On this day 26 years ago, Michael Jordan decided he was done.
Jordan had led the Chicago Bulls to three-straight NBA titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993, winning MVP in each of the Finals. He had established himself as one of the greatest players in the world and at age 30, plenty more was expected out of His Airness.
But shortly before the start of the 1993-94 campaign, Jordan called a press conference and told the world he was walking away from hoops, ending his nine-year career.
“It’s time for me to move on to something else,” Jordan told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I know a lot of people are going to be shocked by this decision and probably won’t understand. But I’ve talked it over with my family and friends and most of all I’m at peace with myself over the decision.”
Anthony Cotton of the Washington Post explained some of the context behind the decision back on the day the announcement was made.
“Jordan’s father, James, frequently seen at his son’s side during his celebrated career, was murdered on July 23 in North Carolina.
“During the last few years, Jordan (perhaps the most recognized athlete in the history of sports, with endorsement income of an estimated $30 million annually) has spoke of tiring of the burden of fame, telling friends he wouldn’t be playing much longer. James Jordan’s death led to speculation that Michael Jordan would quit, but he reportedly told [Chicago Bulls head coach Phil] Jackson that he was going to report to training camp early. NBA training camps are beginning to open, with the 1993-94 season less than a month away.”
Jordan responded to questions about his father’s passing affecting his retirement, plus other reasons that pushed him to leave the game.
“I’ve always stressed to people that when I lose the sense of motivation, it’s time for me to move on,” he said. “I’ve reached the pinnacle and I’ve achieved a lot in a short period. I don’t have anything else to prove.
“Everyone wants to know if my father’s death has anything to do with this. Well, I was kind of leaning in this direction before, and he knew this. So it didn’t alter my decision, but in some ways it made it simpler. What my father’s death made me realize is how short life is, and how it can be taken from you in a minute.”
The all-time great left the door open for a return to the NBA, though, and that’s precisely what happened. Jordan was not in the NBA during the 1993-94 season, instead playing minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. It wouldn’t be until March 1995 when Jordan would leave baseball to return to basketball, letting the world know through a two-word statement: “I’m back.”
And he was. He’d help the Bulls win three more championships in a row from 1996-1998, and Jordan is still one of the most famous figures in all of sports, let alone basketball. But for a brief stint in the mid-1990s, he was a baseball player, not a hooper.