NBA fans might ask themselves: How many times did Michael Jordan miss the playoffs? The answer is twice.
MJ made the playoffs every year during his time with the Bulls. But when Jordan returned to play with a weak Wizards roster at ages 38 and 39, he missed the playoffs in both of his last two NBA seasons.Embed from Getty Images
Michael Jordan’s Early Bulls Years: Barely Making the Playoffs
Many players miss the playoffs in some of their earliest years. Great players are often chosen by losing teams without much of a supporting cast. This was certainly true for Michael Jordan, the third pick in the 1984 NBA Draft.
In his first few years in the league, the Bulls did not have much surrounding MJ. The next two highest scorers for the Bulls in Jordan’s rookie year were Orlando Woolridge and Quintin Dailey.
It didn’t matter! Jordan was such a dominant force that he dragged those early Bulls teams to the playoffs practically by himself.
In his rookie year, the team was a little below .500 and got handled in the first round of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks starring Terry Cummings and Sydney Moncrief.
MJ missed most of his second season with a foot injury but the 30-win Bulls still snuck into the playoffs. That 1985-1986 season was the closest Jordan came to missing the playoffs with the Bulls.
Jordan returned for the playoffs but his Bulls got swept by the eventual-champion Celtics. He did manage to set an NBA record with 63 points in a game 2 loss to the Green.
In his third year the Bulls were once again nearly .500 and got defeated in the first round of the playoffs by Larry Bird’s Celtics.
Michael Jordan’s Prime Years: In the Playoffs Every Year
You certainly would not expect one of the greatest players in NBA history to miss the playoffs during the prime of his career. And Michael Jordan did not.
I wrote about MJ’s prime here. In the article, I discussed two ideas about a player’s prime: a short prime or a long prime.
If you take the player’s absolute best years, then the Bulls first threepeat would qualify as Jordan’s prime. During those years he was statistically dominating the league and winning titles. It is hard to get better than that.
But I also mentioned that you could look at a player’s prime as the time when he was at his peak – when he had matured into an NBA star but had not yet regressed due to age.
If you accept this longer prime premise, MJ had a crazy long prime. He came into the league as a total force: he scored 28 per game as a rookie and was averaging 37 per game by his third year.
As I mentioned above, he dragged those early Bulls teams to the playoffs practically by himself.
In Michael Jordan’s fourth season with the Bulls, the team brought in both Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, won fifty games and won his first playoff series.
From there, they were rolling. Jordan’s Bulls teams were never again close to not making the playoffs.
The Bulls lost to the Pistons in that fourth season, and the next two. The Bad Boy Pistons used the “Jordan Rules” to keep MJ from ascending to the NBA’s throne.
In his seventh season, MJ’s Bulls won his first NBA title. From there, they won two straight. After that, MJ retired for the first time.
He only missed one full season, and most of the next, before returning. Upon Michael Jordan’s return from playing baseball, the Bulls made the playoffs but were beaten by a young Orlando Magic team starring Penny Hardaway and Shaq.
The next year, the Bulls acquired Dennis Rodman and began their second threepeat. Jordan retired after the Bulls second unbelievable run through the league ending his Bulls career without ever missing the playoffs.
Michael Jordan on the Wizards: Missing the Playoffs
Jordan’s second retirement lasted three full seasons.
During that time, Michael Jordan made his first move towards team ownership. Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin hired Jordan as team president.Embed from Getty Images
But Jordan was a poor executive and the team won 14 and 19 games in his first two seasons as team president.
It was then that Jordan decided his best move as team president would be to play. So he did.
Michael Jordan played two seasons for the Washington Wizards at age 38 and 39. He could still play decently. He averaged 23 points, 6 rebounds and five assists per game in his first Wizards seasons. He then put up 20 points, 6 boards and 4 assists per game in his final NBA season.
But a still-pretty-good MJ playing was not enough to drag the roster he had overseen as the president to the playoffs. Michael Jordan missed the playoffs for the only two times in his career in his last two seasons playing in the NBA.
The roster Jordan the executive put together was quite weak featuring Rip Hamilton, former Dream Teamer Christian Laettner, but not much else.
The Wizards nearly doubled their win total in Jordan’s first season back playing going from 19 wins the prior season to 37 with him on the court. But they could do no better the next season finishing with the same 37 wins again, thus ensuring MJ would end his career with two straight playoff misses.
Check Out My Other Michael Jordan Articles
- I wrote about where MJ is from here.
- I wrote about when MJ started playing basketball here.
- I wrote about the 1992 Dream Team here.
- I wrote about MJ’s crazy Finals record here.
- I wrote about MJ’s prime here.
- I wrote about MJ’s playoff record in depth here.
- I wrote about MJ’s first championship here.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Modified From Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan 1997 Steve Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.