Even with it happening twice in just over a two-week span in January 2002, it didn’t seem real.
Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform.
Playing the Bulls.
Tom Brady’s looming exit from the Patriots opened that memory bank Tuesday. At least when Brady returns to Foxboro, Mass., in whatever uniform he’s wearing, he won’t be playing with a statue of his likeness outside the building.
Or will he?
Jordan doing so on Jan. 19, 2002, at the United Center is one of the many jarring memories from that month.
Is now the time to mention that Jordan’s Wizards won both games?
Of course they did.
Jordan actually used the offseason before the 2001-02 season to prepare for his comeback after a three-season layoff. He played against Bulls like Jamal Crawford, Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) and Trenton Hassell in pickup games at Hoops The Gym near the United Center. Crawford even tore his ACL in one such scrimmage and only played 23 games in that, his second season.
Artest knew a regular season game would be different than a scrimmage.
"It's much different because Mike always steps up when it's NBA time," Artest said following Bulls practice at the Berto Center on Jan. 3, 2002. "Mike is going to try to get 100. You have to stay focused and not worry about all the highlight films. I have to get `Come Fly with Me' out of my mind and just guard him."
Instead, Jordan only scored 29 points, with seven rebounds and two blocks in the Wizards’ 89-83 triumph. The blocks are mentioned because Jordan pinned a Ron Mercer layup attempt against the backboard with two hands in the waning seconds of the game, putting to bed a furious 26-point comeback bid by the Bulls.
“I can jump when I have to,” Jordan said afterward, “especially when I get [angry].”
Jordan scored 19 points in the second period, passing the 30,000-point mark in the process. At the time, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone were in that club. Since then, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowtizki have joined.
It wasn’t another 'Flu Game,' but Jordan did overcome a sinus infection to play. And he flashed both his legendarily competitive side and ability to diss people with his postgame comments.
“This is special in a sense that we’re trying to claw our way out of the basement of losing teams,” Jordan said. “If we have to step on other people to move up, then that’s what we do.
“That’s the importance of it more than anything. I like to think that we’re moving in the right direction, and Chicago may not be moving in the right direction, and I don’t want to be compared with them. I want to show some separation.”
Even in the wake of that comment, a two-minute-plus standing ovation welcomed Jordan back to the United Center on Jan. 19, 2002. It actually would’ve lasted longer had the lights not dimmed to signal the Bulls’ lineup introduction.
"You didn't see any tears," Jordan said afterward. "I was getting close, though."
The Wizards prevailed 77-69 on that night in a brutal game from both teams.
"It was a big egg," forward Charles Oakley said afterward.
Jordan laid his share. He finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high nine turnovers.
"I had a tough time playing against Chicago," he said. "It's like playing against a relative. You're not quite as motivated. Chicago is Chicago. The Bulls are the Bulls. I'm very glad it's over."
So were the Bulls, who shot a franchise-record-low 16.7% in the first half and 24.7% overall.
"I have a statue out front," Jordan said. "When I come back, it's never going to be just another game. Somehow I'm always going to be connected to the Bulls."
Just like Brady always will be connected to the Patriots.
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.