Jordan had been drafted by the Bulls in 1984, then Pippen came aboard in 1987. The Bulls had been a sub-.500 squad (though they qualified for the playoffs three consecutive years), but at that point they transformed into a title contender, and six years later, a three-time champion.
Jordan then shocked the sports world by retiring at age 30, saying that he had simply lost his desire to play; the murder of his father in July 1993 was seen as a contributing factor. He continued to work for Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, however, playing for a minor-league team in the farm system of the White Sox, which Reinsdorf also owned.
Jordan may have loved baseball, but he wasn’t very good at it. In 127 games for the AA Birmingham Barons, His Airness batted .202 with a .556 OPS (not that anyone cared about OPS in those days).
Chicago’s Berto Center was the Bulls’ practice facility at the time.
Hollins was a referee who called an infamous foul against Pippen with two seconds left in Game 5 of a 1994 Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Knicks. Hubert Davis hit a pair of free throws that gave New York a controversial win, and Pippen’s Bulls, the three-time defending champs, would get eliminated in seven games.
The following offseason, Grant, Chicago’s reliable power forward, left as a free agent to join Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic.
Jordan had started to wear number 45, rather than his iconic 23, when he left to play baseball. He kept the new number upon his return to the NBA, citing 23 as the last number his late father had seen him wearing.
On March 29, 1995, in his fifth game back, Jordan torched the Knicks for 55 points at Madison Square Garden. In the final seconds, with everyone in the building expecting him to attempt a game-winning shot, Jordan instead found center Bill Wennington wide open under the basket for an easy layup and a hard-fought win.
Jordan switched from number 45 back to 23 after Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against Orlando, whose Nick Anderson had made MJ look old by stealing the ball late in the fourth quarter of a Magic win. That prompted Jordan to reach for his former magic, in a number 23 jersey, but Orlando prevailed in six games.
Did they ever. The 1995-96 Bulls laid waste to the NBA, going an outrageous 72-10 in the regular season and setting records for most wins and winning percentage (.878).
And that’s where Pippen finally finished. Great to get all these memories from someone who had much more than a front-row seat to the history that was made two decades ago.