Before Your Old Droog and Nas and before Tupac and Makaveli, there was Johnny Kilroy and Michael Jordan.
Twenty years ago, Michael was allegedly away in Birmingham, Alabama, both thrilling crowds because he was Michael Jordan and pissing people off because his .202 batting average was prohibiting a more worthy player from chasing his dreams. I say “allegedly” because 20 years ago Johnny Kilroy – who may or may not have been His Airness in bad wigs and fake goatees – traveled from court-to-court dominating basketball games, both professionally and pickup, like an uber-athletic Robin Hood.
**dons conspiracy theory tinfoil hat**
The NBA’s superstars are its bread and butter.
In the ’90s, no bigger superstar existed than No. 23. Mike retired in 1993 citing a lost love of the game and disappeared for all of 1994 to far away baseball diamonds. Turns out – and what most of us have long since figured out – the “retirement” was a shame. To be fair, MJ loved baseball and playing the game one last time was a chance to connect with his best friend: his father who had been murdered the previous summer.
That was the emotional aspect.
The peculiar train of thought also believes Mike’s decision to talk walk away was a calculated effort to drive interest in basketball by taking away its biggest star – who may or may not have had a gambling issue(s) – to build others (Shaq, Penny, Webber, Grant Hill, etc.). And right when it appeared as if Jordan stepped away for good, what do you know?
He’s participating in Scottie Pippen’s 1994 All-Star Game here. He’s practicing with the Bulls there. Phil Jackson begins subtly smirking in interviews prior to MJ’s 1995 return. And it all traces back to his 1993 retirement press conference when Mike never ruled out returning to basketball if David Stern allowed it. Allowed it? As in allowing the biggest sports star on Earth to return to the game he help spawn into an international craze?
The plan was for Mike to return the entire time. And Nike made sure to feed the beast (and its Jordan 9’s) throughout the entire calendar year of 1994 with commercials featuring a slew of A-list names like Alzono Mourning, David Robinson, Chris Mullin, Chris Webber, Stan Musial, Ken Griffey, Jr., Willie Mays, Spike Lee and more. As is the case 99.87% of the time, Nike’s commercials were brilliant in keeping Jordan’s name in or around basketball during his sabbatical.
Make no mistake about it, though. Nike had a role in this elaborate performance. And they disguised the whole thing by letting it play out right in front of our faces.
**takes off conspiracy theory tinfoil fitted cap**
There’s a chance this is all off base and my long-standing aggression to get to the bottom of one of the most traumatic moments of my childhood is purely based off perceived slights. I can admit that.
For as much as I worshiped the ground Jordan flew over, even at 28, part of me has never forgiven The Michael Jordan Fan Club for never writing me back. I penned a letter on November 7, 1993. The contents of which begged MJ to come back. Granted, he eventually did, but a little heads up for a young champion like myself would’ve been nice.
Don’t put the damn address in the Sports Illustrated For Kids if you’re not going to honor the letters, dammit. I put an extra stamp on that sucker and everything.