Michael Jordan spent better than 20 months away from the basketball court to pursue his goal of playing professional baseball. Although he played for the Birmingham Barons, he never made it to the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox. On March 19, 1995, Jordan un-retired from the NBA and made his way back onto the court. In the final 17 regular-season games with the Bulls, Jordan wasn’t the same. He didn’t even look the same as he wore jersey No. 45 as the Bulls had retired his No. 23.
Michael Jordan rusty upon return
On March 19, 1995, Michael Jordan returned to his comfort zone – the basketball court. On that night, however, he looked anything but comfortable and it started from the very beginning. When Jordan ripped off his warm-up top, he unveiled a No. 45 jersey. “I didn’t want to go to No. 23 because I knew my father wasn’t there to watch me, and I felt it was a new beginning,” Jordan said. “And 45 was my first number when I played in high school.” Jordan’s father was killed in 1993.
In that first game against the Indiana Pacers, Jordan finished with just 19 points. He made just seven of 28 shots from the floor as the Chicago Bulls lost in overtime on the road to the Pacers 103-96. “It was a little embarrassing,’‘ Jordan said after the game. “I’m human like everybody else. Everyone was treating me like a god.”
The Bulls lost two of their first three games when Jordan returned but got back on track with a one-point win in Atlanta when Jordan collected 32 points. That win began a string of six straight victories and 12 out of 13. Jordan highlighted that stretch with a 55-point game in a win over the New York Knicks.
Nick Anderson and the Orlando Magic stop the Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls were seeded fifth in the playoffs and were matched up with the fourth-seeded Charlotte Hornets in the opening round. Michael Jordan scored 48 points in Game 1 of the series, winning a key game on the road 108-100. The Bulls went on to defeat the Hornets 3-1, setting up a meeting with the top-seeded Orlando Magic and Shaquille O’Neal.
In the opening game of the series, the Magic’s Nick Anderson stole the ball from Jordan late in the game, leading to a Horace Grant a fast-break dunk that helped sealed Orlando’s Game 1 win. After the game, Anderson said that Jordan wasn’t the same player he was used to seeing. “No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to,” Anderson told reporters after the game. “No. 45 is not No. 23. I couldn’t have done that to No. 23.”
Following that game, Jordan switched back to jersey No. 23, and Jordan helped the Bulls even the series at a game apiece with a 38-point effort in a 104-94 win in Game 2. After splitting the next two games, the Magic closed out the series, winning 4-2.
Phil Jackson responds to Anderson’s comment
After the Game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic, Jordan made the move back to wearing jersey No. 23. The move resulted in a $25,000 fine from the league, but Jordan said he would still continue to wear it. The switch may have been because of Nick Anderson’s comment the game before, saying Jordan wasn’t the same player he used to be in a No. 45 jersey. It may have been just because Jordan felt comfortable wearing No. 23 again.
In either case, Jordan dominated in Game 2. He torched the favored Magic on their own court to the tune of 38 points. He dominated on both sides of the ball. Jordan finished the game with four blocks, including two against Shaquille O’Neal. Although Jordan never said whether Nick Anderson’s comment played a role in firing himself up, Bulls coach Phil Jackson said it did.
“He was responding to the comments that he’s not the same old 23,” Jackson said via the New York Times. “I think that was his response. ‘OK, check this out.’ That’s my opinion. Michael said he was hitting .202 with No. 45 on his back in baseball, and I said, ‘You’re shooting about the same percentage, too. It’s about time you get back to 23.'”