If he didn’t retire, he would’ve won eight straight – the argument many uses when making a case for Jordan being the GOAT. However, we have to give some credit to the Orlando Magic – a team that beat the Chicago Bulls after Jordan’s comeback from his lengthy hiatus from the NBA. Sure, Jordan wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in years before, however, it’s nothing to take away from Magic’s success. They beat them fair and square.
One of the leaders of that Magic team was Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, who appeared on Uninterrupted podcast and discussed the 95 series vs. the Bulls. He talked about how they were confident and ready to take on the challenge of beating the Bulls who by that time were already considered to be invincible.
“The mystique about the Bulls don’t lose in the playoffs; we were like ‘this is our show, they are going to have to come through us.’ And we were ready for it. After winning game 1, MJ comes out wearing number 23. I understood what he was doing to himself psychologically. He had a helluva game in game 2. We just tried to make him as uncomfortable as possible. And Horace Grant had the series of his life. He almost didn’t miss a shot for the entire series from 15-feet out. And I remember Shaq and them holding him up, and I was never involved in any of that. I knew not to wake Jordan up.”Penny Hardaway, AFTER PARTY
As Hardaway said, Horace Grant played a massive part in Magic winning that series. He was fired up and eager to prove the Bulls wrong for not giving him a contract extension and letting him walk. In a six-game series, Grant averaged 18 PPG and 11 RPG on .647 shooting from the floor. Comparing that to 13.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG on .540, he averaged in the entire ’94-95 playoffs; it’s safe to say Grant was extra focused against his former team. Penny said that you could see it on Grant. He was hungry and couldn’t wait for his opportunity to have some revenge against his former team.
“He was locked in. He wanted to beat them. He had a deep hatred because they didn’t renew his contract and all the stuff Michael supposedly did to him personally. And for him to have the opportunity to beat them the very next year, it’s crazy.”Penny Hardaway, AFTER PARTY
Penny also admitted that Jordan wasn’t in basketball shape in that series. He didn’t have a problem saying it, because it was, in fact, true. Jordan lacked his athletic ability that the league as a whole feared. The Magic took advantage of it. They were able to contest his shot more successfully and make it hard for him to score the ball.
“The plays that he was laying the ball up, he had no explosion. He had no lift. He wasn’t dunking the ball that he was usually dunking. He was laying it up. It gave us the chance to block his shot from the weak side instead of him dunking on us. He didn’t have the lift that he had. He never had the spring on his legs. He never had that for the entire series.”Penny Hardaway, AFTER PARTY
Jordan did put up high numbers, averaging 31 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 3.7 APG; however, his overall efficiency dropped. He shot .477 from the field in a series. To put things in perspective, in his first nine seasons before his early retirement, Jordan hit .515 of his shot attempts. Jordan also averaged four turnovers per game, with two coming in deciding the time of game 1, resulting in the Magic setting a tone for the rest of the series. He still had flashes of greatness during the series, but his overall performance was unmatched with everything he was before the baseball adventure.
Jordan proved he wasn’t in basketball shape when he came back the year after and swept the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s why it’s hard to hold the 95 playoff defeat against him. However, it’s also important not to belittle what Hardaway and the Magic have accomplished. They didn’t care about the shape Jordan was in. They just took care of business.