5 ways Michael Jordan's 'I'm back' fax changed NBA history

Twenty-two years ago this weekend, Michael Jordan faxed a press release that delighted NBA fans but terrified NBA rivals.

After a season of toiling in minor league baseball with the Birmingham Barons, Jordan played well in the Arizona Fall League in 1994, looking ahead to his second season as a pro baseball player.

However, Major League Baseball was still in the middle of a strike that canceled the 1994 World Series as the 1995 season approached.

Jordan had said that he would not play in the majors as a replacement player during the strike and left spring training for the Chicago White Sox instead.

Soon after, he was spotted working out at the Chicago Bulls training center.

Then, on March 18, 1995, Jordan confirmed his basketball intentions with a two-word statement: “I’m back.”

The rest is NBA lore, as he soon lifted the Bulls to their second three-peat of NBA titles, cementing his spot in basketball lore as the Greatest of All-Time.

But what if Jordan never came back to the hardwood?

Here are five ways the game would’ve been changed:

1. The Stockton and Malone era

If Jordan and the Bulls weren’t the dominant force during the second three-peat, there’s little doubt that Karl Malone and John Stockton would’ve lifted the Utah Jazz to at least one title.

As it was, the Jazz pushed Jordan’s Bulls to six games in his last two titles in 1996 and ’97, in matchups that were closer than you might remember.

If Jordan wasn’t around, we’d probably be putting Malone’s career in the top 10 of all-time, especially given his monster career numbers: Karl has the second-most points and seventh-most rebounds in NBA history.

2. The Phil Jackson mystique

If Jordan and the Bulls had only gone on the first three-peat, maybe the man widely regarded as the greatest NBA coach of all-time isn’t put on such a big pedestal.

He’s probably just another coach who lucked into Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and not the guy who helped push those guys to historic levels at the end of their careers. In addition, Jackson gets the distinction of harnessing Dennis Rodman enough to get productive play out of him for three seasons and three rings.

Maybe Jackson doesn’t go to Los Angeles and win five more rings after the six he won in Chicago and cement his status as a basketball guru, getting whatever job he wants, probably for life.

New York Knicks fans would probably be happy about that.

3. Shaq stays in Orlando?

The Orlando Magic, led by the dynamic duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway, went to the 1995 NBA Finals, beating Jordan and the Bulls in the second round after MJ made the comeback but wasn’t quite in top form.

The Magic were swept in the finals by the Houston Rockets. Shaq and Penny then had a strong 1995-96 season, but were dispatched by MJ and the Bulls – who were steam-rolling everyone by then – in the 1996 playoffs.

That offseason is when Shaq bolted to the Lakers on the West coast. If MJ wasn’t in the way in the East, or if O’Neal and the Magic won the 1996 title, would Shaq have been able to leave?

The sure bet is he stays in Orlando and dominates the East for much of his storied career.

4. Reggie Miller’s legacy gets boost

Reggie Miller made his legacy by being a clutch shooter in the playoffs. But what if he was able to do it in lifting his Indiana Pacers to a title, how would he rank in NBA lore?

Miller lost in the conference finals to Patrick Ewing and the Knicks, Penny and Shaq and the Magic, and then to MJ and the Bulls in 1998. The Pacers also got the finals in 2000, falling to Shaq and the Lakers in six games.

You can easily see how MJ’s absence during that stretch starts to remove some of those hurdles that were placed in his career over time.

If you add a ring or two to Miller’s career, maybe he goes down as THE most clutch playoff performer of all-time.

5. Post play stays cool

Over time, the NBA has mostly been dominated by big men who stay in the post.

Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaq have been large and in charge in the paint, dominating eras of the league.

But with MJ cementing himself as the gold standard in league history, young players saw that driving, shooting and scoring as a perimeter player was the glamourous way to go.

So, with Jordan on their minds, tall young players such as Kevin Durant, Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green, Nikola Jokic and even LeBron James developed their shooting, their ball-handling and their versatility.

With MJ continuing to hoist NBA titles and outplaying guys like Shaq and also Malone, he made guard play and versatility cool.

The “unicorns” of today’s NBA game saw that, and now everyone is doing an MJ imitation.

And it all started with a fax.

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