20 years ago today the iconic
#23 #45 returned to the NBA hardwood after simply announcing to the word the day before, “I’m back.” Thanks to MLB’s lockout, Jordan made the decision to return to professional basketball after much discussion with his core team and much to the delight of his agent, sneakerheads and basketball fans.
The first game back would be against Reggie Miller and the Indianapolis Pacers in Indy. MJ decided to start his return with a road game to somewhat limit the media circus since it was away from the United Center. Since his #23 was retired and hanging in the rafters for the first time ever he wore the #45 on court, the same number he wore with the Birmingham Barons. On his feet were the “Chicago” Air Jordan 10 that running mate Scottie Pippen also wore.
His Airness obviously had to knock off some rust and get his game back up to the professional level. There were signs of old MJ, but signs that he would still need time (he went 7 for 28 from the floor missing all four 3-point attempts). By the end of the night he would finish with a stat line of 19 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in an overtime loss to the Pacers. Reggie Miller lead Indiana 28 points with four 3-pointers. And you can be sure ‘ole Reg had plenty of smack-talking for MJ that game.
Not the only time Jordan wore a different number, but this signified a shift in the NBA. Jordan would go on to wear #45 for another 22 games, but it just wasn’t the same. The number 45 wasn’t the best for MJ on the baseball diamond or basketball hardwood so he switched back to his old faithful #23 during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. The NBA fined him for wearing the number #23 and they fined him for wrong color sneakers, Air Jordan 11 “Concords” (we’ve heard this story before).
And even though they lost to the upstart Orlando Magic in 1995, he went full force during the off-season with a chip on his shoulder, his #23 on his back and Air Jordan 11’s on his feet. And the rest is history….