A Michael Jordan Mystery on Valentine’s Day


Frank Sinatra famously voiced the lyrics, “love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage…this I tell you brother, you can’t have one without the other.” So-to for sports fans, you can’t have Michael Jordan without his number 23.

But on one fateful Valentine’s Night years ago, MJ wore number 12 on his jersey rather than 23.

Was it to commemorate 12 roses? Was it MJ’s display of matters of the heart? No, his beloved 23 had been stolen in a Valentine’s Day robbery.

At approximately 5:30pm, before tipoff of the 1990 Valentine’s Day matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic, the Bulls team equipment manager remembers hanging up the not-yet-immortalized number 23 jersey in Michael Jordan’s locker.

By 5:45pm, when Jordan settled in front of his locker and began to dress, the jersey was gone.

Arena attendants and team security searched the entire locker room, anticipating the jersey would surface.  As time ticked towards tipoff, they move their search party into the stands, probing fans hopeful to find a comparably sized replica jersey with the number 23 and “Jordan” stitched on the back. Scouring camera feeds and deploying ushers throughout the arena, they came up empty-handed for the 6’6” Bulls superstar.

How could you not have an extra Michael Jordan jersey?

The Chicago Bulls hadn’t brought a backup jersey for the shooting guard, or anyone on the team, for that matter. The Bulls flew commercial to Orlando. To save weight in their baggage, they opted against backup jerseys for their players. Of course, they always made sure they had at least one extra jersey. For the Bulls, this was a number 12 uniform without a name stitched on the back.

A noticeably superstitious man, Michael Jordan wore the same shorts underneath his uniform in every one of the 1,251 NBA games played in his career.

This super-fueled anxiety encapsulated Michael, who was visibly frustrated in the locker room minutes before the team was expected to run out to the court.  To Jordan, the number 23 was an object placed on him – not one he took. The number he wore since making the varsity team in high school was something he earned. A grace, not a demand.

Being forced to wear the extra number 12 uniform without any name on the back bubbled blasphemously inside of him. Seconds before the game, Michael Jordan looked out at the gathered crowd with indignation and fury on his face.

He listened as the announcer, over the loud speakers, leans into his microphone…

”…at Shooting Guard…wearing Number 12…Michael Jordan.”

Anyone with a bit of familiarity into Michael Jordan’s competitive nature can assume what happened next…

Michael dropped 49 points on the Orlando Magic that night.

Despite the offensive outburst, the Bulls were defeated by the Magic 135-129 in a tenacious, overtime loss. Jordan declared that he’d never wear that jersey again. And he never did.

In the days after Michael’s jersey disappeared, the Magic staff continued to investigate. Soon enough, someone noticed an out-of-place ceiling tile in the visitor’s locker room. They removed it and found the infamous jersey tucked away.

Ultimately, it was proven that the jersey was stolen by a member of the arena security team. The culprit admitted to climbing through the ceiling after the Bulls shootaround that morning, taking the jersey and stashing it in the ceiling to be retrieved at a safer time.

While there is limited footage of “His Airness” playing in this game and wearing this jersey,

an image of this moment can forever be found on the front of a “random” sports card from the 1990 NBA Hoops set. Even more provocative, you won’t find it on a Michael Jordan card from that year…the image of MJ wearing number 12 can be found on the card of the 6’2” point guard of the Orlando Magic, Sam Vincent…a player whose career doesn’t normally demand a $100+ sports card. See below:

Sam Vincent 1990 Hoops #223 – Graded PSA 10

A Michigan prep star who was named “Mr. Basketball in 1981” at Eastern High School in Lansing, before starring at Michigan State University, Sam Vincent’s professional career was not particularly memorable.  In a bizarre twist of fate, Vincent was hired by Michael Jordan in 2007 to become the Head Coach of his Charlotte Bobcats franchise before Jordan relieved him of his duties less than a year later.

Michael Jordan turned his own last name into a synonym for greatness. The “Jumpman” logo has become like golden arches or an apple. The number 23 is now an institute you can’t disparage.

One may think that the case of the nameless number 12 jersey was solved when the Magic employee admitted to the thievery. Over 30 years later, however, the NBA has dribbled out a nameless Number 12 Chicago Bulls jersey on NBA.com. It can be purchased for $299.99…

…speaking of robberies.


For more from our Detroit Lions and Detroit Tigers beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21

Contact: Broder@woodwardsports.com

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Original Photo Credit: © Mitchell and Ness, Getty Images