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‘Jordan Dome’ — the forge of Michael Jordan’s return to NBA glory

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“I’m back.”

A two-word fax marked Michael Jordan’s return from retirement on March 18, 1995. With 17 games left within the regular season, the Chicago Bulls‘ suddenly found themselves closer to a different championship run. They were off to a great start, as MJ led the Bulls to a 13-4 record over the stretch; ok for the fifth seed within the East. 

The Bulls then won their first-round playoff series against the Hornets in 4 games, but they hit a wall against a Magic team led by Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, and Horace Grant. 

Jordan’s conditioning wasn’t adequate, as he was away from the NBA for 21 months and had a difficult time against the young and talented Magic. The Bulls had Game 1 within the bag until Jordan made two costly turnovers in the ultimate minutes, and all the pieces went downhill. The Magic eventually won the series in six games.

“Number 23, he could just blow by you. He took off like an area shuttle. Number 45, he revs up, but he doesn’t really take off,” Nick Anderson said after Game 1 when he had stolen the ball from Jordan to assist secure the win.

Jordan modified his number back to 23 for the remainder of the series, but couldn’t bounce back. But he didn’t dwell on it.

“Let me know once you want me to see you,” Tim Grover said to Jordan after the series. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” MJ said.

Summer on the ‘Jordan Dome’

MJ’s summer was tied up filming Space Jam, but he was determined to retake his throne as one of the best player within the NBA. That is why he told Grover to assist him get his body ready, and he asked Warner Bros. for a spot to work out and practice.

The Space Jam producers suggested putting hoops and painting lines on a parking zone near the set, but Grover stepped in and asked for higher facilities, and Warner Bros. then built the ‘Jordan Dome.’

“When [the team] lost to Orlando – that’s where the entire process began,” Grover said. “Initially, what they were going to do was just paint some lines on the parking zone and put a few hoops up and I used to be like, ‘No, no, no. That is Michael Jordan. We’re not playing basketball in a parking zone. Not gonna occur.’”

The ‘Jordan Dome’ was a state-of-the-art facility within the VIP parking zone. The inflatable dome had a full basketball court, locker rooms with showers, a weight room, big screen TVs, a card table, and a putting green.

Jordan got what he wanted, and he used it to the max.

After filming Space Jam from Monday to Saturday, 7 am to 7 pm, with a two-hour break for mid-day exercises with Grover, Michael would play pickup games with Reggie Miller, Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman, Patrick Ewing, Horace Grant, Eddie Jones, Juwan Howard, Shawn Bradley, LaSalle Thompson, Jack Haley, and the UCLA team that won the NCAA tournament in 1995, amongst others.

“They said, ‘Michael Jordan is on the town shooting a movie, and he wants all of us to come back to Warner Bros. Studios to play and train,’” Kris Johnson, one in all the UCLA players, recalled.

“It looked like something you’d see in Area 51. After I walked in, there was this really shiny light that hit me,” he said. But despite the dome’s wow factor, Johnson was surprised at how approachable Michael was. 

“When you break the ice with Mike, you realize he’s identical to you. He loves competition, he loves the sport. He even gave me a pair of his patent leather Air Jordans. He gave me them off his feet. He really was uplifting to me, took me under his wing, gave me a number of confidence not only in basketball but anything I did. And once you touch greatness, you mostly want to attain that standard,” Johnson added.

How the ‘Jordan Dome’ helped

Jordan’s friend and rival Reggie Miller, who also participated in pick-ups on the Dome, was impressed by what the six-time NBA champion went through that summer.

“What stood out essentially the most to me was how Jordan could film all day and a few evenings and still come out and play two to a few hours of games. Most of our pickup games began around 7 pm and lasted until 10. His call time on set the following mornings can be around 5-6 am,” Miller explained.

Jordan gained eight kilos of muscle that summer, leading the Bulls to 72 wins within the regular season and an NBA Championship while claiming the regular season, NBA All-Star game, and NBA Finals MVP awards. Oh, and Space Jam was an enormous hit, grossing over $250 million on the box office. 

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