On This Day: Michael Jordan’s Last Game Was Played 18 Years Ago

by Chris Haney

On April 16, 2003, arguably the greatest player to ever step foot on a basketball court retired for the third and final time. After 15 seasons in the league and six NBA championships, Michael Jordan walked off the hardwood floor for the last time.

Jordan had already retired from the Chicago Bulls on two previous occasions. While in his prime and coming off three NBA titles in a row, Jordan stunned the sports world when he announced his retirement in October 1993. He went on to pursue a baseball career but returned to the Bulls in March 1995. “His Airness” proceeded to win another three straight championships, but inner turmoil within the organization led to Jordan’s second retirement in January 1999.

However, he wasn’t quite done yet. Once again, Jordan shocked everyone when he decided to return to basketball in September 2001. Yet he wouldn’t be returning to Chicago. For the next two seasons, Michael Jordan traded in his signature red and black for blue and white when he signed with the Washington Wizards.

At 38 years old, he reunited with his former Bulls coach Doug Collins from the early years of his career. Fans and analysts didn’t quite know what to expect from “Air Jordan” in his late 30s. But that didn’t stop fans from coming out in droves to see him play. The Wizards went on to sell out every single game for the next two seasons because of Michael Jordan’s presence in D.C.

Michael Jordan’s Final NBA Run in Washington

Although the Wizards sold out each game, the Wizards didn’t have a strong enough team around the legendary veteran to make a playoff push. Washington missed the playoffs both seasons that Jordan played there. Although that doesn’t mean his comeback was a complete failure.

During the 2001-02 season, a 38-year-old Michael Jordan still averaged 22.9 points, 5.2 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. He may not have played above the rim quite as much, but his basketball IQ along with his timeless jumpers and fadeaways still allowed him to compete at a high level.

Here and there, Jordan even showed glimpses of the Michael of old. On December 29, 2001, only two days after the worst game of his storied career, he bounced back with a record-setting game. Jordan went off for 51 points against the Charlotte Hornets on his way to becoming the oldest player in NBA history to score 50 plus points in a single game.

The following season, Jordan averaged 20.0 points, 3.8 assists, and 6.1 rebounds per game. Additionally, he earned a spot on the NBA All-Star team for the 14th time in his iconic career. Jordan turned back the clock a few times that year. He went on to score 40 points or more in three different games that season. Four days after his 40th birthday, he scored 43 points against the New Jersey Nets. It still stands as the only 40-point game in NBA history from a player 40 years or older.

Air Jordan’s Final NBA Game of His Legendary Career

Michael Jordan was candid about the 2002-03 season being his last. Although he didn’t ask for any fanfare, NBA fans around the country paid tribute to the NBA great. In every city, during every away game, fans and opposing teams honored Jordan.

While in Chicago for his final game in the United Center, the crowd gave the former Bulls player an emotional four-minute standing ovation. The Miami Heat even retired Jordan’s No. 23 jersey.

Finally, on April 16, the Wizards faced off against the Philadelphia 76ers in the team’s last regular-season game. Since they didn’t make the playoffs, it would be the final time Michael Jordan would step on an NBA court as a player.

As Jordan’s number was called one last time, he left the bench and entered the game to another standing ovation. The Philadelphia crowd, his Wizards teammates, 76ers opponents, officials, and coaches all took part in a resounding ovation as a parting gift to the legendary hooper.

He fittingly hit the last shot of his career while at the line for free throws. Jordan finished his final game with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in a 107-87 loss. Although Jordan didn’t go out on top like he did in Chicago, he proved to everyone that he still had “it.”

Michael Jordan finished his career with six NBA championships, five MVP awards, 11 All-NBA selections, nine All-Defensive selections, a Defensive Player of the Year award, 14 All-Star selections, and 10 scoring titles. Many call him the GOAT (greatest of all time), but regardless of opinion, Jordan is undoubtedly one of the best to ever touch a basketball. The game hasn’t been the same ever since he drained his final free throw.