"Celtics Imagine Jordan Draped in Green"
That’s the headline that appeared on page B9 of The New York Times on July 26, 1994.
Tucked discreetly at the bottom of a page otherwise dominated by baseball coverage, including a story about the Yankees’ hot hitting out west (and a sweet Don Mattingly infographic), was an Associated Press story in which Celtics vice president of basketball operations M.L. Carr openly lusted for the mere chance to talk with Michael Jordan about a return to basketball with the Boston Celtics.
Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis
The same wire story ran in newspapers across the country that day. I’m not sure where teenage me stumbled upon it — maybe my hometown Worcester Telegram & Gazette — but it’s about the only positive memory I have about the Celtics from the 90s.
As Boston languished in the post-Big Three era, Jordan and his dominant Bulls were the focal point of my NBA fandom (I even stitched a killer Jordan pillow using an old T-shirt in middle school Home Ec class). The mere prospect of the Celtics trying to lure Jordan back to basketball following his shocking retirement nine months earlier was a mind-melting possibility.
A quarter century later, those memories came rushing back during “The Last Dance” documentary. But recalling those Jordan-to-Boston rumors to some friends only returned blank stares and made me wonder if I had dreamed it up? Thankfully, the Times’ archives ensured I hadn’t completely lost my mind.
Why, though, did the story come and go so quickly? Had there been any truth to Carr’s pursuit?
“As I understand it, Jerry denied having the conversation, which is absolutely not true,” Carr said Monday while reflecting on the quarter-century old phone call to Krause. "We did have a conversation. I reached out to Jerry, realizing that Michael had left the game. I knew Michael was not gone forever.
"I offered Jerry a first-round draft pick [to simply talk with Jordan] and he goes, ‘Well, M.L., Mike is not coming back. He’s retired.’ Well, he is coming back. I think he is. But he denied the fact that I did that, I guess to save face with his owners. … I thought, [Jordan] had already done it in that Chicago uniform, if he got a chance to come to Boston, put on the green, what a great thing that would be from a marketing standpoint. He would have made a fortune. … It didn't happen. It would have been wonderful.”
Carr was born in the same hometown of Wallace, North Carolina as Jordan’s father, James, and first met Michael when he was a child. He was adamant he could have made a strong pitch based on their relationship.
"I have known Michael's family since I was a kid growing up and since Michael was, matter of fact, about 11 years old,” said Carr. "I remind Michael all the time that he’s the second-best player to come out of my hometown.
I thought I could use the connection to talk Mike into coming back. And I thought, if for whatever reason, he did come back and he would wear the Celtics green, it would be a whole other marketing avenue for him, which would absolutely go through the roof.
Carr said Jordan’s been asked about the rumor and always laughs about it now.
"I felt like I had a connection. I could talk the young superstar into doing something that would shock the sports world,” said Carr. "I think it was a long shot but I was willing to give it a shot.”
Carr’s desire to talk to Jordan came on the heels of a trip to Chicago where Carr had signed 34-year Dominique Wilkins as his first big-splash move since taking over the general manager position. Surely, if Carr had designs on pairing Jordan and ’Nique, then Wilkins would have been in the loop.
So we put the question to The Human Highlight Film.
“I don’t think so,” Wilkins said, exploding into laughter from his Georgia home, when apprised of the plan to unite him and Jordan. "It would have been nice. I’d have to loved to play with him, are you kidding? But, if that was true, you would have heard about that before now.”
Krause, too, downplayed the chatter when the report first emerged, telling the Chicago Tribune, "I must have lost my memory because I don't remember talking to M.L. about that subject. I think I would have remembered it and I don't. I don't know if there was some miscalculation of translation. I looked at my notes from my conversation with M.L., and it's not in my notes.”
Reporters who covered Carr during the early 90s relay that he was a very convincing storyteller and wonder if it might simply have been a case of overhyping an offhanded comment. A new GM certainly yearns to inspire excitement and Carr could have been riding the excitement of inking Wilkins.
Even Carr noted in the AP story, "I just threw the idea up one time on the phone. [Krause] probably thought I was crazy. The offer is out there.” Later he added, "You may think it's far-fetched but you don't know what [Jordan is] thinking. I’ll shag balls for him. I'll do anything. Please, Michael, come to Boston.”
Carr might have been on to something, though. Jordan ultimately returned to the Bulls in March of 1995 after his baseball flirtation. Chicago paid Jordan his NBA salary during his absence, making his decision to return there a no-brainer.
Wilkins lasted only one season in Boston. After averaging a robust 26 points per game and earning his ninth straight All-Star nod the previous year, Wilkins saw his role diminish in Boston, including moving to a bench role for the first time in his career. He averaged 17.8 points over 31.5 minutes per game in 77 appearances and then took his talents overseas to Greece the following year.
Instead of getting that chat with Jordan, Carr turned his attention to overpaying Pervis Ellison. Boston stumbled its way through a 35-47 season, somehow made the playoffs, and got ousted by the Magic in four games in the first round.
The idea of Jordan in green faded like summer love. But for just a brief moment, a young boy could allow his mind to wander. Ironically, the Celtics did get a small forward with North Carolina roots to walk into the Garden wearing No. 45 that season.
Alas, Tony Dawson was as forgettable as the Jordan-to-the-Celtics possibility.