Orlando Magic

How Michael Jordan, Bulls executed impromptu switch from No. 45 to 23

How Michael Jordan, Bulls executed impromptu switch from No. 45 to 23

Many people credit Nick Anderson for motivating Michael Jordan to switch from the No. 45 he wore when he came out of his first retirement back to his legendary No. 23.

Anderson sealed a Game 1 victory for the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals by stealing the ball from Jordan. But then, he committed the ultimate no-no against Jordan, who famously invented slights even when they didn’t actually exist.

"No. 45 doesn't explode like No. 23 used to," Anderson told reporters after the game. "No. 45 is not No. 23. I couldn't have done that to No. 23."

Jordan shocked the world — and the NBA league office, which fined the Bulls $25,000 for the unannounced move — by wearing No. 23 for the Bulls’ Game 2 victory. For that switch, longtime Bulls equipment manager John Ligmanowski deserves credit. Having discussed the uniform number with Jordan when he first returned in March, Ligmanowski was ready for anything.

“We had a conversation in the locker room at the Berto Center,” Ligmanowski said on NBC Sports’ “Sports Uncovered” podcast, referencing the Bulls’ old practice facility. “And I asked him. I said, ‘You wore No. 45 in baseball. What number do you want to wear?’ He sat there and thought for awhile. And then 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. If you want to change your mind, I got it.’ . . . I always carried the 23 around with me in case he decided. Which it happened.”

Jordan proceeded to drop 38 points on the Magic in the game following the switch. Orlando did get the last laugh with a stunning, six-game series victory.

But No. 23 was back, thanks in part to Ligmanowski. Three more Bulls titles followed.

RELATED: How Toni Kukoc knew Michael Jordan was going to unretire and rejoin Bulls 

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Ever wonder why Michael Jordan once had to wear a nameless, No. 12 jersey

Ever wonder why Michael Jordan once had to wear a nameless, No. 12 jersey

Ever wonder why Michael Jordan once had to wear a nameless, No. 12 jersey?

Michael Jordan played 1,072 games in his roughly 15-year NBA career. He spent 1,049 of those contests making the No. 23 synonymous with greatness. For 22 games in the spring of 1995, he sported the No. 45 upon returning from his 14-month retirement to play baseball — an homage to his late father James, who last saw Jordan play wearing the No. 23.

But one game, a Valentine’s day matchup against the Magic in Orlando in 1990, saw him don a nameless, No. 12 jersey. Unlike everything Jordan has done — both in his basketball days and post-playing career — this was not a premeditated, carefully calculated decision.

This was the perfect crime. 

Ex-Bulls forward Will Perdue could sense something off from the moment he arrived at Orlando Arena for the game.

“When we walked in the locker room, things were obviously different,” Perdue recalled. “There were police there, we had a lot more security for some reason. And guys were uptight. Things were different. 

“And we had to ask what was going on, and we found out that somebody had stolen Michael's jersey.”

RELATED: Why Michael Jordan wore No. 45 out of retirement and why he went back to No. 23

In a video recently posted by the Magic’s official Twitter account, Director of Team Operations Rodney “Sid” Powell corroborated that the theft took place sometime between the Bulls’ shootaround, and them arriving at the arena.

Another thing all parties agree on: The locker room was boarded up. Perdue recalled the doors being triple-locked. Powell said the team locked, dead-bolted and padlocked the doors shut. 

Still, the jersey meandered away, leaving the Bulls in an unenviable predicament. As Powell remembered it, Jordan was “a little frustrated and not happy” to be forced out of his trademark No. 23, which he had worn for every game of his college and NBA career. Surely, that’s putting it mildly.

But at the time, according to Perdue, the team didn’t carry specific extra jerseys — only bland replacements to be used in break-in-case-of-emergency situations.

This certainly qualified for that distinction, and fortunately, the Bulls had an extra red top in Jordan’s size. Unfortunately, stitched onto that jersey was a No. 12 on the front, a No. 12 on the back and no name to be found. Even among a famously superstitious creed (NBA athletes), Jordan’s emphasis on ritual stood out, so one can only imagine his lasting frustration.

The fiasco culminated in a pregame intro historic in its wonkiness. 

“6-6, from North Carolina… No. 12, Michael Jordan.”

 

But no mystical forces hindered Jordan, individually, in the game itself. Clad in foreign stripes, he played 47 minutes against the Magic and scored 49 points on 21-for-43 shooting (the second-most field goal attempts he ever attempted in an NBA game. Think he had an edge that night?) with no turnovers. 

The Bulls, though, fell to lowly Orlando (1990 was the Magic’s first year as an NBA franchise and it entered the contest 14-33 on the season) 135-129. Beginning on Feb. 16, the Bulls rattled off a nine-game winning streak — all with Jordan wearing No. 23.

That No. 23, of course, wasn’t the same jersey that was stolen in Orlando. In fact, until Powell’s aforementioned public account of events, the perpetrator’s identity had been shrouded in mystery. With the passage of time, it seems we’re inching closer to the truth.

“A couple days later, they found out from security that one of their personnel had set up a plan to get the jersey, had actually gone through another locker room, climbed over the ceilings, came through a ceiling tile, grabbed the jersey, put it back in the ceiling," Powell said in the video. "Planning for, I guess, a few days later to come back and get it after thinking no one would figure it out."

Indeed, those triple-locked doors weren’t breached, and apparently, Jordan’s jersey never left the locker room. It doesn’t appear the nameless culprit fully got away with the heist, but to this day, he or she remains the closest to nabbing game-worn Jordan garb right out from under his nose.

So, maybe it wasn’t the perfect crime. But the Magic got the last laugh that night, and we got a story that will endure for all time.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Orlando Magic reveal real story of Michael Jordan No. 12 jersey game

Orlando Magic reveal real story of Michael Jordan No. 12 jersey game

On Valentine's Day, 1990, Michael Jordan attempted the second-most field goal attempts in a regular season game in his career (43), scoring 49 points in 47 minutes in Orlando against the Magic.

And he did it not in his famed No. 23 jersey, but wearing the No. 12.

Why? This is a story that has long been shrouded in mystery. An investigation by Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated on the game's 25-year anniversary found the most plausible outcome to be that the jersey was snatched from the visitors locker room at Amway Arena some time between morning shootaround and when the Bulls arrived pre-game. There was an arena-wide search for the jersey before tip — including an announcement from the PA system — and the soliciting of fans for a red Jordan Bulls jersey that might fit him, according to Johnson. Nothing was found, and Jordan eventually had to play the game in a nameless, No. 12 threads. Further details are murky.

But the Magic might have just blown the roof off this story (no pun intended):

"That morning, after their shootaround, their locker room was set up — every player's jerseys, shorts, warmups, everything, laid out," Rodney "Sid" Powell, the Magic's Director of Team Operations, said in the video. "The locker room door was dead-bolted, locked, and then we had separate lock that we put on the door with a hasp. So there was only one person with a key to it."

Sounds airtight enough. But when the Bulls arrived for the game at 4:30 p.m., Jordan's No. 23 jersey had vanished.

All of the above, we already knew or could have inferred. But Powell went on to peel another layer back.

"A couple days later, they found out from security that one of their personnel had set up a plan to get the jersey, had actually gone through another locker room, climbed over the ceilings, came through a ceiling tile, grabbed the jersey, put it back in the ceiling," Powell continued. "Planning for, I guess, a few days later to come back and get it after thinking no one would figure it out."

High-level stuff. Although, it doesn't appear the unnamed Magic employee got to keep his piece of stolen memorabilia.

The jersey swap didn't seem to impact Jordan individually too much, but the Magic would go on to get the last laugh that day, winning the game 135-129.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.