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New details emerge regarding Michael Jordan's NBA Return in Sports Uncovered Podcast

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NBC Sports Chicago

New details emerge regarding Michael Jordan's NBA Return in Sports Uncovered Podcast

Chicago, IL (May 28, 2020) – Beginning today, NBC Sports Regional Networks debuts a new six-episode, weekly podcast anthology series, “Sports Uncovered,” that re-examines some of the most memorable and compelling storylines and events in sports history. With new episodes publishing each Thursday through July 2, this original storytelling franchise utilizes exclusive, in-depth interviews with prominent participants, witnesses and experts to explore new, underreported or forgotten aspects of well-known topics centered in each of the NBC Sports Regional Networks markets.
 
The debut episode of the “Sports Uncovered” podcast series, entitled “I’m Back,” is more than just a story about the most famous two-word fax in sports history, it unveils never-before-heard stories about the events leading up to basketball legend Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls, including his secret workouts with another iconic NBA franchise, new stories detailing his 1995 on-court return against the Indiana Pacers, plus – anecdotes about the additional jersey that was kept around by the team’s equipment manager and much more. Podcast DOWNLOAD HERE.

Among the stories revealed for the first time include:

  • Prior to his early March 1995 Berto Center workouts with the Bulls, and to test himself against the league’s next generation of emerging young stars, Jordan held secret, behind-closed-door workouts over a two to three-day period with … the Golden State Warriors. Former Warriors greats Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin, along with MJ’s friend/former teammate Rod Higgins, discuss those high-intensity practice sessions that featured Jordan wearing Warriors practice attire.
  • Longtime Bulls photographer Bill Smith and NBC Sports NBA reporter Ahmad Rashad were the only two people inside Jordan’s private locker room before his first game back against the Pacers, both of whom detail that private, pre-game scene.
  • While Jordan started his ’95 comeback wearing #45, veteran Bulls equipment manager John Ligmanowski tells the story of why he carried a #23 jersey everywhere they went, just in case.

 

NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico introduces each “Sports Uncovered” podcast, including the “I’m Back” episode, which also features additional, candid Jordan era recollections from former Bulls teammates Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc and Horace Grant, past NBA greats Dominique Wilkins, Robert Horry and Glen Rice, NBA legend/three-time champion LeBron James, along with longtime agent David Falk, longtime personal trainer Tim Grover and former NBA Senior VP/Basketball Communications Brian McIntyre among others.

Among the highlighted quotes from the one-hour Sports Uncovered/“I’m Back” podcast, include the following:

Tim Hardaway revealing MJ practiced with Warriors: “The reason why I’m smiling, I might get in trouble for this. Him and Rod Higgins are really, really good friends. He came and practiced with us two or three times and we knew he was coming back then. He just took over our practice, just took over our practice. He got five guys that wasn’t playing that much, and he said ‘us seven will play you all’s seven in a scrimmage,’ and it was like he never left.”

Rod Higgins on MJ/Warriors practices: "Michael was a Warrior for 48 hours…he came in and (Warriors equipment manager) Eric Housen dressed him out in Warriors gear, he might have given him number 23. Once Michael got warmed up, you could tell his objective was to basically kick Spree (Latrell Sprewell) and Tim’s (Hardaway) behind, and talk trash to them.”

Chris Mullin on observing MJ against younger Warriors stars: “I always thought he was coming back, but a day like that...he was just so fit, so it wasn’t a physical thing, but seeing him on the basketball court and playing against, Sprewell was a really good player and he was in midseason form, for him to do that, I thought it’s just a matter of time.”

Tim Grover on MJ vs. Sprewell in Warriors practice sessions: “My take on this...Latrell was one of the more explosive, more athletic and he was probably one of the better players during that short run that he had. So what Michael needed to know, even though I took the time off, can I still come back and kick his ass?... and in his mind he’s like, ‘I’ve been gone from this game for how long? And he’s supposed to be the top player? Alright.’ He wasn’t testing himself against Sprewell, he was testing himself against himself.”

John Ligmanowski on jersey number preparedness: "He decided he was going to go with the 45, and I said ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll make the 23 up too so we’ll have both. We’ll have the 45, the 23 in case you change your mind, I got it.’... I always carried the 23 around with me in case he decided, (and) it happened.”

In addition to today’s “I’m Back” download debut, please note the following upcoming NBC Sports Regional Networks “Sports Uncovered” podcast series release dates/episode descriptions:

RELEASE DATE

NBC Sports RSN

TITLE/EPISODE DESCRIPTION

May 28

Chicago

“I’m Back”: Michael Jordan’s 1995 NBA return

June 4

Boston

“The Bill Belichick You Don’t Know”: Belichick’s closest confidants reveal the side of the New England Patriots head coach the public doesn’t get to see.

June 11

Northwest

“The Uniform Craze That Revolutionized College Football”: How the University of Oregon ignited a fashion arms race across the NCAA and all sports, by going from having Donald Duck as its mascot to trendsetting Nike uniforms that attracted five-star recruits to Eugene.

June 18

Washington

“Sean Taylor, the NFL Superstar We Didn’t Get to Know”: Untold stories that explain why the NFL’s biggest stars revere Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins safety who was killed at 24 while protecting his family.

June 25

Philadelphia

“Marathon on Ice”: How the Philadelphia Flyers & Pittsburgh Penguins survived seven hours of playoff hockey as they battled in the longest game of the NHL’s modern era.

July 2

Bay Area

“The Mysterious Disappearance that Changed a Super Bowl”: Barret Robbins in his own words -- from prison -- revealing the real reasons why he disappeared and missed playing in the Raiders’ loss in Super Bowl XXXVII.

 

NOTE: “Sports Uncovered” podcast episodes are available for download on ALL major podcast platforms, including: NBCSports.com/podcasts, NBC Sports’ Scores app, Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, TuneIn and iHeart.

NBC Sports Chicago, a partnership between the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), Chicago Bulls (NBA), Chicago White Sox (MLB) and the NBC Sports Group, features over 275 live pro games in high definition each year.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago delivers extensive pre/post-game coverage for its core pro team partners, as well as Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs multi-platform coverage, plus - local sports discussion programs that includes SportsTalk Live, and massive cross-platform coverage provided by the network’s growing digital platform, NBCSportsChicago.com, the “MyTeams by NBC Sports” app, and its variety of fan-focused social media outlets. Fans can follow the network on Twitter via @NBCSChicago.  

NBC Sports Regional Networks is NBC Sports Group’s portfolio of nine regional networks that delivers more than 2,200 live sporting events and original content to more than 35 million homes. Aligned within Eastern and Western Divisions, the NBC Sports Regional Networks are: NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Philadelphia +, NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Washington + and SNY; and NBC Sports Bay Area, NBC Sports California, NBC Sports Chicago/NBC Sports Chicago+, and NBC Sports Northwest. For more information on NBC Sports Group properties, including press releases, photos, talent and executive bios, headshots and logos, please visit www.NBCSportsGroupPressBox.com.

How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

How Bulls' Zach LaVine surged to stardom in breakout 2019-20 season

Every weekday for the next three weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster, with each week featuring a different position groups. First up is the guards, and to kick it off, Zach LaVine, who took another seismic step in his sixth season.

2019-20 Stats

25.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.2 APG | 45% FG, 38% 3P, 80.2% FT | 31.2% USG

Contract Breakdown

July 2018: Signed 4-year, $78 million contract (two years, $39 million remaining)

2020-21: $19,500,000 | 2021-22: $19,500,000 | 2022-23: UFA

Strengths

LaVine is a prolific and multi-faceted scorer, and he does it in every way you’d want from a modern offensive star. His career-high 25.5-point-per-game scoring average (12th in the NBA) in 2019-20 came on a steady diet of 3s (38% on 8.1 attempts per game; 36.4% on a high volume of pull-ups) and layups (8.1 restricted area attempts per game, third among guards), many of which were high-difficulty in the Bulls’ cramped offense. He carried a top-10 load, but his production wasn’t all volume and empty calories. Among 13 qualified players with usage rates north of 30%, LaVine currently slots fifth in effective field goal percentage (52.6%), and the Bulls’ offense was 3.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor — an 80th percentile mark, per Cleaning the Glass.

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With his head down, he’s near impossible to stay in front of, he can jump out of the gym and fire from the logo. When all of that works in concert — as it did in his 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte, among other explosive performances — he’s virtually unguardable, and the show marched on with remarkable consistency this season. LaVine started 60 of the Bulls’ 65 games in 2019-20, and scored 20+ points in 45; he logged more 30-point outings (18) than any other Bull had 20-pointers, and his six 40-point nights ranked fifth in the NBA. And talents come with an edge — consider that the Charlotte outburst came one night after being pulled from a game for "three egregious defensive mistakes."

Add strides as a defender, playmaker and locker-room leader to all of the above, and we’re talking about a burgeoning star in the league. At 25, his prime lies ahead, and he's gotten better in each of his two full seasons since tearing his ACL in 2017.

Areas to Improve

We have to start on the defensive end, a favorite of LaVine detractors and generally a mixed bag. The good: In 2019-20, LaVine displayed both willingness to consistently engage on that end of the floor, and the athleticism to hound passing lanes and hang with certain wings on-ball — all of which resulted in him posting career-high steal (2%) and block (1.3%) rates. Undeniable improvements, albeit in an aggressive, turnover-happy system. But the bad: Occasional lapses off-ball and on help rotations persisted, and the Bulls’ defense was 10 points per 100 possessions worse with LaVine on the floor this season. There’s noise in there — the Bulls’ most-used lineup featured LaVine and had a 97.1 defensive rating, he’s not destructive — but ominous nonetheless.

On the offensive end, there are two holes to poke. The big one lies in his playmaking. Of that same 13-player 30-plus-percent usage sample, LaVine ranks 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.23), ahead of only Joel Embiid, and 11th in assist rate (21.8%). Inextricable from those numbers is how battered down and ineffective most of the offensive options around him were all season, which allowed opponents to hurl double-teams at LaVine on a nightly basis. Still, as the centerpiece of the offense, there’s room to grow in the halfcourt consistently executing pick-and-roll reads and not succumbing to one-track mindedness on drives. Despite memorable flashes, LaVine's overall numbers in the clutch (33% FG, four total assists) lagged this season, in part due to the above factors. 

And a knit-pick: his foul-drawing. Given how frequently LaVine gets to the cup, and how much the ball is in his hands, you might want to see him average more than 5.6 free throw attempts per game — not a paltry figure, but just outside the most notorious offensive boons in the league. Some of that relies on getting whistles, but attracting contact on drives is an acquired skill. It’s the easiest way for him to bump his scoring into the high 20s or low 30s per game.

Ceiling Projection

Right now, LaVine’s production makes his contract inordinately team-friendly; he’s the only non-rookie-contract player in the league averaging more than 25 points per game and making less than $25 million, annually. There’s two years remaining on that deal, and LaVine will want big money at the end of it, possibly even a max. Does his ceiling match what that type of commitment connotes? That’s a decision the Bulls will need to make soon. 

Given what he's shown, there's no reason LaVine shouldn’t continue to blossom into a perennial top-5-to-10 scorer, and All-Star, as he moves through his prime. Whether he can drive winning basketball in Chicago probably depends most on the deck-shuffling the Bulls’ new front office regime enacts. At least individually, he appears ready for it.

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Bulls’ Top 10 Point Guards in franchise history

Bulls’ Top 10 Point Guards in franchise history

Every Monday for the next five weeks, NBC Sports Chicago will be counting the best 10 Bulls players at each position in franchise history.

First up, the point guards.

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Here, there are a wide array of specialties. The rugged defense of Ricky Sobers and Norm Van Lier. The sharp shooting of John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong. The unmatched athleticism of Derrick Rose. And so much more.

All of which is to say, none of these rankings are sure to be easy — especially for a franchise as storied as the Bulls. But here goes nothing.

Bulls’ Top 10 Point Guards in franchise history

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