Magic Number Wearing Old No. 23, Jordan Carries Bulls

Posted: May 11, 1995

ORLANDO — Nick Anderson was right.

After ballhawking Michael Jordan into one of his worst playoff performances ever in Game 1 of the Orlando-Chicago playoff series, Anderson astutely observed:

"Michael still has that quickness and explosiveness, but it's not as sharp. No. 45 is not No. 23."

Too bad for Anderson and the Magic that No. 45 didn't stick around.

Pulling his famous No. 23 jersey out of retirement, Jordan gave a vintage performance, scoring 38 points with seven rebounds, four steals and four blocks, as the Bulls beat the Magic, 104-94, last night at the Orlando Arena to even their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series at 1-1.

Making 11 of 13 shots, Jordan had 28 second-half points as the Bulls stole the homecourt advantage.

Game 3 is tomorrow night at Chicago's United Center.

"I was surprised as anyone to see No. 23," Chicago coach Phil Jackson said. "I think it sent a statement about what (Jordan) was going to make official as to how he would play tonight.

"I really don't know how it all evolved, to tell you the story behind it. I asked the equipment man if they carried (23) around just in case, and he said yeah. They just said they had a surprise.

"I've seen it happen when a jersey's been stolen, but nothing quite like that."

After pulling off one of the biggest fashion surprises since the return of bell-bottoms, Jordan, naturally, wasn't talking.

Maybe he was afraid of further annoying the NBA office, which can fine him for violating league rules with an unauthorized number switch.

Mike's white Air Jordans, with black leather trim, were already a uniform violation because the rest of the Bulls wear black shoes.

Asked whether the Magic would consider filing a protest over the number change, general manager Pat Williams said, "I don't know what our rights are."

NBA enforcer Rod Thorn said the league will look into it.

Perhaps Jordan just didn't want to steal the long-deserved spotlight from Bulls equipment manager John Ligmanowski, who apparently came up with the idea.

Jordan had worn his minor league baseball number since returning from his 17-month retirement from the NBA.

But just like the change in Coca-Cola, "New Mike" just didn't have quite the same flair as "Mike Classic."

"After the last game, I just suggested to Michael that maybe he should go back to the old number," said Ligmanowski, who said he'd kept a spare No. 23 jersey with him since Jordan announced his return. "It's up to Michael whether or not he wants to keep wearing it. I think he was ready for the change, and I just needed to suggest it.

"I don't know anything about league rules. No. 23 is hanging from the United Center, and if anybody can wear it, (Jordan) can."

Jordan was announced before the game as wearing No. 45, but no one realized he wore 23 until he slipped off his warmups at tip-off time.

"We were shocked, the whole bench was shocked," Bulls guard Steve Kerr said. "We looked out there about a minute into the game and thought something looked weird.

"If he wants to change his number again and score 38 points, or whatever, he can wear my number if he wants to. No, I guess that wouldn't do the trick - he might score four."

Jordan quickly marked the return of No. 23 by making his first two shots and then blocking a Shaquille O'Neal attempt back to midcourt.

"I didn't really notice it until I looked up at the scoreboard and saw No. 23," Magic guard Anfernee Hardaway said. "If that's what it takes to get back mentally at this level, that's what you do. I'm sure Michael will stick with it."

The Magic might not have known No. 23 was coming back, but they had to know Jordan would.

After shooting 8-for-22 and making two crushing last-second turnovers in Sunday's 91-90 loss in Game 1, His Airness was ready for redemption.

Anderson's comment about MJ losing a step probably didn't help things any.

"The old saying is let a sleeping dog lie," Magic coach Brian Hill said. ''I'm a firm believer in that. After you guys (the media) embarrassed him for 48 consecutive hours, (Jordan) came back and had a pretty good night.

"Whether or not Nick's comments roused him up, you have to ask Michael. Any competitor, when you hear something negative, you're going to respond to it."

Still, Jordan's first half hardly looked like a second coming.

He had 16 points, but shot just 6-for-17 as the Bulls clung to a 49-48 halftime advantage.

But obviously, Jordan was just getting reacquainted with his new-old threads.

Stealing a bad pass by Donald Royal, Jordan broke downcourt for a slam dunk to start the third quarter.

He then made five more shots without a miss, as Chicago went up, 71-62, with 4:50 left in the quarter.

"A lot of times, Michael was bopping around and making moves to get a quick shot," Hardaway said. "You don't want him to have a quick shot at any time. In Game 1, he was missing those shots, but tonight he made them."

Still, Orlando rallied to trail by just four with 1:24 left, but the Bulls scored the last five points of the third to lead, 80-71.

The Magic fought back in the fourth quarter again to within six points, but with a little more than three minutes left, Jordan began applying the killing strokes.

Posting up Hardaway, Jordan backed him toward the basket before just beating the shot clock with a turnaround jumper.

Then after O'Neal (25 points, 12 rebounds) made a free throw, Jordan again milked the 24-second clock before sinking a fadeaway.

Scottie Pippen, who also rebounded from a dismal Game 1 with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists, put Chicago up, 100-91, with 1:52 left.

Then Jordan blocked a three-point attempt by Dennis Scott, broke downcourt and received a pass from Pippen for a coup de grace slam dunk.

"He just made shots," said Anderson, who will likely think twice before again enhancing his reputation at Jordan's expense. "We contested them, but Michael Jordan just made his shots, and that's something he did not do in Game 1.

"I'm not going to sit around and knock my brain in to find out what I can do. All I can do is play basketball, just like I did in Game 1 and just like I did in Game 2. Hey, 23, he just made some shots."

Be assured, it'll be No. 23 who keeps on making them.

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