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Yahoo Sports is digging into the archives, taking a look back at the moments that shaped sports.
Today we’re turning the clock back 25 years to a day that changed the course of basketball history. The moment was a confluence of ’90s culture, featuring the era’s biggest star and one of its defining technologies.
With two simple words, basketball history would take a new course.
March 18, 1995
Michael Jordan. The Chicago Bulls superstar had been out of basketball for almost two seasons. In 1993, Jordan stunned the sports world by announcing his retirement after winning a third straight NBA championship.
He was at his peak as a player and an icon on the world stage when he gave up the game. At 30 years old, Jordan had some of his best basketball years ahead of him. But he had a different pursuit in mind.
As intense of a competitor sports has ever seen, Jordan relished the idea of testing himself against one of sports’ greatest challenges — hitting a baseball.
Jordan turned down NBA riches and glory to play minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons, the Chicago White Sox’s Double-A affiliate that was more than happy to welcome Jordan to its ranks.
Jordan’s exit from the NBA also came at a tumultuous time in his personal life, months after the roadside murder of his father, James Jordan, on a North Carolina highway. James was shot once in the chest during a random robbery, a tragedy that many believe prompted Jordan to reassess his priorities.
But as the NBA barreled toward the playoffs in 1995, there were rumblings.
Jordan’s 1994 season with the Barons went better than expected. In 127 games he hit three home runs, had 51 RBI and stole 30 bases. But his .202 batting average hammered home the point that he didn’t have a major league future.
Meanwhile, Jordan had been spotted at Bulls practice facilities. Chicago was in the thick of the playoff race. Was the world’s greatest basketball player contemplating a comeback just in time for the postseason?
The fax machine was at its peak in 1995. The internet had yet to take hold. AOL dominated the U.S. web world and had just passed the 1.5 million subscriber mark a year prior. Email was a niche form of communication. Social media wasn’t yet a gleam in the internet’s eyes.
If you wanted to send a written message in short to a broad audience in quick time, you walked to the fax machine, which sent printed data over telephone lines.
And that’s exactly what Alyson Sadofsky did on the afternoon of March 18, 1995, as eloquently recalled by former ESPN reporter J.A. Adande.
Sadofsky, the media director for Michael Jordan’s agent, David Falk, typed out a press release on “Falk Associates Management Enterprises” letterhead with two simple, powerful words in the body of the message.
She then faxed it to members of sports media.
It read as follows:
WASHINGTON, DC. (March 18, 1995) — The following statement was released today by Michael Jordan, through his personal attorney and business manager David B. Falk, Chairman of Falk Associates Management Enterprises, Inc. ("FAME") located in Washington, D.C., in response to questions about his future career plans:
And back Jordan was. Immediately.
Ditching his iconic No. 23 for the No. 45 he wore with the Barons, Jordan returned to the court a day later as the Bulls took on Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers.
Jordan shot 7-of-28 to tally 19 points along with six rebounds, six assists and three steals in the 103-93 loss. The Bulls dropped to 34-32, but finished the regular season on a 13-4 run upon Jordan’s return. They lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic in the second round of the playoffs.
The impact of MJ’s return
But an altered basketball history was in motion. Jordan switched back to No. 23 the next season, and the Bulls would add three consecutive championships to bookend one of the great dynasties in sports history while locking out some of the game’s greats from championship glory.
Before his peak, the NBA belonged to Magic, Bird and the Bad Boy Pistons. When Jordan declined, it belonged to Kobe, Shaq, and Tim Duncan. In between, the NBA was almost all MJ’s.
Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon won a pair of rings in between the Bulls three-peats. Clyde Drexler joined him for the second. But players like Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing and Miller were left in the lurch, ringless as Jordan regularly vanquished the top competition of his day.
Had he stayed retired, some of those giants of the game would likely have their own hardware. But he didn’t.
Instead he returned to cement his legacy as the greatest of all time.
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