Michael Jordan was a sensation during his time in the NBA. Jordan could do it all and was arguably the most mercurial talent in NBA history. MJ brought the Chicago Bulls’ franchise success the likes of which they had never experienced before, and haven’t experienced since his departure from the franchise.
Jordan’s exit from the Bulls in 1998 was one mired in controversy. Ahead of the 1997-98 NBA season, Jerry Krause was going to fire Phil Jackson in order to start on a rebuild. But MJ and the rest of the squad were not willing to play under any other coach, especially since Jackson had helped them win 5 NBA championships, and 2 consecutive ones up to that point.
Eventually, Krause, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and Phil Jackson came to an agreement that Phil Jackson would be the head coach of the 1997-98 season, but he would leave the team right after. Jordan came out when he heard the news, and stated that he would retire and not play for any other coach if the Bulls fired Jackson at the end of the 1997-98 season.
And MJ maintained that promise whenever he was asked about it during the course of the season. Because of this promise, many fans and analysts wondered out loud why Krause was so adamant about firing Jackson, especially because it could come at the cost of losing the greatest player of all time, especially during the prime of his career.
One former player-turned coach spoke about it at the time and advised Krause to put his feelings aside and keep Jordan happy. Larry Bird, the legendary Celtics player, who was then the coach of the Bulls’ rivals Indiana Pacers, spoke about the Jackson-Krause-Jordan situation to Ahmad Rashad.
He told Jerry Krause that if a player like Michael Jordan wants a certain head coach on his team as his only condition to continue playing, he would bend over backward to make that happen. He also gave a profound omen to the Bulls and the rest of the league, stating that MJ’s departure would allow the rest of the league to capitalize and win championships (0:11 mark).
“Michael Jordan is playing for my team, and he wants a certain individual to coach him, I think I would bow down and let him have him to keep it going. These championships are hard to get, and if Michael leaves, it’ll be easier for everyone else.”
Birds’ words came true. Krause fired Jackson at the end of the season, and Jordan went back into retirement. The Bulls went into rebuilding, and have not been a championship contender, or been to the NBA Finals since.
Bird has always had a lot of respect for Jordan, even once stating that it was god playing through Michael Jordan when he set the record for the most points in a single playoff game in history. Bird was not influenced by his respect for MJ, even though he did have a lot of respect for him.
The closest they got was when they had Derrick Rose, who became the league’s youngest MVP at 22, and is the only player not named Michael Jordan to win an MVP with the Bulls franchise.
Jordan would return to the NBA in 2001, but it was nothing more than a ceremonial victory lap. Jordan played for the Wizards, and at 38 years of age, was no longer the same player he once was and didn’t have the players around him to mount a comeback.
He joined the franchise before he was supposed to be the President Of Basketball Operations, a role he was fired from in 2003 after the Wizards’ players said they didn’t want him back.