While the Celtic fan in me wants to go with Bill Russell, most days I consider Michael Jordan to be the greatest basketball player to ever live. He is most certainly the best player I have ever seen play the game.
With six rings, five Most Valuable Player awards, and countless other awards, his impact on the sport is undeniable.
However, despite his successes, Michael Jordan’s career was marked by three retirements that left fans and analysts alike wondering what could have been.
In this blog post, we will explore each of Michael Jordan’s retirements, beginning with his first, where he famously left basketball to play baseball. We will also examine the speculation that surrounded his time away from the court, including rumors that he was suspended for gambling.
Additionally, we will delve into his second retirement, when he took years off from the NBA, and his third, when he returned to play for the Washington Wizards before ultimately retiring from the sport for good.
Finally, we will discuss how each of these retirements impacted Michael Jordan’s legacy and the lessons that can be learned from his career. So, let’s dive in and explore the fascinating story of Michael Jordan’s retirements.
Michael Jordan’s First RetirementEmbed from Getty Images
Michael Jordan’s first retirement was easily the most confusing and surprising of the three.
The announcement came as a shock to fans around the world. In October of 1993, just months after winning his third consecutive NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan announced his decision to retire from basketball and pursue a career in baseball.
The decision came just a few months after Jordan’s father was murdered. There was some belief at the time that this tragic event made Jordan want to return to his Dad’s favorite sport.
But Jordan’s decision to leave basketball was also met with widespread speculation and rumors. Many fans and analysts speculated that he was forced to retire due to his gambling habits. Some even suggested that he had been suspended by the NBA, which the league has denied.
Regardless of the reasons behind his decision, Jordan’s departure from basketball left a void in the sport that many felt could not be filled. Jordan was at his peak and in the middle of his prime.
The door was opened for other players in Jordan’s absence. Hakeem Olajuwon led his Houston Rockets to back-to-back titles in Jordan’s absence. Hakeem’s legacy was forever changed by MJ’s first retirement.
While Hakeem was able to grab two rings, MJ was not actually missing for two full seasons. He missed the entire 1993-1994 season.
Jordan then unretired for the last 17 games of the 1994-1995 season. He was still getting into basketball shape when the Bulls went to the playoffs in 1995. The team lost to Shaq and the Orlando Magic that season.
During this first retirement, Jordan joined the Birmingham Barons, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox. Despite being a talented athlete, Jordan’s transition to baseball was not easy. Like many of us, Jordan grew up playing baseball as his first sport.Embed from Getty Images
But, also like many of us, he never did learn to hit a curveball. He struggled with hitting, and his batting average was just .202 in his first season.
Despite these difficulties, Jordan remained committed to his new sport and continued to work hard to improve his skills. He played a second season of baseball but eventually returned to basketball in March of 1995, citing a desire to return to the sport he loved.
Jordan’s first retirement was a defining moment in his career, and it remains one of the most significant events in the history of the NBA. His decision to leave the sport and pursue baseball was a surprise to everyone, and it raised questions about his legacy and his future in the NBA.
It also impacted players beyond his own Chicago Bulls. Hakeem Olajuwon’s status as a Houston legend would be different without the opportunity created by MJ’s first retirement.
Jordan’s eventual return to the court would prove to be just as significant, if not more so, and it solidified his place as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Michael Jordan’s Second Retirement
Michael Jordan’s second retirement from basketball came in 1998 after he had won three more NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. This time, his decision to retire was not as surprising as his first departure from the sport.
In hindsight, the whole situation seems silly though and it serves as an example of how hard it can be to keep championship level egos in check. When I read about this retirement, as a Patriots fan, I can’t help but think of Tom Brady leaving the Pats.
Bill Belichick, Brady and owner Robert Kraft had a pretty sweet thing going. But their egos made each of them think they were the key piece to all the winning and that drove them apart.
The Bulls were coming off their second threepeat at the end of the 1998 playoffs. But the relationships among the key leaders for the team had been deteriorating for some time.
Legendary Bulls coach Phil Jackson was ready to head out after years of disagreement with controversial general manager Jerry Krause. Krause was in a hurry to trade players like Scottie Pippen before they aged out of their value to the league.
At the end of the ‘98 playoffs, the Bulls let Dennis Rodman move on, traded Pippen and let Jackson leave. Those choices led Jordan to call it quits.
On the one hand, Jordan himself had suffered several injuries and was no longer the dominant force he once was. But, at the same time, he was coming off another NBA title and most certainly would have been a contender the next year with any sort of decent supporting cast.Embed from Getty Images
In hindsight, it is too bad the Bulls could not have found a way to keep it together until there was real evidence that it was over for the Jordan-era Bulls. Alas, that was not to be.
After leaving the NBA, Jordan pursued a variety of interests, including a brief stint as a part-owner and executive for the Washington Wizards. However, he remained committed to the sport of basketball and continued to work on his game.
Despite retiring from the NBA, Jordan remained a cultural icon and continued to have a significant impact on the sport. His legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time was already firmly established, and his second retirement did little to diminish his standing in the eyes of fans and analysts.
In fact, Jordan’s second retirement only served to heighten the anticipation for his eventual return to the NBA. Fans and analysts alike speculated about whether he would ever return to the court, and many were eager to see him play again.
Jordan’s second retirement marked the end of a chapter in his career, but it also set the stage for his eventual return to the NBA. His impact on the sport of basketball had already been immense, and his legacy was only set to grow in the years to come.
Michael Jordan’s Third Retirement
Michael Jordan’s third and final retirement from basketball came in 2003, after he had returned to the NBA to play for the Washington Wizards.
Jordan had joined the team as president in his retirement and came to the belief that his best chance at making them better was to play himself. At one point there was speculation that he and Charles Barkley would return as a pair but only MJ ended up suiting up for Washington.
Jordan’s tenure with the Wizards was not as successful as his time with the Bulls, and his performance on the court was not as dominant as it once was. These two seasons with the Wizards were the only two of MJ’s career where he did not make the playoffs.
However, he continued to play at a high level and remained a significant presence on the court. He averaged 23 points per game in his first of two seasons for the Wizards and 20 per game in the second. The rosters around him were very weak, however.
Much like a boxer who comes back at an advanced age only to get knocked out by a younger man, Jordan ended his on-court career with something of a whimper.
While we never know what could have been if the Bulls had kept it together for another season or two, we do know that by ages 38 and 39 when he played for the Wizards, MJ could not single handedly drag an NBA team to the playoffs.
After retiring from the NBA for the final time, Jordan remained involved in the sport in other ways. In 2006 he acquired a minority stake in the then Charlotte Bobcats. In 2010 he became the majority owner of the team that would later be re-named the Charlotte Hornets.Embed from Getty Images
In the years since the Bobcats/Hornets have had little success on the court, just as the Wizards had struggled with Jordan as president. But, off the court, the purchase has been a huge success for MJ.
In 2023 it was reported that Jordan was considering selling the franchise at a valuation somewhere in the $1.7 billion range. He acquired the team for $275. Despite making the playoffs only twice as owner, owning an NBA team sure seems like it has been one more win for Michael Jordan.
Jordan’s third retirement marked the end of a legendary playing career, and it solidified his place as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His impact on the sport of basketball had been immense, and his legacy was already firmly established.
In the years since his retirement, Jordan has remained a cultural icon and a beloved figure in the world of sports. His contributions to the game of basketball have been immeasurable, and his influence on the sport will be felt for generations to come.
Many successful players make the transition to coach, general manager or even team president. But rare indeed is the player who has gone from playing the game to owning the team.
Michael Jordan is the rarest form of player who is singularly admired as a player, whose name has become synonymous with an iconic brand and who has also joined the elite billionaire class of team owners.
Conclusion: Michael Jordan Retirement
Like everything else he has done, Micheal Jordan is one the NBA’s all-time leaders in retirements!
MJ’s first retirement was shocking and controversial. It came when he was at his absolute peak as a player and shortly after the death of his father. Many people still believe this was more of a suspension than a true retirement.
During his first retirement he took up baseball briefly before returning to dominate the NBA.
Jordan’s second retirement was expected but still unfortunate in hindsight. MJ was coming off another threepeat with the Bulls. While he was thirty-five at that point, the team, if it could have been held together, was clearly still a contender. The second retirement leaves the most what-ifs for me as a fan.
Michael Jordan’s third retirement was the real deal. After two unsuccessful years with the Wizards, MJ gave up the game for good.
Of course, being who he is, he did not really retire. He went on to own the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats making himself immensely wealthier if success on the court with the team never really came.
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.
- I wrote about the only two times MJ missed the playoffs 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.