The year was 1988. Gas was 91 cents per gallon. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Rain Man and Die Hard were commanding box offices. And there were trade talks which would have sent Michael Jordan to the Los Angeles Clippers. Yes, you read that right.
Before diving into a story so crazy that it almost worked, let’s first take a brief look at His Airness’ 1987-1988 season.
— He had 17 40+ outings. The Bulls went 11-6 during those games; 50-32 overall.
— The now-mythological showdown with Dominique Wilkins in the Slam Dunk Contest remains one of the greatest moments in league history. One of the most controversial, too. Look at Dominique’s reaction when Jordan is announced the winner. He knew the only way he was winning the ’88 Contest (in Chicago) was if he used Michael Jackson as a prop of some sort.
— Numbers wise, he was just silly proving himself to be most unstoppable offensive force since some guy named Chamberlain: 35 PPG, 6 RPG, 6 APG, 3 SPG, 2 BPG, 54% FG and 84% FT.
— Detroit would beat Chicago 4-1 in the East semifinals. This would become a theme.
Here’s where things get dicey.
What’s known in the present day about Mike are the well-deserved, historic accolades. The scoring titles, the championships, the hardships, the most sadistic will to win probably ever. That’s Michael Jordan. What many either erased from their mind or had no clue altogether was the popular criticism about No. 23 prior to his first championship. The same criticism players like John Salley and Bill Laimbeer tormented him mercilessly over.
He was an abnormally gifted athlete who could do whatever at the drop of a dime on a court, but he was a player many around the league swore would never win a title because of his “me-first” attitude, including then-head coach Doug Collins. He even compounded such sentiments when a young M.J. once was quoted as saying, “I thought of myself first, the team second. I always wanted my teams to be successful. But I wanted to be the main cause.” By the end of his fourth season, tensions were odd in Chicago, at least in the front office. Calls were entertained.
And one of those came from everyone’s favorite civil rights NBA owner, Donald Sterling.