NBA

Twenty-five years since Michael Jordan said 'I'm back': When sports stars returned

By Sports Desk March 18, 2020

Michael Jordan stunned the world with two simple words 25 years ago.

In an era before innovative social media announcements were the norm, Jordan released a statement through his management company "in response to questions about his future career plans" on March 18, 1995.

His response of "I'm back" signalled the return to basketball of one of the all-time greats.

Here, to mark the anniversary of that press release being issued, we look at Jordan and other greats who performed retirement U-turns.

 

MICHAEL JORDAN

Whether you are an ardent NBA fan or have simply seen Space Jam, you know the story. Chicago Bulls star Jordan retired in 1993 after his team three-peated and shortly after his father's death, stating that "the desire is just not there any more".

For the next year, Jordan turned to baseball as a minor league player as he pursued a dream his father had of his son making it in the MLB. Then, amid rumours he was heading back to the NBA, came that Jordan utterance: "I'm back". 

The Bulls, led by perhaps the greatest ever, would win three successive championships again between 1996 and 1998 at which point Jordan retired once more. He then came back for a two-year stint with the Washington Wizards before finally calling it a day once and for all in 2003.

 

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER

Seven-time Formula One champion Schumacher was 37 when he announced the 2006 season - when he was pipped to the title by Fernando Alonso - would be his last.

However, he remained around F1 as an advisor for Ferrari and returned for Mercedes to race in 2010 saying: "I have the energy back."

He would appear on the podium just once across three seasons, though, and he retired again in 2012, a year before he suffered severe head injuries in a skiing accident.

 

KIM CLIJSTERS

A former world number one and the 2005 US Open champion, Clijsters retired at the age of 23 due to a series of punishing injuries.

Clijsters got married and gave birth in her time away from sport, and then after appearing in an exhibition match held at Wimbledon in 2009, the Belgian returned to the WTA Tour. In just her third tournament back, Clijsters won the US Open, becoming the first unseeded woman to win the tournament in the Open era and the first mother to win a grand slam since 1980.

She triumphed at Flushing Meadows again in 2010 and won the Australian Open in 2011, recently returning to tennis for a third time after a seven-year hiatus.

LANCE ARMSTRONG

American Armstrong retired as a seven-time Tour de France champion in 2005. But the story, of course, didn't end there.

Dogged by doping allegations during his career, Armstrong faced questions again when he returned, aged 37, in 2009 and finished third in that year's Tour.

Armstrong retired once more in 2011 while he was the subject of a federal investigation into doping allegations. Another probe from the United States Anti-Doping Agency led to charges which resulted in Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour titles in 2012, with the cyclist publicly coming clean on his doping the following year.

 

GEORGE FOREMAN

There was a full decade between Foreman's 47th and 48th fights.

He lost on points to Jimmy Young in 1977, falling ill in the dressing room after the bout and suffering what he said was a near-death experience, leading him to find God.

A born-again Christian, Foreman returned at 38. Despite defeats to Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison in title bouts, Foreman would become heavyweight champion of the world again in 1994 - at the grand old age of 45 - by stopping Michael Moorer.

BRETT FAVRE

Long-time Green Bay Packers quarterback Favre, the king of indecision, bowed out from the NFL in March 2008, passing the baton to a certain Aaron Rodgers. However, he had a change of heart four months later. The Packers, who wanted to move on with Rodgers, traded Favre to the New York Jets.

After one season with Gang Green, Favre retired again. And then he performed another U-turn, paving the way for him to join the Minnesota Vikings, one of Green Bay's arch-rivals.

He enjoyed by far the best year of his career with the Vikings in terms of quarterback rating (107.2) but Minnesota lost the NFC Championship Game. More indecision followed after that, though 2010 would prove to be the final year of a Hall of Fame career.

Related items

  • Canelo v Saunders: Alvarez out to continue Brit bashing against Billy Joe Canelo v Saunders: Alvarez out to continue Brit bashing against Billy Joe
  • Westbrook takes nothing for granted as Wizards star closes on NBA history Westbrook takes nothing for granted as Wizards star closes on NBA history

    Russell Westbrook insisted he does not take basketball for granted after he edged closer to setting a new NBA benchmark in the Washington Wizards' overtime win against the Toronto Raptors.

    With 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists in the 131-129 triumph, Westbrook posted his 180th career triple-double in the NBA.

    That is just one shy of tying the all-time record set by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, while he became the first player with three consecutive 17-plus assist games since Steve Nash in 2007.

    "It's a blessing, I don't take this game for granted, I don't take this opportunity to go out and compete for granted," Westbrook said.

    "I want to be the best at what I do. That's basically it."

    The Wizards are now 31-36 for the season and sit 10th in the Eastern Conference, with a four-game buffer to the Chicago Bulls making them near certainties to feature in the play-in tournament and fight for the right for a playoff spot.

    Over the past 10 matches, Washington have gone 7-3 and Westbrook praised the team for upping their game.

    "It's good man," he added.

    "That's why collectively in the past month or so we've been playing better because everybody on the team has been doing a great job of locking in and stepping up when we need it the most."

    Westbrook, though, did note his concern at the scheduling this season with Thursday's game – which took place in Florida – coming just 24 hours after the Wizards played the Milwaukee Bucks in Wisconsin.

    The coronavirus pandemic means teams are playing a 72-game regular season but in a shorter period, with this occasion marking the 17th time in 2020-21 the Wizards have gone back-to-back.

    "It's just very unfortunate that the way the schedule is – we got to get up in the morning for tests at 8am, we get in at 4am, 4.30am, don't get a chance to sleep, we've got to eat, get ready to get back on the bus and get ready to come back to play the game," he added.

    "As much as we love to play, it's good to play, our health and our body is important, too. 

    "I'm not too happy about the way we made this back-to-back. But we got through it and we move on. 

    "Hopefully, in seasons to come they do a better job of scheduling and taking those things into consideration. Especially flying from Milwaukee all the way to Tampa."

  • Sevilla's unlikely LaLiga title challenge: The key men Sevilla's unlikely LaLiga title challenge: The key men

    When Sevilla defeated Inter in their gripping Europa League final clash last August, there was a sense of deja vu for Los Nervionenses. Not only because they were winning that trophy for the sixth time, but also that talk quickly turned to "the next step".

    Sevilla had been here before: Their back-to-back UEFA Cup successes under Juande Ramos were supposed to transform them into a new power in Spanish football, but it didn't quite happen.

    Then the Europa League three-peat with Unai Emery was supposed to elevate them, but in the 13 months that followed the hat-trick-clinching win over Liverpool, Sevilla lost two coaches (Emery and his popular successor Jorge Sampaoli), revered sporting director Monchi and some of their best players.

    Monchi returned in 2019 following a well-publicised split with Roma, his reputation having taken a significant hit. The damage has been impressively repaired, however, building a Europa League-winning squad straight away and appointing Julen Lopetegui, the man who got them back into the Champions League.

    Looking back, his hiring of Lopetegui was a bold one. Here were two men, both of whom had taken significant flak in their previous jobs, with their own points to prove.

    Regardless of Monday's shock home defeat to Athletic Bilbao, it's arguable that Sevilla have already taken "the next step" that Monchi spoke about 15 months ago. Never before in a 20-team LaLiga season had only three points separated top from fourth with five games to go, yet Sevilla were one of them.

    A draw between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona coupled with a Sevilla win over Real Madrid the following day could yet see Lopetegui's side get themselves back in the hunt for the title. Even if they don't, 2020-21 has proven Monchi still knows how to find a player and a coach.


    Thinking From the Back

    Lopetegui came in with his own ideas. Many Sevilla teams over the past 20 years have been exciting to watch with an attacking brand of football. This team are arguably not one of them.

    The first thing regular watchers of Lopetegui's Sevilla will say when summarising this team's style of play is that they're not exactly LaLiga's great entertainers. In fact, the 34 matches they've played this term have yielded just 76 goals. Only Osasuna, rock-bottom Eibar (both 72) and Getafe (66) have been party to fewer.

     

    Key to this is Sevilla's effective defence, which has conceded only 27 times. Atletico (22) and Real Madrid (24) are the two sides with better records. And looking at expected goals conceded in the table above shows that Sevilla's defence is the most miserly in LaLiga. Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde have proven a hugely successful pairing at the base of the defence for well over a year now, but while it was the Brazilian attracting more of the plaudits last term, it's his young colleague who is capturing the imagination in 2020-21.

    While he may not look it when standing next to the supreme physical specimen that is Diego Carlos, Kounde is an impressive competitor in the air. At just 5-foot-8 he has a great spring and his 93 successful aerial duels is bettered by only three other defenders this term.

    But given Sevilla generally spend more time on the ball than their opponents, it's Kounde's progressiveness in possession that helps him stand out the most. Lopetegui's flexible 4-3-3 formation often morphs into more of a 3-4-3 as Fernando drops back, and this allows Kounde to push out from the back, in what has become a key aspect of their system.

    The Frenchman makes his influence known in two ways. Firstly, he's attempted more forward passes (801) than any other outfield player in LaLiga, and only central midfielder Dani Parejo (624) can better his 623 successful ones.

    This speaks to Kounde's positive nature when in possession and his contribution to Sevilla's attack can be highlighted by our sequences framework. Of all centre-backs in the league, only Clement Lenglet (108) has been involved in more open-play sequences that have resulted in a shot than Kounde's 88. Team-mate Diego Carlos is fourth on the list with 73.

     

    This forward-thinking approach is aided by Kounde's extreme comfort on the ball. His 12 ball carries (dribbling with the ball for five metres or more) followed by a take-on is third best among centre-backs, and just three other central defenders have carried the ball further up-field across the season than him (5,532 metres).

    The confidence of Kounde – and Diego Carlos – on the ball helps explain why Sevilla's 396 pressed sequences against (instances where they have three or fewer passes and the move ends within 40m of their own goal) is the fifth-lowest in LaLiga, while they are the only team not to concede a goal as a result of a high turnover by the opposition.

     

    Sevilla are very effective at playing through a press, best demonstrated by their remarkable 37-pass goal against Valencia in the Copa del Rey in January, and Kounde is essential to that, operating as a kind of defensive playmaker in the backline.

     

    While they managed to keep hold of him despite interest from Manchester City last year, they might struggle to shoo away potential suitors this time around.

    Filling the Void

    The one area where Sevilla have perhaps been weaker in 2020-21 than 2019-20 is in midfield. Losing Ever Banega was always going to be a blow, but replacing him has proven especially difficult.

    Ivan Rakitic received something of a hero's welcome as he returned from Barcelona and, perhaps through nostalgia-tinted glasses, was billed as Banega's initial replacement with Oscar Rodriguez seen as the long-term heir.

    While Oscar has hardly featured, Rakitic has at least been a fairly regular part of the team, often filling the third midfield spot alongside the first-choice pair of Fernando and Joan Jordan.

    But despite his adulation, Rakitic's influence simply hasn't been anything like that of Banega, who offered far more across the board last season than the Croatian has at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in 2020-21.

    Instead, it's been Jordan who has courted praise after kicking on from an encouraging first campaign at the club. The fact he’s now seemingly in the thoughts of Spain coach Luis Enrique speaks volumes about his progression this year.

    A dynamic midfielder, Jordan sets the tempo for Sevilla but also contributes off the ball in a role not too dissimilar to that of Koke at Atletico Madrid, who is only of only six midfielders to have completed more passes than the former Eibar man (2,161).

    His 1.97 tackles per 90 may not be remarkable, but among midfielders with at least 15 appearances, it is above the average of 1.65. Tackle numbers are always likely to be lower for players of teams who tend to see more of the ball anyway, but it proves Jordan is by no means only of use on the ball.

    That is, however, when he's at his most comfortable. Granted, he has on occasion been accused of being a sideways-pass merchant, perhaps explaining why as many as 11 central midfielders have been involved in shot-ending sequences with a better cumulative xG value than Jordan (10.4).

    However, this is likely down to how Sevilla's midfield trio all sit quite deep rather than any inherent lack of creativity. After all, Jordan has played a role in 10 shot-ending sequences where he has both created a chance and been involved in the build-up, behind only Frenkie de Jong, Luka Modric, Pedri and Toni Kroos.

    He may not be the flashiest of midfielders, but Jordan has proven himself effective and clearly has the trust of both Lopetegui and the rest of the squad.

    While replacing Banega will probably be on the agenda for Monchi again at the end of the season, Jordan's shown he could be worth a shot in a more advanced position.


    En-Nesyri Defying the Doubters

    When Sevilla shelled out roughly €20 million in January 2020 on a striker who had scored just 18 LaLiga goals in his first 77 matches, it's fair to say eyebrows were raised.

    Although only 22 at the time, it felt as though Youssef En-Nesyri had already been around for quite a while, but he'd rarely stood out as a particularly outstanding player. Hard-working, sure, but a Champions League-level striker? There were many who had their doubts.

    Rather gangly, just as likely to trip himself up as he was to beat his man, the Moroccan scored four goals in his 18 league appearances last term following his mid-season move and he failed to truly dislodge Luuk de Jong, who was widely derided until his Europa League final heroics.

    But En-Nesyri has proved a lot of people wrong this season, his haul of 17 league goals so far is the same as his total for the previous two campaigns combined.

    Even more impressive is the fact none of them have come from the penalty spot.

     

    He really has led the line in excellent fashion, and his non-penalty xG of 15.1 is the third highest in LaLiga, suggesting he is frequently getting into high-quality scoring locations. When he does get those opportunities, the Sevilla striker is putting them away. Of players to have scored at least 10 goals this season, his 24.3 per cent shot conversion rate is a record that only Marcos Llorente can better.

     

    Playing consistently alongside better players and in a system that seems to accentuate his pace and aerial strength is seemingly paying off. And it's in the air where he really comes into his own, which marries up well with Sevilla's most regular source of chances.

    Jesus Navas may not be to everyone's liking, but he's been reborn as a right-back for Lopetegui, getting himself back into the Spain squad when his career looked to be petering out upon returning from Manchester City in 2017-18.

    Navas has created 59 chances from open play this season – the highest number of any player. Only twice before in La Liga has he managed more over a full season, back in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when he played exclusively as a winger.

    Navas' bombing forward from right-back – aided by Kounde's effective covering behind – is a key facet of Lopetegui's system. He's attempted (160), and completed (52), the most open-play crosses in LaLiga. Similarly, his 32.5 per cent crossing accuracy is better than anyone else to have attempted at least 50.

    This is where En-Nesyri's aerial strength comes in. He's only behind Rafa Mir (13) for headed shots on target, while Karim Benzema (six) is the only player with more headed goals than the Sevilla striker (five).

    It remains to be seen how much more En-Nesyri has to give, and the same can be said generally for Sevilla, with their 1-0 loss to Athletic raising questions of their ability to break down stubborn opposition.

    Ahead of Sunday's trip to Madrid, our AI predictor gives them a minuscule 0.1 per cent chance of upsetting the established order and clinching their first LaLiga title since the 1940s.

    But Madrid aren't going to set themselves up to nullify Sevilla, they need the win too and will surely look to put as much pressure on their visitors as possible.

    But with capable ball players such as Kounde and Jordan in the side looking to break the lines, such a situation could be conducive to giving En-Nesyri, Lucas Ocampos and Papu Gomez space on the break.

    Sevilla couldn't, could they?

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.