In October 1993, Michael Jordan, at the age of 30, had won three straight NBA titles, three straight NBA Finals MVP awards and seven straight NBA scoring titles.
It's the kind of announcement that induces networks to halt regular programming, the kind of proclamation that results in hundreds of media members to fly to across the country the same morning, the kind of announcement that has the world buzzing from New York to London to Japan.
It's October 5, 1993. The shocking words cross the wire: "Michael Jordan will announce that he is retiring tomorrow at a press conference in Deerfield, Ill."
It is not the first such retirement: Rocky Marciano retired at the age of 32 as undefeated heavyweight boxing champ with a 49-0 record. Sandy Koufax retired at 30 after compiling a 27-6 season in 1966 with the Dodgers. Bjorn Borg quit at 25 with 11 major titles. Jim Brown's retirement, considering he had just led the NFL in rushing and TDs at the age of 29, surprised the football world. And just two years earlier, Magic Johnson had stunned the basketball fans everywhere when retired after contracting HIV.
As the Jordan news comes, you think, this can't be real. It's got to be some kind of cruel joke. But this is no joke. This is serious. It is surreal. Too surreal to comprehend. After all, how could the world's greatest basketball player, the greatest player in the history of the game, walk away in his prime? Sure, his father had been tragically murdered just a few months earlier, and he was fed up with the media coverage of his gambling exploits. But retire? Why? It doesn't make sense. No sense whatsoever.
Scottie Pippen, Jordan's sidekick, the guy who ran for years in Jordan's shadow as the Bulls were turning the NBA upside down en route to three straight NBA crowns, is at his home watching a White Sox-Blue Jays playoff game when he hears his friend is retiring.
"I couldn't believe my ears," Pippen later tells the media. He calls Jordan. "It's true," MJ tells him. "I'm gone." Pippen tries desperately to talk him out of it. There's no way. Jordan says he has no choice but to step away, that it's time to move on.
The next morning, as Jordan makes his announcement on this surreal Midwest day, Pippen's teary eyes are hidden by black, wire-rimmed glasses. "When Michael spoke," Pippen says later, "it took the spirit out of me. It ripped my heart out."
Sadness and gloom filled the room as a city, a nation, and a league mourns. The impact on the NBA, television, attendance, competition, revenue, merchandise sales (other than MJ's jersey, of course) is staggering. The man who generates billions for others is now going to cost them millions. There is no aspect of the league that Jordan's presence doesn't touch.
As the world watches in disbelief, Jordan calmly explains his reasoning, without any sadness in his voice, without any tears. He actually smiles. He actually proves his decision is one of relief, despite retiring at the height of his power.
"I've reached the pinnacle," he tells the world. "I always said to the people that have known me that when I lose that sense of motivation and that sense that I can prove something, it's time for me to leave."
He pauses. He looks out at the crowd of reporters. He looks down. "It was just a matter of waiting until this time, when basketball was near, to see if my heart ticked for it," he says. "I went through all the different stages of getting myself prepared for the next year, but the desire ... was not there."