Jordan’s drive and competitiveness are always mentioned as the main reason behind his spectacular career. We often take that drive for granted, but there is more to it than just being “born with it.” For the greatest achievements, you need intense competition, and the Bulls’ greatest season was not motivated by the Celtics or the Pistons. That credit goes to the Orlando Magic.
MJ’s two-year break from the NBA was actually a one and a half year break. He returned in ’94/’95, played the last 17 games of the regular season, and helped the Bulls make the playoffs. After winning against the Hornets in round 1, the Bulls lost to Orlando Magic in round 2 of the playoffs. That defeat would fuel one of the greatest seasons a team has ever had in NBA history.
It wasn’t just the fact the Bulls lost, but the way they lost was what made MJ very hungry. In Game 1, with 10 seconds left, Anderson stole the ball from Jordan to set up the game-winner by Horace Grant. That became the signature play in the series and in Orlando’s history. Jordan had also had shot an air-ball and threw away a pass in the closing minutes.
Nick Anderson, a friend of MJ’s, was Orlando’s hero. In the aftermath of a fantastic performance, Anderson did the ultimate sin in the NBA during the ’90s. He trash-talked Jordan.
“He didn’t look like the old Michael Jordan. No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to.”Nick Anderson
For the theoretical possibility you don’t know, MJ wore 45 when he came back, the number he wore playing minor league baseball. The Magic coaching staff cringed when they heard about the statement, knowing that was the ultimate mistake. Orlando managed to win the series, but Anderson knew Rubikon’s been crossed. So for the rest of the series, he took responsibility.
“You don’t pour gasoline on the fire. After that, I said to the other guys, ‘Don’t say anything to him. I got to guard him.’“Nick Anderson
One final straw broke the camel’s back. Anderson said what really frustrated Jordan was watching Horace Grant, the former Bull, hoisted on the shoulders of Magic players at United Center after the Game 6 clincher. That’s the kind of stuff MJ remembered.
“For Michael to see that, I know it didn’t sit well”Nick Anderson
With all these memories, Jordan got to work over the summer. Everyone knew he would come back with a vengeance, but no-one saw a 72 win season ahead. Brian Hill, Magic’s coach at the time, said there were about ten games the Bulls should’ve lost, but Jordan just willed them to victory. He had the Magic in mind.
MJ got his wish and a meeting with Orlando in the playoffs. He averaged nearly 30 points and pushed the Bulls to an Eastern Conference finals sweep in what turned out to be Shaq’s final game in a Magic uniform.