NBA

This Could Be the Most Mysterious Event of Michael Jordan’s Career

Michael Jordan’s NBA career was legendary as he’s widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time. Jordan has enough stories to fill volumes of books. Tales of his great plays, epic comebacks, and dominant performances seem endless.

One story from Michael Jordan’s career defied logic and never got a resolution. And it has something to do with his iconic jersey.  

Michael Jordan’s career as No. 23 

Drafted in 1984 by the Chicago Bulls, Jordan’s resume stands second to none. Known for his fierce competitiveness, here’s what he accomplished during his illustrious career

  • 1,072 games played
  • 30.1 points per game
  • 6.2 rebounds per game
  • 5.3 assists per game
  • 27.9 Player Efficiency Rating
  • 214 Win Shares

Jordan was a six-time NBA champion with the Bulls, leading them to two different three-peats. He also won the Rookie of the Year Award, was a five-time MVP, and a 10-time scoring champion. 

Jordan’s idiosyncracies

Along with a tireless work ethic and seemingly endless talent, Jordan was known for his somewhat superstitious approach to basketball. For example, during every NBA game, Jordan donned the shorts he wore playing at the University of North Carolina underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts. 

Jordan’s number also carried significance for him. His older brother Larry wore the No. 45 when he played high school basketball, and it became Jordan’s favorite number.

The NBA star began wearing No. 23 (half of 45 rounded up) because he one day wanted to be at least half as good as his brother. Jordan wore No. 45 while playing minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons. When he returned from retirement in 1995, Jordan wore Larry’s No. 45 for part of the season before reverting back to 23.

Jordan made the No. 23 iconic; it’s now worn by countless professional, college, and high school athletes as a tribute. But there was one game where he wore neither 23 nor 45. It stands out as one of the most unusual stories of Jordan’s career. 

The most mysterious event of Michael Jordan’s career

Chicago Bulls' forward Michael Jordan shrugs his shoulders as he talks to a referee
Bulls’ forward Michael Jordan talks to a referee | Focus on Sport via Getty Images

It was a Valentine’s Day matchup against the new expansion franchise, the Orlando Magic. Jordan’s Bulls had dropped four of five on the last game of a tough road trip. Phil Jackson was in his first year as head coach, not yet the Zen Master with 11 titles. Jordan had yet to win a championship.

For the most part, it was a game like any other, except for one notable exception. When the Bulls entered the locker room, Jordan’s No. 23 jersey was nowhere to be found. Here’s a description from Sports Illustrated:

“Jordan’s No. 23 jersey is believed to have been stolen on the day of the game. The Bulls did not bring a backup No. 23 jersey with them, but the team did have a just-in-case No. 12 kit bearing no name on the back. Sam Smith, who covered the game for the Chicago Tribune and now writes for Bulls.com, remembered a search in the crowd for a No. 23 jersey that would fit Jordan’s 6’6” frame.”

No one was able to locate the original jersey or a suitable replacement with the same number, so Jordan wore the blank No. 12. The PA announcer informed the crowd Jordan would be wearing 12 instead of 23.

Jordan had 49 points in another brilliant effort. Unlike so many Bulls games from this era, however, the team lost to the fledgling Magic, 135-129, in overtime. Jordan’s number may have brought the team bad luck, but it didn’t impact the superstar as he put up nearly 50.