If you’re one of the many people who scrubbed the memory of Michael Jordan as a Wizard from your mind, try imagining him wearing a Warriors jersey.
Following Jordan’s first retirement, and one-season flirtation with minor league baseball, the Bulls legend was contemplating a basketball comeback during the 1994-95 season. But before he rejoined Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson in Chicago, Jordan spent two days secretly working out with Golden State, as “a Warrior for 48 hours,” according to then-assistant coach Rod Higgins.
“One morning, while Michael was visiting, he calls and asks me … ‘Do you think it’s OK if I practice with you guys?’” Higgins said on NBC Sports’ Sports Uncovered podcast. “And then I said, ‘I don’t think so, but let me call Nelly — that’s what we called (Warriors head coach) Don Nelson — let me call Nelly and I’ll get back to you.’
“I call Nelly and I asked Nelly if it’s OK, if there’s gonna be any issues. Michael wants to know if he can practice with us. Nelly’s response was, ‘Hell, yeah.’
“He came in and we dressed him out, [then-equipment manager] Eric Housen dressed him out in Warrior gear. He might have given him No. 23, I don’t think anyone was wearing 23 at the time, but gave him his wristband to put on his elbow and things of that nature.”
Despite being away from the game for almost 18 months, Jordan dominated play, featuring All-Stars Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell.
“He came in and he ramped up the practice, and we had closed off practice in the Coliseum. We knew he was coming back then,” Hardaway said. “He just took over our practice. He got the five guys that weren’t playing that much and he said, ‘I take us seven to play you all seven in a scrimmage’. It was like he never left.”
Mullin, Jordan’s teammate on two Olympic teams, never believed the 1993 retirement would take.
“What I remember is him walking on the court, after not playing (basketball), probably playing 36 holes of golf the day before, walking on the court and dominating,” Mullin said. “I always knew he was coming back.”
Jordan became increasingly confident he could return mid-season and lead Chicago to a fourth championship after attacking Sprewell, who had been named to the All-NBA First Team during Jordan’s 1993-94 absence.
“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,” said Tim Grover, Jordan’s personal trainer. “So what Michael needed to know (was), ‘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.”
Jordan announced his return on March 18, 1995, but No. 45 failed to get past the Magic in the second round of the playoffs. Three straight championships would follow, then another retirement. Then, the oft-forgotten comeback with the Wizards.