NBA

Michael Jordan Knew He Was Going to Leave the Chicago Bulls to Play Baseball Long Before He Actually Did

On October 6, 1993, Michael Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA. Well, his first retirement anyway.

Just a few months earlier, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their third consecutive NBA championship, a six-game series win over Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. Later that summer, Jordan was rocked with the news that his father, James Jordan, had been brutally murdered at a rest stop in North Carolina. The culprits were later tracked, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. But Michael Jordan was lost and his love for the game of basketball was gone. He saw no reason to continue his NBA career and simply walked away at what seemed like the peak of his career. The announcement left the sports world in shock. But in true Jordan form, he wasn’t done stunning everyone.

In early 1994, Jordan announced that he was going to try his hand at baseball, the first sport he loved as a child and the sport his father always wanted him to play. However, as the new ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” reveals, this plan was set in motion long before MJ ever let on.

Michael Jordan’s retirement in 1993 shocked everyone but himself

When Michael Jordan chose to leave the Chicago Bulls in 1993 after winning a third consecutive NBA title, the league was in shock. Jordan had taken the NBA to new heights. The league was as popular as it had ever been and it had Jordan to thank for that. TV revenue was at an all-time high. Merchandise sales were through the roof and the Chicago Bulls were the biggest thing in sports. So when Jordan decided to abruptly retire, everyone didn’t understand.

But it all made sense to Michael Jordan himself. During his retirement speech, he said that the desire to play basketball simply wasn’t there anymore and that he really had nothing left to prove. He had made millions upon millions upon millions of dollars. He had won three consecutive NBA titles, racked up scoring titles and endless accolades. And he did all of that in just nine seasons, really eight if you count his second season when he missed a ton of time due to injury.

Throw in the fact that Michael Jordan had just lost his father, the man who stood by and supported him his entire life, and it all truly does make sense. Jordan was ready to move on and he did just that. And, no, this was not a fake retirement because David Stern suspended him for gambling. That argument has always been absurd and completely false.

His baseball career certainly could have been worse

Michael Jordan made no secret of the fact that he loved the game of baseball growing up. But I don’t think anyone would have ever thought we’d see the greatest basketball player in history actually attempt baseball as a career. But Jordan doesn’t play by everyone else’s rules. He never has. So on February 7, 1994, he signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox, simply because he could do that.

Some looked at it as a sideshow but Michael Jordan committed himself to it. He showed up early for private workouts and put everything he had into making himself a better player. Had it not been for the Major League Baseball strike that year, he may have never gone back to the NBA. No, he was never going to be the best baseball player. But I still think he did better than most 31-year-old guys who hadn’t truly played the game in a long time could have done.

At the Double-A level with the Birmingham Barons in the Southern League, Michael Jordan hit .202 with three home runs and 51 runs batted in over the course of 127 games. In the highly-competitive Arizona Fall League with the Scottsdale Scorpions, he was even better, upping his average by 50 points to .252. He knew that he might never make it to the big leagues but he never stopped trying.

Alas, he refused to cross picket lines during the MLB strike and wouldn’t be a replacement player and returned to the NBA in March 1995. He’d go on to win three more NBA titles with the Bulls.

Michael Jordan knew he was going to leave the Chicago Bulls to play baseball in 1992

While Michael Jordan’s retirement announcement shocked the world in 1993, as did his decision to play baseball, it was apparently a plan that had been in the works for quite some time. According to author Mark Vancil, who wrote the popular “Rare Air” book on Jordan and will appear in “The Last Dance” documentary on ESPN, MJ told him his plan to leave the Chicago Bulls to take a shot at baseball more than a year before it actually happened.

“It was the summer of ’92 and it’s the Dream Team summer. You could tell he was really tired. As tired as he looked and as beat up as he looked, I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ There’s a long pause and he said, ‘I’m going to shock the world. I’m going to quit and go play baseball.’” 

“Rare Air” author Mark Vancil on Michael Jordan

Wow. That’s a stunning revelation. This wasn’t just a decision that Michael Jordan had made on a whim following his initial retirement. He knew what he was going to do after winning his second title with the Bulls. So what was his motivation to even come back to Chicago for the 1992-1993 NBA season? Well, in true Jordan fashion, he wanted to do something that Magic Johnson or Larry Bird had never done: win three consecutive NBA titles. As per usual, Michael Jordan accomplished what he set out to do.