13 January 1999: On this day in 1999, the American National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls announces his retirement from professional basketball, for the second time, in front of a crowd at Chicago’s United Center.
Jordan had an outstanding college career, but left the University of North Carolina after his junior year when he was selected by the Chicago Bulls as the third-overall pick in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. Jordan helped the Bulls make the playoffs in each of his first six seasons on the team. In 1991, he got to his first NBA finals, where he led his team to the first of three consecutive championships.Shaken and disillusioned by the murder of his father and an NBA investigation into allegations of illegal betting (of which he was eventually cleared), Jordan announced his retirement from basketball in 1993. He signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox baseball team and was assigned to a White Sox affiliate team, the Birmingham Barons. Though his very presence on the field drew crowds, Jordan batted only .202 in his first summer, striking out 114 times in 127 games. By March 1995, he had decided to put down his bat and return to the basketball court.
After a disappointing finish in the 1994-95 season, Jordan (aided by his old allies Scottie Pippen and Coach Phil Jackson, as well as the new star Dennis Rodman), turned things around for the Bulls. Jordan led the league in scoring that year with 30.4 points per game and helped his team to a 72-10 record, the best regular season finish in the history of the NBA. The Bulls won three more consecutive NBA championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998, becoming the first team in league history to win three straight championships twice. In his 12 full seasons with the Bulls, Jordan was voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times and won six NBA Finals MVP awards, one for each final his Bulls played.
Jordan’s second retirement announcement, in January 1999, came after bitter tension between General Manager Jerry Krause and Coach Jackson resulted in Jackson’s leaving Chicago. Though he had earlier stated publicly that he would not play for any coach besides Jackson, Jordan explained his decision to retire by saying he had lost the drive and desire that was necessary to continue playing at such a high level, and that he wanted to spend more time with his family. When asked if there was a chance he would come back, Jordan said he was “99.9 percent” sure he would not.
In January 2000, Jordan became part-owner and president of basketball operations of the Washington Wizards, a struggling NBA franchise. After the Wizards won only 19 games in Jordan’s first full season in this position, he decided to rebuild the team, hiring the former Bulls coach Doug Collins. Most surprisingly, the 38-year-old Jordan got himself into playing shape and came out of retirement yet again in September 2001 as a free agent with the Wizards. Though he scored his 30,000th career point on January 4, 2002, against his former team, the Bulls, Jordan was never able to lead the Wizards into playoff competition. He retired for the third and final time on April 16, 2003, and is widely considered to have been the greatest player in the history of the sport.