There isn’t much question that during the last half of his career, Michael Jordan was the best player in the league. That was about as controversial a claim as saying the ball was round.
However, On Oct 5, 1993, Jordan did something no player who was the absolute best in his sport has ever done. The Bulls, ready to mount their defense of their first three championships, received some devastating news.
Jordan announced he was retiring, in his prime, to play another sport. Others had retired at their peak, but they retired from sports, not just their sport.
Rick Weinberg of ESPN recounted the occasion, and Jordan’s words:
I've reached the pinnacle...I always said to the people that have known me that when I lose that sense of motivation and that sense that I can prove something, it's time for me to leave...It was just a matter of waiting until this time, when basketball was near, to see if my heart ticked for it...I went through all the different stages of getting myself prepared for the next year, but the desire...was not there.
After a couple of miserable seasons in minor league baseball, Jordan faxed the Bulls two words—the two most glorious words that any Bulls fan could want to hear—“I’m back.”
He returned to the Bulls midway through the 1994-95 season.
He wasn’t back to his Jordanesque best right away, and the Bulls lost to in the second round of the playoffs to the Orlando Magic, 4-2.
However, once he had a preseason under his belt, the Bulls steamrolled the competition in 1995-96, setting the NBA record for wins in a season, as they went 72-10 and won the championship, the first of their second three-peat.
So, that leaves the question, what if Jordan hadn't retired those two years? Would the Bulls have won those two championships in the middle? In all probability, they would have.
Furthermore, with the two extra seasons, Jordan would have been within spitting distance of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record.
Maybe he sticks around another couple of seasons.
All the blame for the breakup that came after the 1997-98 season is thrown at the feet of former general manager Jerry Krause, and he certainly deserves a lot of it. But even if Krause had been a lot less stupid, the team was probably doomed. Sam Smith of Bulls.com tells the story in detail if you have the time to read it.
To sum Smith up, Phil Jackson wanted no part of rebuilding. Jordan was losing his enthusiasm again. Scottie Pippen wanted out. Dennis Rodman was looking to leave for the Dallas Mavericks.
Essentially, it wasn't all Krause. The team was done in 1998.
But what if they had won eight straight? What if Jordan is chasing the all-time scoring record? Then Jackson's not staring at rebuilding. Maybe Pippen isn't thinking about leaving. Maybe Krause isn't blabbering like a fool.
Does the chance at winning nine straight championships keep the team together?
You have to figure it would.