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Today in 1995, Michael Jordan sends the message ‘I’m Back’

Twenty-five years ago today, the NBA changed with a simple two-word announcement:

“I’m Back.”

Over at NBC Sports Chicago, Jack M. Silverstein has a fantastically well-researched piece on the day MJ returned to basketball.

Michael Jordan had been working his way through the Chicago White Sox minor league system — and improving, despite the popular myth. He’d played fairly well in the Arizona League that fall, worked incredibly hard in the batting cages and on his game, and he looked like a guy headed to AAA ball and, down the line, a spot in the major leagues.

Meanwhile, the Bulls had been floundering and were below .500 midway through the season. Scottie Pippen talked about wanting out, and Phil Jackson was ready to show him the door.

The wild card in all this was an ongoing MLB strike in 1995, one that had started in the offseason and was threatening to bleed into spring training and beyond. There was talk of playing MLB games with scabs, something Jordan would never have been willing to do. Then the players union drew a line:

“Our view is that any spring training game that is played at either the major league site or for which admission is charged is a replacement player,” union president Donald Fehr said on February 19. If you played in a spring training game, you were a scab. Jordan decided not to play in spring games in March, even as Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf argued that minor league players were not part of the union yet and couldn’t be scab players. The White Sox wanted their minor leaguers to report and play. Jordan read the writing on the wall.

Soon, he was taking part in secret early-morning practices with the Bulls at their facility. He was on the road back to the NBA.

Then on March 18, he faxed the phrase “I’m back” to the Bulls, and by the next season the three-peat Bulls were setting records as one of the greatest teams ever.

Read the entire story at NBC Sports Chicago, which has a lot of the details and how Fehr sparked a three-peat in the NBA and made Jordan a legend.