Why Michael Jordan didn’t return for 1996 Atlanta Olympics

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For all the celebration of the 1992 Dream Team, there were few reports in major media about Michael Jordan potentially returning for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

After the U.S. roster of 12 was announced for the Centennial Games, Jordan explained why he passed: to let others get their chance at a gold medal.

USA Basketball officials don’t recall any discussions about Jordan being part of the second Olympic Dream Team (or Dream Team III, if you count the 1994 World Championship squad, which many would rather forget).

It’s not surprising.

For one, Jordan considered declining the 1992 Olympic invitation. In part because he “had done the Olympic thing before,” taking gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games before starting his NBA career.

In January 1993, The New York Times reported that Jordan, if he had to do it over again, would have passed on the Olympics. It noted the commitment taking up a large chunk of what would normally be offseason rest.

“I think it’s going to be easy to get guys to play, but your top players, it may be a different story,” Jordan said, according to the report on 1994 World Championship team selection. “I don’t know if the clubs will want them to do it. You see those of us who played getting the nagging injuries, getting banged up so early in the season. You have to give some of that to playing in the Olympics.”

Whether Jordan would consider playing for Team USA again was rendered temporarily meaningless later in 1993, when he retired from basketball and then took up baseball.

Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls in March 1995. That summer, as Jordan prepared to film “Space Jam,” the first 10 members of the 1996 Olympic team were announced, including four returnees from 1992:

John Stockton
Penny Hardaway

Reggie Miller
Scottie Pippen
Grant Hill
Glenn Robinson*
Karl Malone
David Robinson
Shaquille O’Neal
Hakeem Olajuwon
*Replaced by Gary Payton due to injury.

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The Kukoc Game | MJ’s 1996 Olympic Choice

In the Dallas Morning News story first reporting those invites, this line in the 14th paragraph confirmed what was made clear by the list: Jordan had indicated he didn’t want to participate in Atlanta.

Charles Barkley, another original Dream Teamer, and Mitch Richmond were the last two selections named in April 1996.

During the June 1996 NBA Finals against Seattle, Jordan reportedly questioned why Sonics star forward Shawn Kemp was left off the Olympic team. In doing so, he gave a peek into his reasoning for sitting out the Atlanta Games.

“To leave Kemp off, I really don’t understand,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “That’s one of the reasons I chose not to perform … to give people like him a chance to play.”

Jordan did reportedly visit Atlanta during the Centennial Games — to address some 500 guests of Sara Lee, which sponsored Jordan and the Games, traveling under the alias “Frank Gordon.”

“I kind of miss [the Olympics],” Jordan said then, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But I stand by my reasons for passing it up to let other players experience it.”

MORE: Michael Jordan’s note to Bobby Knight before 1984 Olympic final

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