan and Co. since they had a lethal Big Three of Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, and Horace Grant, and that confidence proved to be warranted.
Magic beat Bulls in six games
From 1990 to 1998, Jordan only lost one playoff series with the Bulls. It came against the Magic in 1995.
During Game 1 of the Bulls-Magic series, Jordan struggled. He shot 8-of-22 from the field and had eight turnovers, including two straight in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. After the game, Nick Anderson said, “45 isn’t 23.” Jordan wore No. 45 after coming out of retirement, but he changed back to No. 23 following Game 1.
In classic Jordan fashion, the All-Star shooting guard went off in Game 2, scoring 38 points in 43 minutes. The Bulls won by 10 and stole homecourt advantage from the Magic. However, Orlando reclaimed homecourt by winning Game 3 in Chicago, 110-101.
The Bulls evened the series at 2-2 after taking Game 4 behind 26 points from Jordan and 24 from Scottie Pippen. Unfortunately for Chicago, that was the last game it won. Orlando won Games 5 and 6 and handed Jordan his first postseason series loss since 1990. The Magic players lifted Grant on their shoulders after Game 6 since he began his career with the Bulls.
Devastated after coming up short against the Magic, Jordan went to work in the summer of 1995 on the Space Jam set. After playing baseball, he got back into basketball shape and regained his hoop skills by playing pick-up games at the Jordan Dome.
By the time the 1995-96 season started, Jordan was in incredible shape and had revenge on his mind. Since Grant won three titles with MJ, he knew exactly what was coming the Magic’s way.
Michael Jordan destroyed Horace Grant and the Magic
Not only did Jordan lead the Bulls to 72 wins in 1995-96, but he also won his fourth MVP and eighth scoring title. His Airness averaged 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists and played in all 82 games.
The Bulls faced the Magic in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, and Grant knew his group was in trouble.
“If you know MJ, as I do very well, only thing he was doing during the summer is having Orlando Magic on his mind,” Grant said in ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries. “That’s all. They needed a rebounder. They needed a defensive stopper. That’s what Dennis [Rodman] did. We didn’t have a chance.”
Chicago swept Orlando and dominated the series on both sides of the ball. Jordan averaged 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists while shooting an efficient 52.0% from the field. He got payback against Grant, but there were still four more wins for Superman to get.
Michael Jordan and Bulls faced SuperSonics in Finals
The Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics squared off in the 1996 Finals. Chicago jumped out to a commanding 3-0 series lead thanks to Jordan, who scored 28 points in Game 1, 29 in Game 2, and 36 in Game 3. It appeared the Bulls would sweep the SuperSonics.
However, Seattle won Games 4 and 5 at home to send the series back to Chicago. Jordan shot only 31.6% in Game 4 and looked tired. The SuperSonics had momentum heading into Game 6 at the United Center and were in good spirits.
However, those happy feelings didn’t last long. Although Jordan shot a woeful 5-of-19 in Game 6, he went 11-of-12 from the free-throw line and scored 22 points to lead the Bulls to a 12-point win. Chicago won its fourth championship in six years, and Jordan was emotional in the postgame locker room since it was Father’s Day and his father was no longer with him.
Jordan finished his Bulls career by winning two more championships. He won six titles, six Finals MVPs, and five regular-season MVPs in his two stints with the Bulls.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference