On March 18th, 1995, Michael Jordan announced his return to basketball with a simple fax (or, as I like to call it, the beeeeeep booop bop beep heard around the world).
“I’m Back” were the only words the GOAT needed to get his point across, but the story behind his return isn’t nearly all that straightforward. NBC Sports Chicago decided to take a deep dive into Jordan’s decision to unretire as part of the Sports Uncovered Podcast Series. And while producers Tony Gill and Ryan McGuffey scavenged the NBA for some golden nuggets, they came across a pretty interesting story about Jordan and the Golden State Warriors.
To make a long story short (and if you want the long version, that’s what the podcast is for!), Jordan was close friends with Rod Higgins, who at the time was an assistant coach with Golden State. Ultimately, this led to an MJ appearance at practice for two days, where he looked to destroy up-and-coming stars Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell.
“We knew he was coming back then,” Hardaway said. “He just took over our practice, just took over our practice. He got five guys that wasn’t playing that much, and he said ‘us seven will play you all’s seven in a scrimmage’, and it was like he never left.”
Chris Mullin, who was injured at the time, said Jordan used his gear to suit up and work with the team. As an amazed bystander, Mullin says he also knew Jordan would be on an NBA court again soon.
“I always thought he was coming back, but a day like that… he was just so fit, so it wasn’t a physical thing, but seeing him on the basketball court and playing against, Sprewell was a really good player and he was in midseason form, for him to do that, I thought it’s just a matter of time.”
When Jordan retired in 1993, he claimed a loss of motivation and lack of anything to prove, but thanks to these secret Warriors practices, he found out that both those two things were still very much alive.
I don’t think we should look past the fact that he did this specifically with the Warriors, either. Again, with Hardaway and Sprewell positioned to be two of the league’s next big stars, Jordan wanted to know what all the hype was about. And according to Jordan’s longtime trainer Tim Grover, if Jordan could still beat the hype, he could still be the hype:
“My take on this… Latrell was one of the more explosive, more athletic and he was probably one of the better players during that short run that he had. So what Michael needed to know, even though I took the time off can I still come back and kick his ass… and in his mind he’s like, I’ve been gone from this game for how long? And he’s supposed to be the top player? Alright. He wasn’t testing himself against Sprewell, he was testing himself against himself.”
The work of a true GOAT.
Anyway, while no one is saying these practices are the reason Jordan returned, I don’t think it’s crazy to think they could’ve played a pivotal role in how/when it happened. After all, this was reportedly before he began tearing up his former teammates at the Berto Center in Deerfield. So, yeah, shoutout to the Warriors for giving a retired Jordan the opportunity to dominate and realize “it’s time to go win three more rings.”