With sports hitting a grinding halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stealing the headlines in sports recently has been ESPN’s 10-part documentary series, “The Last Dance”.
The series highlights the 1990’s Chicago Bulls dynasty and their final title in 1998. During the decade, Chicago completed a pair of three-peats. The Bulls won the NBA Finals from 1991 to 1993 and then from 1996 to 1998.
The Bulls were coached by Phil Jackson and had one of the league’s best all-around players in forward Scottie Pippen, but guard Michael Jordan was the unquestioned face of the franchise. Following the first three-peat, Jordan retired for more than a season and a half before returning late during the 1994-95 season.
Over the years, there were significant moments and games between Chicago’s championship teams and the Orlando Magic. We’ll begin a six-part series revisiting key moments between the Bulls’ dynasty and Orlando.
It concludes with a look back at the interesting and the strange:
Most Points at Home, in a Loss for Jordan
This contest has been referenced twice before during this series, but Michael Jordan’s highest scoring effort ever at home and in a loss came in the same game against the Orlando Magic. Orlando trailed by six with less than 45 seconds to play in regulation at Chicago Stadium on Jan. 16, 1993, but forced overtime on a Nick Anderson triple. Jordan scored 64 points in the loss, but the Magic left with a 128-124 victory.
Who’s No. 12?
Michael Jordan is most famous for wearing No. 23, although he wore No. 45 after coming out of retirement in 1995. After a Game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan switched back to No. 23 for Game 2. He would wear that number for the duration of his career, but those aren’t the only two numbers that Jordan would wear against the Magic.
During Orlando’s inaugural season, Jordan’s jersey was allegedly stolen from the visiting locker room. In just his second career game at Orlando Arena, Jordan was forced to wear a nameless No. 12 jersey on Valentine’s Day 1990. Wearing the No. 12, Jordan finished with 49 points, but it would be another high-scoring loss. The Magic rallied from an 11-point deficit to start the fourth quarter to win in overtime, 135-129.
The Holiday Spirit
After winning three straight NBA Finals from 1991 to 1993, Jordan retired for a season and a half following the 1992-93 season. The first Christmas without Jordan featured the Chicago Bulls. It also featured the Orlando Magic. On Dec. 25, 1993, the Magic played on Christmas Day for the first time.
At Chicago Stadium, the Bulls were led by Scottie Pippen’s game-high 28 points. Nick Anderson paced the Magic with 24 points, but it was Chicago forward Toni Kukoc who played the role of hero. Kukoc scored the game-winner on a leaner with two seconds remaining in a 95-93 win for Chicago. Orlando has played on Christmas Day eight times since. The Magic are 5-4 all-time on Christmas.
Jordan’s Return to Chicago
After taking more than a season and a half off, Michael Jordan returned to the NBA with less than 20 games remaining in the 1994-95 season. Jordan returned for a road loss against the Indiana Pacers before helping the Bulls defeat the Boston Celtics in the Boston Garden. His first game back in Chicago however, came against Orlando.
On March 24, 1995, Jordan finished with 21 points and eight assists, but it was Orlando that emerged victorious. The Magic trailed midway through the fourth quarter, but used an 11-1 run to seize control of the contest in a 106-99 win. Shaquille O’Neal led Orlando with 24 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in the win.
Shaq’s Late Arrival
Jordan’s jersey being stolen on Valentine’s Day may be one of the more bizarre moments in the history between Orlando and Chicago, but what took place on Easter 1996 was close. Team officials seemed unclear where Magic center Shaquille O’Neal was for the April 7, 1996 contest at Orlando Arena. O’Neal had dealt with a death in his family and wasn’t in the area until shortly before tip-off.
After catching a last-minute flight from New Jersey, O’Neal arrived at the arena for pregame introductions. O’Neal made his way to the bench with the first quarter more than halfway over before going on to tally 21 points and nine rebounds. Jordan led all scorers with 27 points, including the jumper in the final minute that put the Bulls ahead for good after the Magic had erased a 12-point deficit.
The Last Team to Beat Jordan in a Playoff Series
From 1991 to 1998, the Bulls won six of eight NBA titles. Michael Jordan was the NBA Finals MVP in each of those championship victories. During that stretch, Chicago was eliminated just once with Jordan on the roster. That came in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Orlando. Jordan had played in only 17 regular season games that season after coming out of retirement. Chicago defeated the Charlotte Hornets in the first round to get the opportunity to face the top-seeded Magic.
Orlando would ultimately win the series, four games to two. In three of the four Magic victories, Orlando trailed with less than three minutes to play. In the series-clinching victory at United Center, the Magic closed the game on a 14-0 run in a 108-102 victory. The Bulls would go on to win the next three NBA Finals.
Orlando Helped Eliminate Jordan’s Wizards
As mentioned in the last section, the Orlando Magic were the last team to beat Jordan in a playoff series. That however, would not be the last time they eliminated him from the playoffs. After leading the Bulls to a sixth title in 1998, Jordan retired again. He was out of the league for three seasons before making his return to a Washington Wizards franchise that he was a partial owner of. After playing 60 games for Washington during the 2001-02 season, Jordan played in all 82 games for Washington during the 2002-03 campaign.
For the second season in a row, Washington finished 37-45. The Wizards remained in the playoff hunt until the late part of the 2002-03 season, but were eliminated on April 11, 2003. That night, Jordan scored 25 points in a 91-87 win over the Miami Heat – the final victory of his career – but Washington was eliminated as a result of a Milwaukee Bucks win over the Toronto Raptors and the Magic’s win over the Indiana Pacers. The Magic went 3-3 against Jordan during his tenure with Washington.