Flat on his back with a basketball pressed tightly against his shut eyelids, tears streaming down his cheeks and eye-catching red and black sneakers on his feet, Michael Jordan laid motionless on the floor in the Chicago Bulls’ locker room. His teammates, in contrast, excitedly canvassed Chicago’s United Center, celebrating their fourth championship at the hands of the formidable Seattle SuperSonics during the 1995-1996 NBA season.
Jordan’s absence from the celebration was noticed. He’d ducked off after grabbing the game ball from teammate Toni Kukoc and made his way through the players’ tunnel to the locker room. There, he collapsed onto the carpeted floor—not from pain, but the weight of his emotional anguish.
Three years earlier, Jordan lost his father, James Jordan Sr., to a senseless act of violence. The Bulls’ ‘96 Finals victory was the first he had to celebrate without his father by his side. The harsh reality of that moment overcame his 6-foot-6 frame, stripping his strength and forcing him to the floor. A lone photographer, Barry Gossage, somehow found his way into the locker room before any other members of the press had arrived. He snapped a handful of frames of Jordan before his counterparts came. One would echo through time like few MJ photos before it.