Remembering The Night In Chicago Before Michael Jordan Announced His (First) Retirement
The sports world remembers October 6th of 1993 as the day Michael Jordan announced his retirement. It was a shocking day that had everybody from fans to NBA players asking why would the greatest player in the world, at the age of 30, fresh off of winning three straight NBA titles, call it quits.
“I didn’t understand it,” Said Hakeem Olajuwon, who would take advantage of MJ’s absense and win back-to-back titles in Houston. “It was more of a drastic decision, where I couldn’t imagine that he was comfortable to walk away for life. So I was surprised.”
What many people don’t know, is that surprising news actually struck Chicago the night before — 9:58 pm CST to be exact.
Earlier that night, Michael Jordan attended Game 1 of the playoff series between the White Sox and Blue Jays. He even threw the ceremonial first pitch in front of tens of thousands of cheering Chicagoans. The cheers didn’t last long as the White Sox fell behind and were looking at a sure defeat. Then in the 7th inning, breaking news interrupted the game: “The Chicago Bulls have called a press conference for tomorrow morning, and there’s high speculation that Michael Jordan will retire from basketball forever.”
If this happened in the world of today’s social media then this story would have been a trending topic before the inning ended. If this happened even in the early days of affordable pocket-sized cell phones, then the story would have been on the front page of every newspaper the next morning. But this was 1993, when ESPN showed fitness shows for half a day, fantasy stats were mailed to owners once a week and Lakers fans on the east coast had to wait two days until their local paper published a Lakers boxscore.
Still, without tweets, DMs and text messages, word from the telecast spread quickly through Chicago as chaos ensued at Comisky Park. Fans and even reporters tried unsuccessfully to get to Jordan, who was hanging out in the private suite of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. One person who was able to reach Jordan was his best side-kick on the Bulls. A clueless Scottie Pippen learned about the news the same way the rest of Chicago did and once he heard it, he called Jordan at the game to confirm if the report was true. Jordan told him, “I’m gone” and that he had no choice but to step away.
Some believed it’s because of his father’s murder earlier in the summer. Some even believe the murder was related to Jordan’s gambling habits, which was highly publicized in a 1993 published book called “Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction…My Cry for Help” and serious enough for David Stern and the league to start an investigation.
What many people don’t know about the murder is two men were arrested in the killing of James Jordan and earlier in the day, before coming across a sleeping James Jordan in his Lexus, they unsuccessfully tried to rob a man at roadside motel earlier in the day. One of the men even said, “I believe we killed Michael Jordan’s Dad” while going through James Jordan’s personal belongings. That same person made a 2-hour home video with him rapping about killing a man and flaunting items that belonged to James Jordan. If this was an intentional hit to settle any debts then none of this makes sense and Jordan would have had to testify. He didn’t.
On October 6th of 1993, Michael Jordan arrived at the Berto center and confirmed the dreaded speculations from the night before. In his retirement speech, Jordan talked about leaving because he “lost that sense of motivation” and had nothing else to prove. The audience was left speechless. He said “the desire was not there.” The audience couldn’t understand why not.
“The guy’s a competitor,” Said fellow UNC alum James Worthy. “If I had to bet (no pun intended), I would say that he would never retire. They’d have to throw him out of the league.”
Maybe they did. It was Jordan’s comment about a possible return that stood out the most to the conspiracy theorists.
“Five years down the road, if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me, if David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back.”
Why would David Stern not let the most marketable face and name the league has ever seen, not come back? Was it a joke? Joke or not, it supported rumors that Jordan was being forced to retire so Stern wouldn’t have to punish him later because of the gambling investigation.
“Absurd. Stop. Oliver Stone (the director of JFK, Nixon and the recent Snowden),” Said Jordan’s agent David Falk. “Not a scintilla of truth to those rumors.”
Days after the announcement, the league dropped the investigation on Jordan’s gambling.
We all know the rest of the story — baseball, Space Jam, I’m back, #45, playoff loss to the Magic, 3-Peat again, retirement #2, I’m back again, Wizards, retirement #3, Charlotte — but nothing in that timeline compares to the shock that was felt on October 6th of 1993…or October 5th of 1993 at 9:58 pm if you lived in Chicago.