B.J. Armstrong could have played a role in the Chicago Bulls by winning their 1996, 1997 and 1998 titles – even if he weren’t one of those teams.
Armstrong was the person who, during a pancake breakfast in Chicago, prompted Michael Jordan to stop at the Bulls training center one morning late in the 1994-95 season to see his former teammates. Shortly after, Jordan ended his retirement; the Bulls won three more titles in Jordan’s second run with the franchise.
Jordan’s first retirement in 1993, the murder of his father James, his transition into minor league baseball and – after a slight push from Armstrong, who takes no credit for Jordan’s return – his return was among the themes from the latest episodes of ESPN and Netflix’s Documentary “The Last Dance”, a 10-part series that showed episodes seven and eight on Sunday evening.
“I never thought about it, to be honest with you,” longtime NBA guard and three-time NBA champion with the Bulls told The Associated Press Armstrong, who is now a sports agent based. in California. “I just wanted to be a good friend and I just saw something in him. When you see someone who really likes something … they liked it. He didn’t like it. He loved her. This is who he was. And out of respect for basketball, I wanted to be a good friend. “
Sensing that the time was right, Armstrong suggested that Jordan go train with him that day under the auspices of just seeing the guys. Then Jordan returned for another practice. Then another. Shortly after, Jordan’s baseball days were over. He was back.
“I just got it, he got me, and we met and you did the right thing,” said Armstrong, who helped the Bulls win titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993. “I didn’t need to talk to anyone or talk about it or anything. This is exactly what happened. I was just happy for him because I know what basketball meant to him and to his life. He kept basketball in a sacred space and it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. “
Jordan retired in October 1993, shortly after the murder of his father and with the Bulls who had just won their third consecutive title.
Jordan’s first break season became Armstrong’s best season in terms of numbers. He established career highs in points (14.8) and minutes (33.8) per game, started 82 regular season games for the first time, and was a starter in what became his only appearance with stars. He was a fan favorite, finishing third in the All-Star voting that year behind only Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.
Armstrong did not replace Jordan in the Bulls’ training – he played the point guard, while Pete Myers became the answer to the trivial question “Who took the place of Jordan’s goalkeeper?” – but he took on a much larger role, and did so with Jordan encouraging him with occasional phone calls.
And when Armstrong was named starter, Jordan was the first person to congratulate him.
“He was so happy for me,” said Armstrong. “I wasn’t playing to be an All-Star, but when he called it meant the world to me then and it meant the world to me now. I know what it means to have a friend and I have always tried to be a good friend. “
Unknowingly, Armstrong may have been a friend again in the 1998 playoffs – when he was with Charlotte, playing against Jordan and the Bulls in what would become their last title race. Armstrong struck what became a winning streak in Game 2 of this series for Charlotte in Chicago, and Jordan did not like to see his former teammate celebrate. He took it for a light one, and he always turned slights into fuel.
“I thought B.J. should know better,” said Jordan at the start of episode 8. “If you go to five and talk about trash, now I have a bone to choose from. I’m supposed to kill this guy. I’m supposed to dominate this guy. And from that moment, I did it. “
The Bulls did not lose again in this series. Armstrong – who has received a lot of defensive attention from Jordan in the next three games – has no regrets.
“Whenever you start a streak, you have to let the other person know that you’re there for a fight,” said Armstrong. “Michael knew exactly what was going on. I knew exactly what was going on. I don’t know if anyone else did … He didn’t keep the guards. He went there. “
The final two episodes of the documentary series will begin on May 17.