If you believe Michael Jordan completely forgot about basketball after he retired for the first time, you're just wrong. The Chicago Bulls knew he needed a break from professional basketball, but that didn't mean he stopped playing ball altogether.
During his Bulls day, you could see Jordan at the Athletic Club at Illinois Center, an upscale gym downtown. Once he left the NBA for the first time, he continued going there to get ready for his new career as a baseball player. However, MJ never missed a chance to play some informal games against regular citizens, who saved those moments as a treasure.
There is even footage of those games, as well as testimony from witnesses who saw and played against or with MJ (via Sports Illustrated).
Jim Watkins (wearing a Scottie Pippen jersey in the video): The first time that I saw him up there, I was on the stationary bike and I had heard Jordan would come up there but I never thought I would see him. As I was spinning around on the stationary bike, I caught wind of this bald head coming behind me and I looked around and it was Jordan. He took the bike right next to me and he spoke to me. He said, “Hey, what’s up?” When I was able to pick my jaw up off the ground, I said something, I don’t know—I might have squeaked, “Hi.”
David Boone (trained at the gym in preparation for a CFL tryout): The thing that I found most amazing was that it didn’t look like he worked hard to do it. You saw all the stuff he did in terms of working out, but on the court it wasn’t like he was pressing to get it done. It was very casual. I mean, he would just torch you, and you couldn’t do anything about it. And it wasn’t like he was running so fast he was blowing by everybody and dunking on people—he wasn’t. He was like, well, OK, I’m gonna post you up. Now I’m gonna start over here and shoot this jumper. His jumper was pure. It was pure.
Ben Terrell: The dude just loved basketball. I played with a lot of other guys who came up there, but he was very engaging. If you played with him more than once, he would probably learn your name. He would know what you were good for. Like, oh, this guy is a rebounder, he’ll tip it back in but I won’t pass it to him. You had to earn his respect if he was going to pass it to you. But he would definitely learn what you could do. He was very competitive. I don’t ever remember him losing a game.
Some of them even remembered the effect Jordan caused on their game, explaining the 'magic' of MJ whenever he stepped on the court.
Jim Watkins: I’m a football player. I’m not a basketball player whatsoever. I would shoot from short distances and I would just brick every one of them. Then Michael would show up. When he got on the court, every shot I took I made. Every shot that I took. I kind of got that thing that would say that he elevates the game of everybody on the court. I swear to god, I would swish every shot when he was around. As soon as he left, it was bricks again.
Tuohy: I don’t care where they played and at what level, everybody’s game went to the next level. You played better than you ever played in your life. I mean, your concentration level—he made everybody on the court better. You saw that in the NBA, but the same was true in pickup.
Boone: One time I played against him, I had another guy guarding me and I was able to get by him and I got to the bucket really quick. Mike was delayed on the switch and I was able to lay it up before he was able to get to me. I was ecstatic. Now, did I score on Mike? Maybe not, but in my mind I did. He went to block it but I was already there. We’re running down the court and he says, “You will not score again today.” I was like, OK, whatever. I didn’t really think anything of it. He wasn’t even guarding me. I had a guy on me who was a little smaller than me and I went into the post. I got the ball and I turned to shoot a fadeaway and Mike was already there. He blocked it and he sent it up to the track [above the court]. And he said, “I told you, you will not score again today.” He was dead serious that I was not going to score again because I scored that one time.
Imagine their impressions seeing MJ actually playing some pickups with them. That has to be something that you never forget. It's not like every day you get the chance to play against the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan. He didn't play for the Bulls during that year, but he did step on the court for the city of Chicago.