It was one of those “do you remember where you were” moments. For me it was easy. I had just arrived at work that Saturday afternoon when the most famous facsimile in sports history came sliding out of the machine in the Chicago Sun-Times sports department.
It read, “I’m back.”
At 31, Michael Jordan opted to ‘bag’ the spikes for a pair of sneakers.
And the rest was, well, … just go to his Wikipedia page.
THE SUN-TIMES STORY FROM THAT DAY:
It was perhaps the shortest news release ever issued, but really, there was nothing else to say.
In two simple words, Michael Jordan said it all:
Back to basketball. Back to the NBA. Back to the Bulls.
“He walked in this morning, shook my hand and said, `It’s a done deal,’ ” Bulls coach Phil Jackson said Saturday after practice.
And just like that, what went from wishful thinking to a rumor to a possibility finally became reality.
“I hoped for it. I never thought it would be an actuality,” Jackson said. “There’s relief. We said earlier this week that this was a possibility, that this was coming to a head. . . .
“For us and the fans, I think we’re all relieved that this has been resolved.”
There’s been much speculation about Jordan and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf having to meet to hammer out a deal. But because of a league-wide ban on redoing contracts – Jordan is under contract for this season and next – all the two could agree to do is to talk once the ban is lifted.
“There were no contract negotiations. I can’t change his contract because of the moratorium,” Reinsdorf said from his home in Arizona.
But as soon as that ban is lifted, expect Jordan to sign a new deal that, sources say, will have the highest average salary ever in any sport and could approach as much as $50 million for two years.
Jordan will return today against the Indiana Pacers in a game that will be televised nationally by NBC
(11 a.m., Channel 5).
“If this is what makes him happy, then I’m happy for him,” Reinsdorf said. “I’ve always said I’ll support whatever he wants to do. And he seems pretty excited about this.
“My only admonition to him: Don’t try to be Superman by playing too much too soon. Start slowly and work your way into the game.”
Jordan has yet to address the media, but it’s apparent that he missed the game and the competition more than he thought he would 17 months ago when he announced his stunning retirement.
In that announcement, which came days before the Bulls opened camp for the 1993-94 season, Jordan said he had little left to accomplish in the NBA and was happy his father had gotten to see him play his last game. Jordan’s final game was in the 1993 NBA Finals and his father was slain two months later.
In December, 1993, he launched a baseball career with the White Sox and spent last season with the Class AA Birmingham Barons. He hit .202 and was expected to be promoted to the Nashville Sounds in Class AAA this season.
But Jordan retired from baseball last week, saying its labor problems prevented him from making the progress he deemed necessary to become a major-leaguer. Now he’s come home to basketball.
“I thought he was done for good,” Reinsdorf said. “What’s interesting is that as we were waiting to go to the press conference on the day he retired, he was going to say he was never coming back.
“I told him, `Never say never.’ And he’s done that the last couple of years. He always left the door open a bit.”
Whether or not Jordan – activated Saturday as rookie Dickey Simpkins was placed on the injured list – has made the right decision remains to be seen. But it’s obvious his commitment to the Bulls is genuine and long-term.
“It’s indefinite, as far as I know,” Reinsdorf said. “I don’t know how long he’s going to play. He told me it’s going to be for several years. But he can change his mind. I think that’s something he has to address.”
Jordan once again slipped out a back door of the Berto Center and in his burgundy Corvette zoomed by the mass of television crews and photographers gathered in the parking lot, leaving several questions unanswered.
How much will he play today?
“I don’t know anything about what I’m going to do coaching-wise,” Jackson said. “As of now, I can’t tell you how long and when he’ll play.”
With just 17 games left in the regular season, can Jordan mesh with his new teammates – only Scottie Pippen, Will Perdue and B.J. Armstrong have played with him – in time for a playoff run?
No one was willing to tackle that one head-on Saturday. But perhaps the euphoria of Jackson and the Bulls players answered that.
“I think after having him on the floor tomorrow, I’ll be able to describe it. . . . Maybe I won’t be able to describe it,” Jackson said.
“But once we see him out there in that red uniform playing for the Chicago Bulls, that’ll be the emotional moment we’ve looked for and we’ve waited for.”