The Reason Michael Jordan Wore No. 45 Jersey And Why He Switched Back to No. 23

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2020

NEW YORK - MARCH 28: Michael Jordan #45 of the Chicago Bulls shoots against John Starks #3 of the New York Knicks on March 28, 1995 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Michael Jordan scored 55 points during the game. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1995 NBAE (Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andy Hayt/Getty Images

Before Kobe Bryant switched to No. 24 or LeBron James pivoted to No. 6, Michael Jordan briefly left his famous No. 23 jersey behind for the No. 45 when he returned to the NBA in March 1995.

With the frequency of player movement, fans have grown accustomed to seeing the league's biggest stars change numbers at some point in their career. Seeing Jordan in anything but No. 23 remains somewhat jarring, though.

The Hall of Famer stepped away from the game for the first time in 1993 to try baseball after the Chicago Bulls captured their third straight NBA championship. The Bulls naturally raised his No. 23 to the United Center rafters in November 1994, which coincided with the unveiling of his statue outside of the arena as well.

With his transition to the diamond, Jordan donned the No. 45, his number as a high school baseball player at Laney High, while playing for the Double-A Birmingham Barons.

The five-time MVP made his first appearance back the NBA on March 19, 1995, in a 103-96 loss to the Indiana Pacers, bringing 45 with him to Chicago.

In his autobiography For the Love of the Game, he explained his reasoning was tied to his father's murder in July 1993.

"When I came back, I didn't want to play in the last number that my father had seen me wear," Jordan wrote (h/t Sole Collector's Gerald Flores). "Because he wasn't around, I thought of my return as a new beginning."

Those Jordan 45 jerseys became collector's items because MJ reverted back to the No. 23 after just 23 games.

The Bulls dropped the opening game in their second-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic, and Jordan finished with 19 points on 8-of-22 shooting.

Perhaps because he thought Jordan's reign of dominance had ended, Nick Anderson couldn't help but dish out some trash talk, having stolen the ball from Jordan to set up the game's pivotal score in the final seconds.

"No. 45 doesn't explode like No. 23 used to," Anderson told reporters. "No. 45 is not No. 23. I couldn't have done that to No. 23."

When the teams stepped back on the floor, Jordan was in his old No. 23 jersey. He dropped 38 points in a 104-94 victory for Chicago.

The Bulls received a $25,000 fine for Jordan's decision, which head coach Phil Jackson thought resulted from Anderson's comments.

"He was responding to the comments that he's not the same old 23," Jackson said, per the New York Times' Mike Wise. "I think that was his response. 'OK, check this out.' That's my opinion."

The Magic beat the Bulls in six games, but Jordan obviously got the last laugh. Chicago swept Orlando in the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, and the Magic's championship window slammed shut when Shaquille O'Neal signed with the Los Angeles Lakers that offseason.

The No. 45 was technically the third jersey number Jordan wore with the Bulls. For one night only (Feb. 14, 1990), he famously had to wear No. 12 when his usual top came up missing.

With any luck, the details behind the theft will be dissected on The Last Dance.


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