In honor of the upcoming Father’s Day holiday this weekend, this week’s edition of our “Throwback Thursday” will be all about one of the greatest Father’s Day moments in Chicago sports history, the Chicago Bulls 1995-1996 NBA Championship victory over the Seattle Supersonics.
Before we touch on the series in June of 1996, and that clinching victory on June 16, 1996 let’s go back to July of 1993, the summer that Michael Jordan‘s father was murdered in South Carolina. James Jordan, Michael’s father went missing on July 22, 1993 and was eventually found deceased in a remote creek in Marlboro County, South Carolina. Jordan’s death was ruled a homicide by law enforcement officials in South Carolina.
Speculation about the connection between Michael and his father’s gambling habits, which included an investigation by the NBA, were floated by officials, but were never officially ruled a factor in the disappearance and murder of James P. Jordan.
After the death of his father, and an NBA investigation into his gambling that included an allegation that Jordan and his father James drove to an Atlantic City Casino in the midst of the Bulls 1993 NBA Playoff series with the New York Knicks to gamble. According to the New York Times, a published report said that Jordan lost $5,000 dollars on that single evening in June of 1993. Jordan claimed that his gambling was never an issue to the point that it would potentially jeopardize his family or his livelihood.
After the death of his father and the NBA investigation into his gambling, Jordan announced on October 6, 1993 that he was retiring from the NBA, the abrupt retirement shocked the sports world, and Jordan credited the retirement to him simply losing his desire to play basketball. Jordan pursued a career in professional baseball after his retirement, one that peaked at the Double-A level with the Birmingham Barons, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
On March 18, 1995 a two-word press release by Jordan, “I’m Back.”, marked the return of “Air-Jordan” to the Chicago Bulls and the basketball world.
Fast-forward to June of 1996, the first NBA Finals appearance for Jordan and the Bulls since he returned to the NBA in March of ’95. The Chicago Bulls were battling the Seattle Supersonics for the NBA Finals Championship. After the Bulls took each of the first three games of the series, including a pair of wins at home in games one and two, followed by a blowout victory in game three on the road in Seattle, the Bulls looked poised to sweep the Supersonics in the Finals.
After Gary Payton and the Seattle Supersonics staved off elimination in games four and five to draw the series to three games to two in favor of the Bulls, the stage was set for one of the most emotional games of Michael Jordan’s illustrious career.
Father’s Day 1996 – fans packed the United Center as the Bulls looked to capture their fourth NBA Championship since the start of the decade, and Michael Jordan was reminded of the loss of his Father just three years prior to that Father’s Day on June 16, 1996.
Playing the game with a heavy heart and a mind racing with emotions ranging from the somberness that Father’s Day brought him to the pressure of his team on the verge of allowing Seattle to make one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history, Jordan shot just 5 of 19, but the Bulls went on to defeat the Supersonics 87-75 on that Sunday afternoon.
The victory marked the Bulls fourth Championship of the Jordan era, but that Sunday afternoon was so much more for Michael Jordan. Jordan, who grew up very close to his father James, idolized and emulated everything that he could about his Dad. From pursuing baseball, his Father’s favorite sport, after his death in 1993 – to his signature ascension to the rim with his tongue hanging out of him mouth, a trait that Jordan took from his Father who would have his tongue protruding from his mouth when he was deep within the task at hand.
After the game, Jordan was seen collapsing to the floor in the Bulls locker room at the United Center, sobbing heavily as the emotions of conquering an emotional roller coaster that lasted roughly 35 months since his Father’s death, consumed him to the point of tears.
The 1995-1996 NBA season was about so much more than basketball for Michael Jordan. After returning from his basketball hiatus in March of 1995, the greatest basketball player in the world at the time saw his team ousted from the NBA Playoffs in the second round at the hands of the Orlando Magic.
Jordan was hell bent on dominating the NBA that season, and returning to his throne as the best basketball player on the planet, and he did just that. Jordan played in all 82 games for the Bulls that season, averaging a whopping 30.4 points per game en route to his fourth NBA Most Valuable Player Award, as the Bulls won a then NBA record 72 games during the regular season.
Michael Jordan ended his roller coaster journey back to the top of the basketball world on Father’s Day 1996 when he clutched the Larry O’Brien trophy once again, this time for the first time since he lost his Father.