We can never get enough of the most iconic moments in sports history, but we can never get enough of the most human moments in sports history, either, and this one is one of the most iconic and human ones of all.
In the years following his first title victory, Michael Jordan seemed to have become a walking contradiction. He was taught to work hard by his father, but he also was given a lot of freedom as the only child of Harold and Deloris Jordan. After his father was murdered in 1993, Michael’s life was turned upside down. He had to deal with not only his own grief, but also the death of his mentor, Larry Bird.
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In 15 NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, Michael Jordan won 825 games, 706 in the regular season and 119 in the playoffs. And of those 825 wins, perhaps none meant more to MJ than the one that took place on Father’s Day in 1996.
That was the day the Bulls tried to end the best season in NBA history. After winning a record 72 games in the regular season, Jordan and his teammates qualified for the NBA playoffs, losing just one game in the first three series leading to the NBA Finals against the Seattle Supersonics.
The Bulls were clearly the better team, winning their first three games easily. But the Sonics didn’t give up, winning games four and five in Seattle and sending the series back to Chicago for game six, which Chicago won easily. It was Jordan’s fourth NBA title, but the first without his father.
James Jordan, of course, had tragically died three years earlier, and that event contributed to Jordan leaving the NBA for the first time. He and Michael were very close, and he is known to have attended the celebrations of each of the Bulls’ first three titles. Knowing that this is the first championship he will not be celebrating with his father, Michael Jordan was completely overcome with emotion, leading to the most human moment we have ever seen from Michael Jordan.
Of course, it’s understandable why Jordan decided to retire from the sport in 1993 after the death of his father. James Jordan has always supported his son’s dream of becoming a professional basketball player and attended most of his son’s games with the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Chicago Bulls. Before the elder’s death, they discussed the possibility of MJ pursuing a professional baseball career, which MJ apparently did.
But when that dream ended in the spring of 1995, Jordan faced a new challenge: returning to the NBA. But the challenge wasn’t just to become the greatest player again after a year and a half of absence, it was also to play without the support of his father.
And it was hard for him at first.
Before his first game with the Bulls in March 1995, Jordan admitted he felt nervous and naked about James’ absence, saying everything seemed so different. And that first brief comeback wasn’t great, at least in some respects, and the Bulls were bowled out of the playoffs in the second round by an Orlando Magic team. But Jordan apparently recovered and led Chicago to a historic 1995-96 season.
After leaving the NBA playoffs prematurely in 1995, Jordan devoted himself to getting back in shape, often reminiscing about his father during the offseason leading up to the 1995-96 season.
In his first full season, Jordan and the Bulls were virtually unstoppable. This season, MJ became the fourth NBA MVP, playing all 82 games and averaging 30.4 points per game, along with 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals. Chicago won the regular season 72-10, the best record in NBA history at the time, and advanced to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Bulls, an obvious first-place candidate, defeated the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the first round and then the fifth-seeded New York Knicks in five games in the second round. Then they took revenge on the second-seeded Magic by beating Orlando in four games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the NBA Finals against Seattle, Jordan averaged 27.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 steals during a six-game winning streak. In his last game on Father’s Day, Jordan certainly didn’t have his best game, making just 5-of-19 shots and scoring 22 points. But it was still enough to lead Chicago to an 87-75 victory and its fourth NBA championship in six years.
Although he didn’t show many highlights on the floor that night, the real highlight came the night after.
Michael Jordan celebrates after the Chicago Bulls beat the Seattle Supersonics on Father’s Day during the 1996 NBA Finals | Paul Buck/AFP via Getty Images
After the Bulls’ Game 6 win, Jordan interviewed his good friend Ahmad Rashad and emotionally explained how special it was to win his first NBA championship without his father on Father’s Day.
I can’t even put into words what this means to me on this Father’s Day. I know he’s watching. For my wife, for my kids, for my siblings, it’s for dad.
But there’s more to come.
Then the iconic photo of Michael Jordan in the locker room, lying on the floor with the ball in his hand, visibly moved by the victory on Father’s Day. This new layer was added in 2023 during the documentary The Last Dance , where many heard the sound of this moment for the first time. And it’s probably the most human Jordan moment we’ve ever seen.
Jordan’s journey to the top of the NBA is over. He won two more titles with the Bulls and no doubt remembered his father on both occasions.
Statistics provided by Basketball Reference
COMPARED TO: If you don’t count Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan has eliminated all but one member of his NBA playoff Dream Team during his career.In 1988, 35-year-old Michael Jordan was a rising star on the Chicago Bulls, and his biggest rival was Charles Barkley. The Bulls and the 76ers were two of the NBA’s top teams, and going into the 1988 playoffs, the Bulls were heavy favorites to win it all. On the day of the final, Jordan and Barkley both sat out due to injuries, but the Bulls still easily dispatched the Sixers in five games. After the game, MJ and Barkley were sitting together in the locker room when Barkley asked Michael if he was okay, since Barkley had heard that his father was recently killed. MJ replied, “My daddy was a real good man. I just wish he could have seen me win this one.”. Read more about nba finals winners and let us know what you think.
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