Why did Jordan retire after first NBA three-peat?

Delfin Dioquino
Why did Jordan retire after first NBA three-peat?
Despite enjoying immense success in the NBA, Michael Jordan shocked the world as he retired from basketball in 1993

MANILA, Philippines – By the end of the 1992-1993 NBA season, Michael Jordan was unequivocally the best player in the league and the most popular athlete on the planet. 

Although he lost the Most Valuable Player award to Phoenix Suns star Charles Barkley that season, Jordan delivered when it mattered most as he keyed the Chicago Bulls to their first title three-peat. 

Yet, months after their championship triumph, Jordan shocked not just the NBA but the entire world when he decided to retire from basketball.

Here are the moments that happened before and after his fateful retirement: 

High stakes

In the homestretch of the Bulls’ quest for a third straight title, Jordan was put on the spotlight, but for the wrong reasons.

After losing Game 1 of the conference finals to the New York Knicks, it was reported that Jordan was spotted gambling in Atlantic City.

Jordan made only 12 of his 32 field goal attempts after that particular trip to the casino in a 91-96 Game 2 loss as the Bulls fell into a 0-2 hole – giving fans and pundits reason to doubt his commitment to winning.

His gambling habits opened a can of worms for Jordan as the book Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction by Richard Esquinas was published a couple of weeks before his Atlantic City escapade. 

Despite Esquinas claiming Jordan owed him more than $1 million as they bet on golf games they played against each other, the Bulls star dismissed his gambling addiction to a “competition problem.” 

Bent on proving his critics wrong, Jordan delivered a near triple-double of 22 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 assists in a 20-point Game 3 win as the Bulls eventually dispatched the Knicks in 6 games. 

Jordan then averaged 41.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in a six-game conquest of the Suns in the finals to help the Bulls become only the third team in NBA history to complete a three-peat. 

While the Bulls’ triumph overshadowed his off-court controversies, they were believed to have added fuel to his fire to retire, which a “beaten up” Jordan had planned a season prior according to his biographer Mark Vancil.

Vancil said in the ESPN documentary The Last Dance that Jordan aimed to walk away from the NBA by the end of the 1991-1992 season except that he wanted to win 3 straight titles – a feat Larry Bird and Magic Johnson never achieved. 

Painful loss

The euphoria from winning 3 consecutive NBA titles, however, turned to sorrow for Jordan a month later after his father James was found dead in a creek in South Carolina. 

James was on his way to Charlotte but was murdered by Daniel Green and Larry Martin Demery, with his red 1992 Lexus stolen by his killers. 

It was a painful loss for Jordan, who always had his father by his side in the most important moments of his career, among them hitting the game-winner in the 1982 NCAA finals, signing a deal with Nike, and winning his first NBA title.

“He was a voice of reason that always drove and challenged me. That was the type of father I had,” Jordan says in Episode 7 of The Last Dance. “Like a friend.” 

As if the death of a loved one was not enough for Jordan, some media outlets implied that his gambling played a role in the death of his father.

Theories include Jordan owing a massive gambling debt to the mafia, which in turn killed his father as a vengeance of sorts. 

Jordan dismissed the allegations but admitted they hurt him.

“I simply cannot comprehend how others could intentionally pour salt in my open wound by insinuating that mistakes in my life are in some way connected to the death of my father,” Jordan then said in a statement. 

A month before the next season started, Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA – leaving the Bulls without their best player in their title-retention bid. 

Hardcourt return

James initially dreamed of Jordan becoming a baseball player, so the NBA icon did just that as he signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox, which was also owned by Bulls honcho Jerry Reinsdorf. 

Years removed from his last baseball game, Jordan struggled during his early months with the Birmingham Barons but improved for the rest of the season. 

After a year in the minor league, Jordan decided to return to the NBA in 1995 due to Major League Baseball players going on strike. 

“If it had not been for the strike, Michael would have played next season,” Reinsdorf says in Jordan Rides the Bus, another ESPN documentary. “I think Michael would have made it to the major leagues.” 

Jordan helped the Bulls reach the conference semifinals but they fell short to the Orlando Magic led by Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, and Horace Grant. 

Determined to reclaim his place at the top, Jordan led the Bulls to a historic 72-10 record the following season and a 4-2 win over the Seattle Supersonics in the finals for their fourth crown in 6 years. 

Jordan went on to capture two more championships with the Bulls in 1997 and 1998 before retiring for the second time. – Rappler.com

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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.