After drafting Michael Jordan in 1984, the Bulls opened their preseason with games in St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., which is closer to Iowa than to Chicago.
When Jordan finally made his professional debut in the Chicago area in a preseason game against the Bucks, it wasn’t in the Bulls’ home arena.
Washington High School in East Chicago, Indiana, was the lucky institution that hosted Jordan and the Bulls that night, and those who were there still can’t believe it actually occurred.
“We were very excited. I mean, to have Michael Jordan playing at your high school gym? He was coming off the Olympics. Everybody was crazy about it,” said Michael Puente, a reporter for WBEZ-Radio who in 1984 was a sophomore at Washington High School. “It’s near the top as one of the biggest events that ever occurred in the city of East Chicago.”
“Looking back, it’s hard to believe that that’s how it all transpired,” said Tim Hallam, the Bulls Senior Director of Public & Media Relations who’s been with the Bulls since 1977.
“Back then, we did play preseason games in high school gyms, as did a lot of other teams. It was a way to get your team out in the community and let other people see the game that may not have ever seen a Bulls game.”
another local draw was the Bucks Junior Bridgeman, an East Chicago native who had led Washington High School to a state title in 1971. However, a week before the game, there was a little snafu — Bridgeman got traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“A lot of people thought the game was just going to be cancelled,” Puente said. “But I think there was some manuevering to say we still have Michael Jordan coming, so let’s still have the game. And honestly, having Jordan there probably would have overshadowed Junior Bridgeman, as proud as we are of Junior Bridgeman. I mean, come on. It was still Michael Jordan.”
The Bulls beat the Bucks 100-87. Jordan led all scorers with 22.
Stopping the Bulls’ rookie on the court was a challenge, but getting him out of the building safely afterwards was an even greater one.
“Back then, we didn’t have the security that we do now, and playing in a high school gym presented a lot of problems,” Hallam said. “After the game, the security was not even close to what it would be today.”
What was the security?
“There was none.”
Hallam vividly remembers running down the hallway with Jordan trying to get to the locker room before a sea of fans nearly crushed them.
“There was nobody to stop them and they were so excited. They would have done anything to get up and touch him,” Hallam said. “That was the beginning for me to see that he was indeed like the Pied Piper. It signified, ‘Wow, this guy is really going to be something.’”
There aren’t many remaining untold stories of Michael Jordan’s playing career, and now there’s one fewer. This just really cool, especially the video footage.