Michael Jordan’s first practice back in the NBA wasn’t with the Chicago Bulls
While The Last Dance painted a picture of Michael Jordan simply showing up to a Chicago Bulls practice one day and then getting sucked into rejoining the team, it wasn’t exactly that straightforward. In fact, a new nugget of information revealed in a recent podcast detailed that Jordan practiced with a completely different team to ease back into the rigors of the NBA.
Perhaps working out with adversaries helped him tap into his competitive itch even more.
For a period, Jordan was unofficially a member of the Golden State Warriors, practicing with them to regain his NBA footing.
This information was first brought to light by Sports Uncovered, produced by NBC Sports in their debut episode. Produced by Ryan McGuffey and Tony Gill, the episode got quotes from plenty of notable figures on Jordan’s return to the game and his secret practices with the Warriors.
Michael Jordan returned with the Golden State Warriors
"“Michael was a Warrior for 48 hours,” Rod Higgins told NBC Sports on Sports Uncovered."
Higgins (at the time an assistant coach with the Warriors) and Jordan were good friends, and that got Jordan in the door to practice with the Warriors for a few days in Oakland.
As the NBA world knows very well, Jordan came back to the Bulls partway through the 1994-95 season. He would suit up in 17 regular-season games that year and 10 postseason games. Having been away from the NBA playing professional baseball for some time, his body wasn’t accustomed to the physical demands of professional basketball. He had re-trained his body, his mechanics, and his muscle memory for the game of baseball.
As The Last Dance depicted, Jordan was all in with baseball as he was with just about anything that had even a sliver of competition embedded within. It wasn’t a silly hobby for him.
With that in mind, Jordan would have a lot of training to do to get back into basketball shape. Much of that would come over the coming summer when Warner Bros. built the “Jordan dome” for him to work out at with Tim Grover while filming Space Jam.
That was the coming offseason, though. Jordan wouldn’t be his normal self, but he still wanted to compete with the Bulls in 1995. And to test the waters, Jordan would go up against Latrell Sprewell and Tim Hardaway in private practices with the Warriors.
Funny enough, Warriors guard Chris Mullin didn’t even think Jordan was out of shape.
"“I always thought he was coming back, but a day like that… he was just so fit, so it wasn’t a physical thing, but seeing him on the basketball court and playing against, Sprewell was a really good player and he was in midseason form, for him to do that, I thought it’s just a matter of time,” Chris Mullin said to Sports Uncovered, NBC Sports."
In classic Jordan mode, he took practices to the extreme. He outworked everyone.
"“We knew he was coming back then. He just took over our practice, just took over our practice. He got five guys that wasn’t playing that much, and he said ‘us seven will play you all’s seven in a scrimmage’, and it was like he never left,” Tim Hardaway said."
Jordan was known for going at his own teammates in practice, so why couldn’t he just draw from the internal competition in Chicago to return? Well, perhaps Jordan didn’t think he would get enough out of those who didn’t quite view him as an opponent. Maybe he felt the measuring stick would be more accurate if he had a chance to go up against more authentic competition.
Only Jordan really knows what was going on in his head, and maybe we’ll never get to the root of his motivations in his few Warriors practices. Perhaps no one can make a more educated guess than Jordan’s longtime trainer, Tim Grover, who wasn’t aware of the secret Warriors practices until recently.
"“My take on [the secret practices], Latrell was one of the more explosive, more athletic and he was one of the, probably the better players during that short run that he had. So what Michael needed to know is, ‘Even I took the time off, can I still come back and kick his a—?’”"
Given that this wasn’t revealed in the 10-part docuseries on Jordan’s career, it just goes to show how vibrant Michael Jordan’s career was. Packed with stories, twists and turns, there will never be a career quite like MJ’s.
Latrell Sprewell, just another name in the long line of Jordan grievances? Sounds about right. While some legends had MJ’s number, Spree didn’t.