Michael Jordan’s famous two-word fax, released to the world on March 18, 1995, was simple in its audacious declaration that the seminal basketball giant was ending his 17-month retirement to return to playing in the NBA.
However, the “I’m Back” fax was a bit misleading in the fact that MJ’s timing was off in the first few games and his shooting was nightmarish.
In other words, he was on the court, but he wasn’t actually “back.”
That is until he showed up in New York City.
The Perfect Setting For a Grand Performance
26 years ago today, Jordan immortalized the term “double nickel” with a signature 55 point explosion in Madison Square Garden in a tilt with the Knicks. MJ’s breathtaking brilliance earned his Bulls a 113–111 victory.
Under the bright lights of the Big Apple and in front of a boisterous sellout crowd and a national television audience, Jordan took the court in his trademark red Bulls road warmup suit and 10th edition Air Jordan shoes with the eyes of the sports world upon him.
He soon revealed that still unfamiliar uniform number 45 that made him seem like a stranger, but it was just a matter of moments before Michael Jordan showed us that he was no stranger.
I remember so vividly how razor-sharp Mike’s jumper was to start the game. I remember how he repeatedly tortured the Knicks’ John Starks with fade-aways, pull-ups, drop step bank shots, and even 3 point bombs.
Jordan netted a sizzling 20 points in the first quarter, and as I watched with unfettered excitement during the TNT broadcast, I began to wonder how many points he would pile up.
Jordan’s Hot Shooting Began Three Nights Earlier
In the Bulls’ previous game at Atlanta, MJ had the first breakout moment of his comeback as he punctuated a thrilling 99–98 victory over the Hawks with a 32-point performance and game-winning jumper.
He had dropped 35 by halftime in his evisceration of the Knicks, who also happened to be a long-time rival of Jordan’s Bulls.
Michael hit a cold shooting spell in the second half but still managed to continue pouring on the points. I loved his energy and his command of the floor — he seemed like he had never left. Additionally, he summoned his trademark ability to score at will, which is why I felt that this is the game that signaled that he was truly BACK.
The Cultural Milestone Ended With a Surprise
With Mike Tyson freshly released from a three-year stint in prison just a few days prior, 2Pac still serving a short sentence at Rikers Island (soon The Clinton Correctional Facility) and O.J. Simpson on trial for double murder, this thoroughly entertaining masterwork from Air Jordan was exactly what the culture needed.
Of course, the game ended in a shocker: Jordan drew a double team, then fired a beautiful pass to backup center Bill Wennington for a wide-open dunk.
Moments later, the Bulls reigned victoriously and Michael Jordan had completed his virtuoso 55-point performance. Spike Lee is the guy who “coined” this electrifying event the “double nickel.”
Frustratingly, the precision shooting which he displayed in this game ended up being an anomaly in MJ’s abbreviated 17-game regular season. He never scored that high or with as much flair the rest of the season or in Chicago’s 10 playoff games.
But for the three NBA seasons after that, Michael was a raging Bull and piloted Chicago to their second trifecta of championships in the 1990s.
That guy was something special!