In the summer of 1993, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan retired from the NBA for the first time. His father was tragically murdered, and the superstar shooting guard no longer had the motivation to play the game of basketball since he was a three-time champion, three-time Finals MVP, seven-time scoring champion, and three-time regular-season MVP.
During the 1993-94 NBA season, Jordan played baseball for the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The Bulls won 55 games sans His Airness but lost to the New York Knicks in the second round of the 1994 playoffs in seven hard-fought games.
With 17 games left in the 1994-95 NBA season, Jordan delighted the sports world by returning to the Bulls. However, since he was older and the new superstars in the league were younger and more explosive, MJ had to become more methodical in the methods he carried out to get back on top.
Michael Jordan on how retirement changed him as a player
Following his fifth championship in 1997, Jordan was asked by SLAM Magazine how retirement changed him as a player. The Bulls icon said his mental game went to another level.
“I became more methodical in the methods that I carried out each and every time I stepped on the court,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t physical as much; it was more the mental challenges that I dealt with. And the advantages that I had over the young players. And that was where the challenges lay. How I could overcome the physical disadvantages against maybe Penny Hardaway or Shaquille O’Neal, or some of the other things. But, mentally, being far more advanced, and being successful.”
Jordan averaged 26.9 points while shooting 41.1% from the field in the 17 games he appeared in during the 1994-95 season. While he had some vintage games, the one-time Defensive Player of the Year struggled to overcome the physical disadvantages against Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Bulls lost to Magic in six games, but Michael Jordan got his revenge
Jordan was no longer the most athletic player in the game when he returned to the NBA in 1995, and it showed in the Bulls’ second-round playoff loss to the Orlando Magic. He didn’t have his legs underneath him as the series went along, allowing Hardaway and O’Neal to lead the Magic to a six-game series win over Chicago in the 1995 playoffs.
Black Jesus began the 1995-96 season at the age of 32. During the summer prior to the campaign, he trained diligently on the Space Jam set and got back into basketball shape after playing baseball. Despite his explosion dwindling due to age, Jordan knew he could still dominate the league with his mind and footwork.
The 1995-96 season was all about getting revenge on the Magic. Jordan not only guided the Bulls to 72 wins, but he also won his eighth scoring title and fourth regular-season MVP and swept Orlando in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. The 1984-85 Rookie of the Year completed his vengeance season by guiding the Bulls to the championship over the Seattle SuperSonics in six games.
With four championships and four Finals MVPs under his belt, Jordan could have taken it easy in 1996-97 and 1997-98. However, the competitor inside of him wouldn’t allow it.
MJ won two more rings, two more scoring titles and one more regular-season MVP
Jordan finished his Bulls career by winning two more championships, two more Finals MVPs, two more scoring titles, and one more regular-season MVP. Despite being 35 in his final year in Chicago, the Hall of Famer was still the best player in the league due to his basketball fundamentals and mental toughness.
A 14-time All-Star with the Bulls and Washington Wizards, Jordan finished his career with five regular-season MVPs, six championships, six Finals MVPs, and 10 scoring titles. He not only went undefeated in the Finals, but Jordan is also the NBA’s all-time leader in points per game and player efficiency rating.
During his first three-peat, Jordan was young and athletic, full of energy, and hungry to become the best. During his second three-peat, he used his mind and body to toy with his opponents. The craftmanship came out for Jordan in 1996, 1997, and 1998 and he was just as dominant as he was in 1991, 1992, and 1993.