Top Moments: Michael Jordan returns to NBA at age 38
When Michael Jordan retired for the second time in January of 1999, he said he was “99.9 percent certain” that he would never in the NBA again. Less than two years later, on September 25, 2001, that 0.1 percent chance won out. Jordan announced his return to the NBA, this time as a member of the Washington Wizards.
Jordan had joined the Wizards as president of basketball operations on January 19, 2000. About six months before his return, he began a rigorous training routine in anticipation of a comeback.
At first, Jordan cooled expectations by saying he was simply trying to shed extra weight he’d gained in retirement. But when he began hosting invitation-only camps for NBA players and then hired his former Chicago Bulls coach, Doug Collins, to coach the Wizards, the stage was set.
After announcing his return and donating his entire 2001-02 salary to September 11 relief efforts, Jordan had fans lined up for tickets hoping for one more glimpse of the game’s greatest player.
At 38 and more than three years removed from the last of his six championships with the Chicago Bulls, no one knew quite what to expect from Jordan. The Wizards sold out every home game in his two seasons there, but the team failed to make the playoffs with Jordan as a player.
Fans weren’t left empty handed, though.
While Jordan’s 2001-02 season was cut short by a knee injury that limited him to 60 games, he still averaged 22.9 ppg, 5.2 apg and 5.7 rpg. He also found his way into the record books with a few more legendary performances. On December 29, 2001, just two days after the worst game of his career, Jordan exploded for 51 points against the Charlotte Hornets to become the oldest player in NBA history to reach the 50-point threshold in a game.
As Charlotte’s P.J. Brown would say of Jordan after the game, “He kind of went back in time tonight.”
Jordan returned from his knee injury the following season to play in all 82 games for the Wizards, averaging 20.0 ppg, 3.8 apg and 6.1 rpg. He’d play in his 14th and final NBA All-Star Game that season, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most career points in All-Star game history — a record since broken by Kobe Bryant in 2012.
Most impressive of his achievements as a member of the Wizards? Try his 43-point game against the New Jersey Nets on February 21, 2003. It was the third 40-point game of Jordan’s season. With it coming four days after his 40th birthday, it stands as the only 40-point game in NBA history by a player over the age of 40.
Knowing that the 2002-03 season would be Jordan’s last in the NBA, fans around the country gave him sendoffs wherever he traveled. In his final game in Chicago, Jordan received an emotional four-minute standing ovation. At the All-Star Game, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter all offered him their starting spots. The Miami Heat retired Jordan’s No. 23 jersey.
And on April 16, 2003, as Jordan left for the bench one last time in his NBA career in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the crowd, his teammates, opponents and officials all partook in a three-minute standing ovation as the world said goodbye to the game’s greatest player.
In 2009, during his Basketball Hall of Fame Induction speech, Jordan left us with one last thought on his career.
“One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50,” Jordan said. “Don’t laugh.”