If you were following pro basketball in 1985 then you probably remember when Michael Jordan broke his foot. MJ wasn’t quite the world icon that he would soon become, but he was a big star, and clearly on the rise. The year before, he won Rookie of the Year and 2nd Team All-NBA honors. He put up huge numbers on an immediately-improved Bulls team. Fans already knew Jordan from his college days at North Carolina. He hit a game winner as a freshman in the NCAA Finals and later became an All-American. So when the Bulls young star fractured the navicular tarsal bone in his left foot in just the third game of his second professional season, it was a huge bummer for the NBA and its fans.
I don’t remember it. I was barely three years old in October of ’85, and my first memories of watching Jordan involve him shoulder shrugging his way past Cliff Robinson in Portland and — the next year — kicking it out to Paxson for three, in Phoenix. This void of knowledge about the most athletic days of the most successful basketball player of my lifetime led me to read David Halberstam’s “Playing for Keeps.”
The story of Jordan’s broken foot, as told by Halberstam, touches on a pressing issue in modern NBA discourse:
The 64-game, Jordan-less stretch in 1985-86 was stressful for everyone involved. Chicago was worried about the health of its franchise player. Jordan quickly grew so restless that he moved back to Chapel Hill for his rehab, and had frequent spats with Jerry Krause about when he could return to action. Jordan would explain how he knew his body better than anyone else, and he was ready to play. (He was sneaking in five-on-five runs back at UNC, during his time off from the Bulls.) Krause wanted to err on the side of caution. He was never good with player relations, and even regrettably told Jordan that he and owner Jerry Reinsdorf would make the decision about his return because Jordan was their property. (MJ apparently never forgot nor forgave that one.)
But there was another factor at play in the decision to keep Jordan on the shelf while his team piled up losses.
Halberstam explained: Continue reading