A two-word fax marked Michael Jordan’s return from retirement on March 18, 1995. With 17 games left in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls’ suddenly found themselves closer to another Championship run. They were off to a good start, as MJ led the Bulls to a 13-4 record over the stretch; good enough for the 5th seed in the East.
The Bulls then won their first-round playoff series against the Hornets in four games, but they hit a wall against a Magic team led by Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, and Horace Grant.
Jordan’s conditioning wasn’t adequate, as he was away from the NBA for 21 months and had a difficult time against the young and talented Magic. The Bulls had Game 1 in the bag until Jordan made two costly turnovers in the final minutes, and everything went downhill. The Magic eventually won the series in six games.
“Number 23, he could just blow by you. They took off like a space shuttle. Number 45, he revs up, but he doesn’t really take off,” Nick Anderson said after Game 1 when he had stolen the ball from Jordan to help secure the win.
Jordan changed his number back to 23 for the rest of the series, but couldn’t bounce back. But he didn’t dwell on it.
“Let me know when you want me to see you,” Tim Grover said to Jordan after the series. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” MJ said.
Summer at the ‘Jordan Dome’
MJ’s summer was tied up Filming Space Jam, but he was determined to retake his Throne as the best player in the NBA. That’s why he told Grover to help him get his body ready, and he asked Warner Bros. for a place to work out and practice.
The Space Jam producers suggested putting hoops and painting lines on a parking lot near the set, but Grover stepped in and asked for better facilities, and Warner Bros. then built the ‘Jordan Dome.’
“When [the team] lost to Orlando – that’s where the whole process started,” Grover said. “Initially, what they were going to do was just paint some lines on the parking lot and put a couple of hoops up and I was like, ‘No, no, no. This is Michael Jordan. We’re not playing basketball in a parking lot. Not gonna happen.’”
The ‘Jordan Dome’ was a state-of-the-art facility in the VIP parking lot. The inflatable Dome had a full basketball court, locker rooms with showers, a weight room, big screen TVs, a card table, and a putting green.
Jordan got what he wanted, and he used it to the max.
After Filming Space Jam from Monday to Saturday, 7 am to 7 pm, with a two-hour break for mid-day exercises with Grover, Michael would play pickup games with Reggie Miller, Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman, Patrick Ewing, Horace Grant, Eddie Jones, Juwan Howard, Shawn Bradley, LaSalle Thompson, Jack Haley, and the UCLA team that won the NCAA tournament in 1995, among others.
“They said, ‘Michael Jordan is in town shooting a movie, and he wants all of us to come to Warner Bros. Studios to play and train,’” Kris Johnson, one of the UCLA players, recalled.
“It looked like something you’d see in Area 51. When I walked in, there was this really bright light that hit me,” they said. But despite the dome’s wow factor, Johnson was surprised at how approachable Michael was.
“Once you break the ice with Mike, you realize he’s just like you. He loves competition, he loves the game. He even gave me a pair of his patent leather Air Jordans. They gave me them off his feet. He really was uplifting to me, took me under his wing, gave me a lot of confidence not only in basketball but anything I did. And when you touch greatness, you always want to achieve that standard,” Johnson added.
How the ‘Jordan Dome’ helped
Jordan’s friend and Rival Reggie Miller, who also participated in pick-ups at the Dome, was impressed by what the six-time NBA Champion went through that summer.
“What stood out the most to me was how Jordan could film all day and some evenings and still come out and play two to three hours of games. Most of our pickup games began around 7 pm and lasted until 10. His call time is set the next mornings would be around 5-6 am,” Miller explained.
Jordan gained eight pounds of muscle that summer, leading the Bulls to 72 wins in the regular season and an NBA Championship while claiming the regular season, NBA All-Star game, and NBA Finals MVP awards. Oh, and Space Jam was a huge hit, grossing over $250 million at the box office.