If you’re a basketball fan and you think of the United Center, you think of No. 23. Or later No. 45. Same guy.
Michael Jordan’s shadow still looms large over Chicago basketball and over the United Center. Literally — he has a statue of his flying dunk in front of the United Center that occassionally casts a shadow over the building.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the United Center, and with that Jeff Nuich at CSNChicago.com put together the 20 biggest moments in the arena’s history. Jordan was part of five of those — more than Oprah (her farewell event was there), more than any one other person. The five events where he is mentioned are:
His jersey retirement/statue unveiling (November 1, 1994). This happened during the “baseball retirement” break in Jordan’s career, the arena sold out to celebrate him, raise his jersey to the rafters and put a statue of him in front of the building. It was a huge event, but not as sweet as 16 months later when he was back playing again.
Bulls clinch fifth NBA title (June 13, 1997). Of the six titles the Bulls got in the Jordan era, only one — the 1997 title, in the middle of the second threepeat, took place at the United Center. (The 1992 title in the first threepeat was clinched at the old Chicago Stadium.) This was the win over the Jazz where Jordan passed up the big shot to get the rock to a wide open Steve Kerr who drilled the game winner.
Jordan’s final home game as a Bull (June 12, 1998). You’d expect this to be a win, everyone going to the game did — the Bulls were up 3-1 on Utah in the Finals and this was to be a corronation. Except Karl Malone and John Stockton had other plans and Utah won 83-81. Jordan would hit his legendary shot (after pushing off on Byron Russell) to seal the win in the next game, in Utah.
Jordan’s return to the NBA in a No. 45 jersey (March 24, 1995). He’s back. Jordan returned from his baseball exile close to the end of the 1995 season and there was some serious rejoicing in Chicago. As noted in the CSNChicago.com story: “(When) Ray Clay launched into his “From NORTH CAROLINA!!!!….” intro, the roof nearly blew off the building. The Bulls lost this game and it was apparent that Jordan may have had a few butterflies as he shot 7-23 from the field, but he still scored 21 points, to go along with eight assists and five steals in 44 minutes of action.”
Wizards Jordan comes to the United Center to play the Bulls (January 24, 2003). It was just weird. The entire Jordan with the Wizards experience was that way but him in blue going against the Bulls just felt like a crime against nature. He got a four-minute standing ovation pregame, but this was a different Jordan who finished 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.