When Michael Jordan retired in 1993 following the tragic death of his father, he left on top of the basketball world after guiding the Chicago Bulls to three straight championships. The UNC product was a three-time MVP, three-time champion, three-time Finals MVP and seven-time scoring champion.
Jordan returned to the NBA near the end of the 1994-95 season and averaged 26.9 points. However, he fell short in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Orlando Magic, losing the series in six games.
MJ was considered the best when he retired, but when he came back, guys such as Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson held the greatest-in-the-world title, and that surprisingly didn’t bother the Bulls superstar.
Michael Jordan in 1995: It’s hard to give yourself or consider yourself the best when you haven’t faced the best of this era
Before the 1995-96 season began, Jordan told Cheryl Raye-Stout that other players had earned the right to be called the best player in the game since he didn’t play in 1993-94 and wasn’t the full version of himself in 1994-95. He also said he couldn’t call himself the best since he hadn’t played against the stars who improved while he was away.
“In two years, a lot of things happened,” Jordan said. “A lot of talent has come in. Other players have matured to be better players than when I faced them, so it’s hard to give yourself or consider yourself the best when you haven’t faced the best of this era. It isn’t the point that someone knocked me off. I took myself away from that mantle for a while because from a mental aspect, I needed the time away. And while I was away, other people stepped up their game. Now I’m back with a clear mind, with a different feeling, a different attitude, a different appetite. I want to get back to where I was.”
The Houston Rockets won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995. Olajuwon won the 1994 regular-season MVP, while Robinson won it in 1995. After Jordan and the Bulls lost to the Magic in the 1995 playoffs, the naysayers came out of the woodwork and deemed Black Jesus old and washed.
While Jordan admitted to Stout that he wasn’t angry at any of the pundits who said he lost a step and wasn’t the old Mike anymore, he did use it as internal motivation to destroy the league.
Michael Jordan on critics: I take it as energy to motivate myself and become better
Jordan told Stout that his critics both burned him inside and didn’t bother him after losing to the Magic in 1995, the only postseason series he lost from 1991 to 1998.
“It does both,” Jordan said. “From a personality standpoint, I don’t have any anger toward that person or whoever says that because that’s his [or her] opinion. Sometimes that’s a natural opinion. I take it as energy to motivate myself and become better as a player … to prove to myself that I can play better or play consistent or play at the level I’ve been playing. It’s always going to fall back on proving it to myself, not to that individual who may have his own opinion. By no means am I ever going to please them anyway. Every little mistake is going to be a huge mistake to them. I’ve made mistakes before, and I’m going to make mistakes now. It’s just that the naysayer is going to look at that mistake and magnify it. As a person, I can’t allow myself to do that. If I do, I’m doubting myself, and I should never do that.”
Jordan was a man on a mission during the 1995-96 season. It might as well have been called his revenge tour, as the Bulls legend demolished his opponents and reclaimed his throne.
MJ led league in scoring, won MVP and title
Jordan had a spectacular 1995-96 season after pundits said he lost his superpowers. The Hall of Famer won the scoring title by averaging 30.4 points, took home his fourth regular-season MVP, and led the Bulls to their fourth championship.
One magical season wasn’t enough for Jordan, though, in his comeback tour. He won two more scoring titles, one more MVP, and two more championships before his Bulls career ended, finishing his legendary run in Chicago with 10 scoring titles, five MVPs, six rings, and six Finals MVPs.
Jordan may not have viewed himself as the best player in the game right after he came back from baseball and losing to the Magic, but deep down, he probably knew he had what it took to reclaim the mantle.