Mar 17, 2020

"I'm Back" + my first Midway Meetup

Good morning, frents!

So that fun thing I mentioned yesterday? It’s happening.

Tonight I’ll be holding the first ever virtual Midway Meetup at 9 pm CT.

Yep. NBA TV is replaying Michael Jordan’s 69-point game against Cleveland and if you download the new Hot Mic app, you can join me, my good frent Pat Whiting and your fellow Midway Minute readers as we marvel at Doug Collins’ perm, poke fun at Craig Ehlo and wonder what Richfield Coliseum was really like.

What is Hot Mic? It’s part live podcast, part play-by-play and part therapy session for these weird, strange times. The technology — which syncs our video feed to NBA TV — is amazing. (I had been planning on unleashing its power for Opening Day, but the worldwide pandemic we’re currently battling had other thoughts.)

So if you’re tired of hanging out at home by yourself but want to stay germ-free, go ahead and download the new Hot Mic app for Apple and Android.

** IMPORTANT: Make sure to enter MIDWAY when it asks for your invite code so we get credit for the referral. (Also go ahead and like + follow my page once you’re in.)

I promise it will be a lot of fun. Hope to see all of you there!

Download Hot Mic

Happy 25th, Michael Jordan’s Return

Where were you when it happened? How did you find out?

Those were the two questions that came to mind when I was recently reminded that today is the 25th anniversary of Michael Jordan returning to the NBA.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a quarter-century since that happened.

It’s harder to believe how different the world was when it all went down.

Had that happened in 2020, Jordan’s announcement would’ve happened via a carefully orchestrated Instagram post, ghost-written article on the Players Tribune, powerful Woj bomb or, more likely, a combination of all three. We’d learn about it from an B/R push alert, text from a friend or the 500 people who’d RT it through our Twitter feeds.

Back then, though? Jordan and his agent used a freakin’ fax machine.

And all he needed was two damn words for everyone to know what it was about.

"He felt that it didn't require an explanation or a justification," agent David Falk told Bleacher Report in 2015. "I thought I was a pretty good writer, written a lot of things, but he said, 'Let me do this.' So he sat down at the table and thought about it for a couple of minutes and he wrote, 'I'm back.' He said, 'OK, that's it.'

“It was classic Michael Jordan. It was elegant in simplicity, it communicated how he felt, it said it all. It was like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator.”

I remember where I was. I remember how I found out.

It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-March and I was driving down Stearns Road past Bartlet’s par-3 golf course at Apple Orchard. I was 16 years old and I may have been drinking a Shamrock Shake. It was the type of early spring day that’s finally nice enough to roll down the windows and blast a song on the radio.

I was doing just that when the weekend DJ on Q101 broke in with an announcement. The station had just received a fax, he said before breathlessly reading it on air.

He’d barely finished saying “I’m back” before I beeped the meep-meep horn of the Toyota Camry I was driving. Certainly everyone in their cars was listening to this fantastic news at the same time and would beep right back.

(Looking back on the fact my honk wasn’t returned, it’s surely certain they were not.)

The news didn’t qualify as the biggest surprise. Jordan had quit baseball eight days earlier and he’d begun practicing with the Bulls. Heck, he was even on the cover of Sports Illustrated that week, popping out of a phone booth and ripping his shirt open like Superman. (I recommend Phil Taylor’s pre-comeback feature for a good overview of what was really going on at the time.)

Still, the fax was confirmation that the improbability turned possibility was finally reality. After winning three titles in the early ‘90s and seemingly disappearing to a minor league ballpark in the South for good, the greatest athlete this city or world was coming back at the age of 32 to do what he did best.

Jordan’s return as savior for the Bulls was enough on its own for a cathartic release. After a 55-win season without Jordan, the Scottie Pippen-led Bulls were struggling after the departure of Horace Grant. They were three games under .500 in mid-February and a playoff spot looked in doubt. A hot streak to start March plus the return of Michael Jeffrey Jordan meant that Chicago’s basketball franchise was being pulled back from a certain rebuild.

But the truth is that all of Chicago sports really needed Jordan to return in the worst way. Both baseball teams were still on strike, the Blackhawks had just returned from a lockout and the Bears were smack dab in the middle of a completely-lost decade having been pasted by the 49ers in the playoffs just a few months before.

It was a wild weekend and a fun few months. What’s most crazy to me now is that Jordan made the announcement on a Saturday afternoon and then was in uniform at Market Square Arena the next day for a nationally-televised game against the Pacers. No way that happens with any superstar today without at least a week of runway.

Jordan and the Bulls dropped that first game to the Pacers in overtime with MJ shooting a woeful 7-of-28 on legs that wouldn’t quite jump all the way up. But he found his way back just 10 days later, improbably dropping a double-nickel 55 on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.

The Bulls went 13-4 to finish the regular season and get a five-seed for the first round, where they’d easily dispatch the Hornets. And while the Eastern Conference semifinals loss to Orlando showed just how far the team needed to go to get back toward championship form, it was apparent that Jordan was back for more banners and he was going to figure out a way to get them.

Looking back, I wonder what that second three-peat would have looked like with social media, sports debate shows and everything that goes along with being a sports fan in 2020.

I do know it probably wouldn’t have been as fun, which makes me feel extremely lucky to have experienced it the way I did.

It was just something you had to be there for.

Note: NBC Sports Chicago is airing “I’m Back,” a special documentary on Jordan’s return at 6:30 tonight. Should be a good one.

Do I already owe Ryan Pace an apology? Nah. But turning Leonard Floyd into Robert Quinn on Tuesday was a good way to get this offseason back on track. Quinn doesn’t come cheap at five years, $70 million with $30 million guaranteed. But it does give the Bears a pass rush that should be the envy of the league and hopefully give the offense a bigger margin for error by keeping them on the field as much as possible.

• It’s good to be Chase Daniel. The backup-for-life signed a three-year, $13 million deal with the Lions on Tuesday. As ESPN 1000’s Carmen DeFalco pointed out, Daniel could end up making more than $40 million over his career despite never starting over 10 games.

Teddy Bridgewater is reportedly working out a deal with the Panthers, Tom Brady is headed to the Buccaneers and Philip Rivers is becoming a Colt. Cam Newton is suddenly on the market, but it’s hard to see how the Bears work out his money. The Bears seem destined to nab a quarterback with talents inferior to Mitchell Trubisky than someone who’d obviously start over him on Day One. Today should provide some more clarity on that front.

Have a link to share on Midway Minute? Email me!

Each MLB team pledged $1 million to help get its gameday workers through the Coronavirus shutdown. But considering the Bulls and Blackhawks are paying $3.3 million to help get their people through 14 dates at the United Center, it’s probably going to take more than that. (MLB)

Mike Oz on how minor leaguers are paying their bills without baseball. (Yahoo Sports)

Teddy Greenstein on the insanity of a Dave Leitao extension. (Tribune)

• Did you ever think you’d miss Chicago traffic?

• From the files of “Don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone …”

That’s it for today. Thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter and I’ll hopefully see you on Hot Mic tonight.

Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk
Kevin is the founder of Midway Minute.

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