B.J. Armstrong might have played a role in the Chicago Bulls getting their 1996, 1997 and 1998 titles — even though he wasn't on those teams.
Armstrong was the person who, at a breakfast chat over pancakes in Chicago, nudged Michael Jordan to stop by the Bulls’ practice facility one morning late in the 1994-95 season to go see his old teammates. Before long, Jordan ended his retirement; the Bulls won three more titles in Jordan’s second stint with the franchise.
Jordan’s first retirement in 1993, the murder of his father James, his stint in minor league baseball and — after a gentle push by Armstrong, who takes no credit for Jordan’s return — his comeback were among the themes in the latest installments of the ESPN and Netflix documentary “The Last Dance,” a 10-part series that showed episodes seven and eight on Sunday night.
“I’ve never thought about it, to be honest with you,” Armstrong, the longtime NBA guard and three-time NBA champion with the Bulls who is now a California-based sports agent, told The Associated Press. “I just wanted to be a good friend and I just saw something in him. When you see someone who really loves something ... he loved it. He didn’t like it. He loved it. That’s who he was. And out of respect to the game of basketball, I wanted to be a good friend.”
Sensing the time was right, Armstrong suggested Jordan to go to practice with him that day under the auspices of just seeing the guys. Then Jordan went back for another practice. Then another. Before long, Jordan’s baseball days were done. He was back.
“I just got him, he got me, and we got each other and you did what was needed,” said Armstrong, who helped the Bulls win titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993. “I didn’t need to tell anyone or talk about it or anything. That’s just what happened. I was just happy for him because I know what the game of basketball meant to him and meant to his life. He kept basketball in a sacred space and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Jordan retired in October 1993, not long after the murder of his father and with the Bulls having just won their third consecutive title.
The first season of Jordan’s hiatus became Armstrong’s best season, in terms of numbers. He set career-highs in points (14.8) and minutes (33.8) per game, started all 82 regular-season games for the first time, plus was a starter in what became his only All-Star appearance. He was a fan favorite, finishing third in All-Star voting that year behind only Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.