“People will be saying, ‘Michael who?’”: Kevin McHale once made shocking statement on Michael Jordan’s first retirement

Kevin McHale
Kevin McHale's reaction to Michael Jordan's first retirement, on this day, 30 years ago

When Michael Jordan retired from the league after the death of his father, 30 years ago on this date, the news took the world by storm.

At the time, Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were fresh off a three-peat, and Jordan also led the league in scoring. While he eventually came back, Boston Celtics legend Kevin McHale reckoned that the league would move on without Jordan.

Of course, Michael Jordan's retirement, and venture into the world of baseball was short-lived. MJ made his return to the Bulls and led them to another three-peat. Nevertheless, at the time, McHale took a pretty strong stance against Jordan's greatness.

As the reactions from around the league came pouring in, McHale spoke to reporters where he wrote Jordan's legacy off. Looking back now, of course, the comments were stunning, as Michael Jordan returned to win another three championships with the Bulls, further cemeting his legacy and greatness.

"I guarantee you, people may not believe it or not, but in 5 years, people will be saying 'Michael who?' and that's the way it is in this league. There's going to be someone that comes out, maybe it's Shaquille, someone's going to come out and dominate.
"The names on the back of jerseys change. The league just keeps rolling on."

On the 30th anniversary of Jordan's retirement, let's take a look back at the reaction of Celtics legend Kevin McHale and other players around the league at the time.


How other NBA stars reacted to Michael Jordan's first retirement

At the time, Michael Jordan's retirement took the world by storm. To walk away at the height of one's career was something that's rare across sports, especially considering the success Jordan had.

Years before on the tennis courts, Bjorn Borg walked amid a slump that came after winning four straight French Open (1978-81) and five Wimbledon titles (1976-80). While Borg's decision to retire was shocking, it paled in comparison to Jordan's announcement at the Berto Centre.

It was no surprise that other stars around the NBA were quick to share their thoughts on Jordan's unexpected retirement. Unsurprisingly, not every reacted as stoically as McHale did. For example, at the time, Larry Bird was quoted by local NBC news as saying:

"He was a true joy to watch on the court whether he was your opponent or your teammate."

Out West, Magic Johnson weighed in as well. Although Jordan had left the door open to returning, many were unsure whether he would do so. Magic Johnson, meanwhile, who was good friends with Jordan, gave quite the prediction regarding the situation:

"I think that Michael is a guy who probably wants to be left alone now. Maybe one year off and then come back to show everybody he's still king."

Jordan, of course, did return, putting the league on notice before rattling off another three-peat with the Chicago Bulls, To this day, many have wondered how many rings Jordan would have won had he hadn't retired the first time.

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Edited by Bhargav