Twenty years ago, the death of James Jordan shocked the world in and out of sports. Weeks earlier, his son Michael won his third consecutive NBA Championship and was at the height of his athletic and branding powers. What followed for the world’s greatest player was a sudden retirement, a run at MLB before returning to the NBA. It all culminated with a very bittersweet Father’s Day to remember.
When Horace Grant blocked Kevin Johnson’s potential game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals, the clock on Michael Jordan’s iconic career began its countdown.
Thirty-three days later James R. Jordan Sr. was shot to death as he slept in his car after returning from a funeral. Jordan was driving a red Lexus SC400 coupe — given to him by Michael — when he was spotted by Daniel Green and Martin Demery. According to Demery, their plan was to tie Jordan up and rob him, but Green pulled the trigger for no reason. Jordan was robbed of two championship rings given to him by his son as well as his cell phone — used by the assailants — ultimately leading to their arrest.
Jordan’s remains were found in a swamp on August 3, 1993, he was not positively identified until August 13th.
I lost my father close to a year earlier. At the time of James Jordan’s death, I was caught up in Jordan’s web as much as the next 20 year-old. I worked this particular summer at the Bulk Mail Center in Philly when the news of James Jordan’s death hit. I remember my first thought — when he stepped off the Bulls chartered plane and arriving in North Carolina — was what was on his feet. He was dressed in Nike apparel wearing the yet to be released Jordan IXs. Any sneakerhead worth their salt back then knew Jordan’s dropped the weekend of the NBA All-Star game.
Something was going on.
On the morning of October 7th, I arrived home from Knoxville, Tennessee to be with my family one year to the day after my father’s passing. On our way to the house my mom dropped the news on me.
“So how do you feel about Michael retiring?”
Everything from there is a blur. The next thing I remember is watching news clips from the night before of Jordan throwing out the first pitch at Comiskey Park to open the 1993 ALCS between the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jordan decided to pursue baseball — something his father envisioned for him since he was a boy.
He latched on with the Birmingham Barons. His arrival and minor league career was received as more of a circus than anything. Rumors once again spread that Jordan was suspended by David Stern for excessive gambling.
Jordan played valiantly. His struggles at the plate were well publicized and he took everything in stride. I believe baseball helped give him closure with his father and cleansed him internally. By cleansing, I mean basketball was completely stripped from his conscience. For those nine months, Jordan faced the daily challenge of hitting a breaking ball — not exactly on par with hitting a 16-footer.
Between bloop singles and strikeouts, Jordan cut his eye to the NBA standings to see his Chicago Bulls struggling at 31-31 and taking their lumps along the way. Big brother was away and little brother was getting his head handed to him. As his season in the Arizona fall league drew to a close, Jordan’s basketball jones surfaced.
On March 18th 1995, Jordan uttered two words fans around the world waited to hear for 18 months, “I’m back.”
Jordan returned the following day vs. the Indiana Pacers donning the No. 45 he wore in the minor leagues. Jordan’s contribution was 19 point effort. By the fourth game, his flair for the dramatics returned as he knocked down a game-winner against the Atlanta Hawks.
He saved his dominance for the New York Knicks and the crowd at Madison Square Garden.
On March 28th, Jordan torched the Knicks for 55 points in what is known as the “Double-Nickel Game”. He capped off his dominant performance with an assist to center Bill Wennington to give the Bulls a last-second victory. Chicago went 13-4 with Jordan in the lineup to close out the regular season.
The Bulls made the playoffs and advanced to the second round against the up and coming Orlando Magic. The Magic were led by Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Nick Anderson. The Bulls were ousted in six games as the Magic eventually went to the NBA Finals where they were swept by the Houston Rockets.
The signature moment of the series came in Game 1, when Orlando’s Nick Anderson stripped Jordan from behind, leading to a game-winning basket for the Magic. Anderson later commented Jordan, “didn’t look like the old Michael Jordan”. In Game 2, Jordan went back to his familiar No. 23, but it wasn’t enough against the upstart Magic.
Jordan pushed himself relentlessly in the off season — reinventing himself so to speak. Prior to the start of the season the Bulls traded Will Perdue and cash to the San Antonio Spurs for Dennis Rodman and Jack Haley. Jordan and the Bulls dispelled any rumors of their demise by starting 41-3 and finished the regular season an NBA all-time best 72-10. Michael Jordan re-assumed the NBA throne by winning the All-Star Game MVP, NBA MVP and was named to the All-NBA first team and All-Defensive first teams.
In the playoffs, Chicago exacted revenge on the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic — who eliminated them from contention the previous two seasons.
The Bulls met the multi-faceted Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals. The Sonics finished the regular season 64-18 and were coming off a grueling seven-game series against the Utah Jazz.
Chicago won the first three games by an average of 14 points. Seattle won Games 4 and 5 before the series shifted back to Chicago for Games 6 and 7.
Jordan led the Bulls with 22 points and 7 assists. Dennis Rodman grabbed 19 rebounds — matching his own NBA Finals record with 11 offensive boards.
As celebration ensued on the United Center floor, Jordan clutched the game ball and walked to the Bulls training room. There, he collapsed onto the floor, shoulders heaving. Bulls officials tried to keep cameras at bay, but we already knew what this was about. Not to be lost in his fourth NBA Championship and fourth Finals MVP was the fact that it was Father’s Day and in his greatest moment Jordan’s heart cracked with emotion, weeping like a boy who longed for his daddy.
A feeling I know too well.