Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan never lacks much in confidence. He never lacks in style, either. His Airness managed to blend both elements of his larger-than-life persona leading up to the most pivotal game of the 1992-93 NBA season.
After falling behind early against Jordan and the Bulls in the NBA Finals, Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns fought back. But MJ had no intention of letting the Suns maximize the home-court advantage. He told his teammates as much by announcing the contents of his packing suitcase before the Bulls played Game 6 in the desert.
The Bulls won the first two games of the 1993 NBA Finals, but the Suns clawed their way back
Michael Jordan and the Bulls played like back-to-back world champions at the start of the NBA Finals, while the Phoenix Suns looked timid.
The Bulls won each of the first two games in Phoenix, becoming the first team in Finals history to win both opening contests on the road. Jordan and Scottie Pippen combined for 58 points in Game 1. Mike dropped 42 more points to go along with 12 rebounds and nine assists in Game 2. Pippen posted a triple-double, while Horace Grant had 24 points.
Meanwhile, the Suns struggled to get production from anyone not named Charles Barkley. After shooting the ball inefficiently in Game 1, Chuck scored 42 points in Game 2. However, the Bulls made things challenging on Phoenix guard Kevin Johnson and shut down Dan Majerle to take a 2-0 series lead.
The Bulls looked to have their 3-peat wrapped up. But the Suns refused to fold.
Phoenix won a thrilling triple-overtime contest in Game 3. Jordan gave Chicago the momentum right back with a 55-point performance in Game 4, only for the Suns to send the series back to Phoenix with a win in Game 5.
Things looked a bit dicey for Chicago as it headed back to Phoenix. The Bulls got outworked on the glass in Game 5, while some of the Suns’ other key contributors — including Johnson — began to find more of a rhythm as the matchup went along.
However, Jordan exuded confidence before the pivotal Game 6, right from the time Chicago’s plane prepared to head back to the West Coast.
Michael Jordan told Bulls teammates he only packed one suit for the trip to Phoenix
With the Bulls feeling dejected about flying across the country, Jordan delivered a statement … using his slender suitcase.
Mike explained in an episode of the Last Dance (h/t CBS Sports NBA)how he felt obligated to motivate his teammates ahead of Game 6. He all but demanded that Chicago finish the job immediately and not let the series get to a deciding game.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m only packing one suit.”–Michael Jordan
Air Jordan had already elevated his squad throughout the course of the series. He needed his teammates to feel inspired and ready to put the nail in the coffin. John Paxson helped the Bulls do just that.
Chicago and Phoenix battled back-and-forth in Game 6, right down to the closing seconds. The Bulls trailed by two points and had to go the length of the floor. The Suns decided to double-team Jordan early to get the ball out of his hands, but they overextended their defense and got caught out. Paxson got the rock on the left wing, and his go-ahead 3-pointer found nothing but nylon, just as MJ thought it would.
While the Last Dance often painted the portrait of a ruthless competitor who made things difficult on his teammates, the above story hints at Jordan’s ability to subtly develop a sense of belief.
The quote is symbolic of Jordan’s eagerness to put a cap on the first chapter of his career
By the summer of 1992, Michael Jordan already felt exhausted. In fact, His Airness had already begun plans to switch careers and play baseball. In some ways, the above story prior to Game 6 thus reflects his desire to get closure and avoid drawing things out.
Jordan likely wanted to 3-peat because Larry Bird and Magic Johnson never achieved the feat, nor did Isiah Thomas. Doing so would allow him to head into retirement peacefully. Alternatively, a loss practically would have necessitated him coming back because of his sheer competitive drive.
Alas, MJ could not risk the series going to a Game 7, where anything could happen. He needed to erase any lingering questions about his status before leaving the game, and he needed to do so immediately.
So while it was a statement of confidence, Jordan’s words also served almost as a plea for a speedy resolution.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.