It’s Father’s Day 2014, and if San Antonio wins the NBA Finals tonight, players, many who also double as fathers and sons, will share in the delight of achieving the ultimate goal in their profession. The Chicago Bulls went to the finals six times in the 1990s, but celebrated the title on Father’s Day only twice, and as fate would have it for Michael Jordan, the two were connected by both the most tragic and special of circumstances.
All fans who grew up watching the Bulls in the ’90s remember the championship on Father’s Day in 1996. The Bulls won their fourth NBA title, and for Michael Jordan it was his first since his father’s murder in 1993 and subsequent retirement. The images and videos of Jordan weeping on the floor of the locker room and the interview given to Ahmad Rashad during the on-court celebration in which he dedicated the victory to his father immediately set the 1996 title apart from the rest. The championship itself represented a basketball player and team’s journey back to the top of the NBA, while the date and circumstances surrounding the championship tell the story of Jordan’s personal journey to return to his rightful place as the game’s greatest player and the sadness that accompanied the fact that the man with which he had shared all other championships was not there.
“This was probably the hardest time for me to play the game of basketball. I had a lot of things in my heart and on my mind. …But I think deep down inside, it was geared to what was most important to me, which was my family and my father not being here to see this. I’m just glad my team pulled me through this because it was a tough time for me.” -Michael Jordan, Chicago Tribune, June 17, 1996
In a way, the Bulls’ fourth championship began a new period for Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Basketball-wise, Jordan and the Bulls would break records and 3-peat again, while personally, Jordan faced a career in which he would not share the season ending triumphs with his father as he had three times before. But if June 16, 1996 started something new, June 20, 1993 represented a period in Michael Jordan’s life that was different but ultimately connected. This date was also Father’s Day and it ended with the Bulls winning their third consecutive NBA Championship. James Jordan had been present for all three and the pictures of father and son celebrating are etched in NBA history, the most famous of which were taken of James Jordan beside his son as he wept over the 1991 championship trophy. In 1993, fans watched the celebration from the locker room in Phoenix as players threw champagne on anything that stood still and Bob Costas interviewed Bulls players in the euphoria of a historic 3-peat at the end of an exceptionally trying year. Michael Jordan said hello to his daughter Jasmine born earlier that year which prompted a “happy Father’s Day” from Bob Costas, but in the shadow of the locker room chaos, Roland Lazenby, in his biography of Jordan, tells a story of a quiet, family oriented celebration in Michael Jordan’s suite later that night, a moment that was fitting given what transpired in the coming months.
“Sis and her mother sat with Michael on one couch. James sat facing them on another with Roz. They relaxed and smiled, and Michael even pounced on his younger sister for a brief wrestling bout. It would be the last time they were all together.” -Roland Lazenby in Michael Jordan: The Life.
Pictures of that low key celebration showing Jordan, friends, and family were published in Rare Air: Michael on Michael (1993), where he said that “in a sense I feel like I can’t play unless I have that support from my parents.” The Jordan family shared those championships together, especially James Jordan who wore the 1991 championship ring given to him by his son. One could say that for Michael Jordan, the two Father’s Day championships marked a beginning and an ending. In what seemed like the end, he shared his last title with his dad on Father’s Day 1993, which at the time may have been the perfect, if somewhat untimely, ending to an illustrious career. As the grief of his father’s death lessened and the desire returned, Jordan would climb the mountain again, reemerging at the top on Father’s Day 1996, this time without his.
Since the Finals may well end tonight this is the last story from the Bulls’ Finals appearances. Thanks for reading, and I want to say thank you to my Dad for all of the love and support as well as wishing all of the other dads out there a Happy Father’s Day!
Follow Lee Winningham on Twitter @jlw771