He has redefined the game like no one else before him, and probably no one else after him. Today, in large part, the NBA owes its global impact to Air Jordan
Go to any continent, any country in the world. Visit any culture, any nationality, and any religion you can possibly imagine. Ask any person, no matter if they’re 12 or 85 years old, and no matter if they’re a neurosurgeon or a fireman. They may not even like basketball, yet every single person you can possibly find, will undoubtedly recognize the name. Michael Jordan. Symbol of basketball perfection, a personification of greatness. The man who, seemingly, could do no wrong.
He is widely considered to be the greatest basketball player of all times. In today’s day and age, basketball is probably the only globally popular team sport where this opinion is unanimous – you’re hardly to find anyone who will name a different person. Now, let’s take a closer look at the phenomenon called Michael Jordan.
Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born on February 17th, 1963 in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in a small town of Wilmington, North Carolina, and at that time, it was beyond imaginable that a thin country boy who spent his days goofing around and playing any sport he could find, would grow up to become perhaps the most famous athlete of 20th century.
He was raised in a modest family, but the core values which would later on benefit him greatly, were instilled in him from an early age. Hard work, dedication, and an unshakable confidence that the effort you put in will eventually pay off, have stayed with Michael throughout his years, making him a vigorous and tireless worker, capable of overcoming any obstacle out there. It didn’t take too long, before these traits were put to test.
At 5’11”, Jordan wasn’t considered to be good enough to make his high school’s basketball team, as a sophomore. Next season, he came back better than ever, made the team, and soon enough – became its best player, by far.
Out of all the attractive college offers he had, Michael chose the Tar Heels. It was, as it turned out, an excellent move, as its legendary coach Dean Smith was able to get the best out of him. Coach Smith made sure never to allow Michael to stand out, or put himself ahead of the team, despite his talent clearly overshadowing everyone else’s.
Coach Smith taught Jordan a lot, both on and off the court
Along with his legacy at North Carolina, grew the legend of MJ’s unparalleled competitiveness. Every practice, every game, every possession counted as if it was his last one.
Jordan’s most memorable moment as a Tar Heel came in 1982, as he hit a game-winning jumper against Georgetown. That moment infused a huge amount of confidence into Mike, which would stay with him throughout his career.
Jordan’s wins the game, and the NCAA championship, with a jumper against the Hoyas.
The Houston Rockets selected Hakeem Olajuwon as number one. Then came one of the greatest draft mistakes of all times, as the Portland Trailblazers selected Sam Bowie at number two. The Bulls could only celebrate as they drafted MJ, as their third pick.
The third pick in the 1984 draft, Michael poses with what would become the most recognizable jersey in the history of the game
That summer, Jordan was a part of U.S. selection which won the gold at the Los Angeles Olympics. It was the first (but certainly not the last) time that the international, wide stage got a glimpse of MJ.
It didn’t take long for Michael to impress the entire league. With a phenomenal 6’6″ frame, he was, at all times, the fastest and most explosive player on the court, along with a whopping vertical jump of 48 inches.
Jordan was an instant superstar, both on and off the court. He appeared on a cover of Sports Illustrated, got a huge endorsement deal from Nike, and, along the way, caused a lot of jelaousy and envy throughout the league. He went on to average a phenomenal 28.2 ppg in his rookie season, earning him the Rookie of the year award.
One of the first Nike Jordan ads.
Despite being set back by a broken bone in his foot, causing him to miss the majority of the 1985-86 regular season, MJ made it back in time to regain his playoff form and torch one of the greatest teams ever, the Boston Celtics. Despite the Bulls being swept in those series, second-year Jordan was toying with the mighty Celtics, averaging 43.7 points per game. In game two, MJ set a playoff record which, to this date, hasn’t been broken, scoring 63 points! After the game, all that shocked Larry Bird could mutter, was ‘’He is God, disguised as Michael Jordan.’’
In the following seasons, Mike would only continue to get better. He averaged an astonishing 37.1 ppg in 1986–87 season, and followed that up with 35 ppg next season, in which he was, amazingly, also voted a Defensive player of the year and, ultimately, the MVP. Next season, he led the Bulls to another playoff run, again as the league’s leading scorer. The series against the Cleveland Cavaliers produced one of the greatest shots in NBA history. With the series tied at 2-2 and Cleveland up 100–99, there were 3 seconds left on the clock. Michael managed to get the ball, and then launch ‘’The Shot’’, over an outstretched arm of Craig Ehlo, one of Jordan’s favorite ‘’victims’’. The ball hit nothing but the net, as desperate Ehlo sunk to the ground in disbelief.
The Shot, and…
…the infamous celebration afterwards. Notice Craig Ehlo.
Michael Jordan won two dunk contests in a row – in 1987 and 1988. His distinctive combination of both being able to jump exceptionally high, and remain in the air for what seemed as an eternity, coupled with a unique style and grace, resulted in some of the most memorable dunks of all times.
Free-throw line dunk
By the end of 80’s, Jordan was widely considered to be the best player in the league. He was breaking scoring records, toping one amazing move with an even better one, yet he couldn’t get his team past the Bad Boys – Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons. Two years in a row they met in the conference finals (1989, 1990), and both times the Pistons came out on top. However, as with every other hurdle he had previously faced, this only made Jordan work even harder.
The Pistons used any means necessary to stop MJ
At the beginning of 1990-91 season, it was obvious that Jordan was physically and mentally stronger than ever. Moreover, despite the initial doubts he had about the team’s new coach – Phil Jackson, MJ was soon convinced in his methods, and developed a high level of trust in his system. Coach Jackson had a unique approach to the game, and realized from the start that if Bulls were to be successful, he had to find a way to make Jordan trust his teammates. Very soon, Jackson’s strange ways of bringing a team together started showing results. Michael won his second MVP award that year, as the Bulls finished in first place of Central division.
The Bulls finally had a coach who could bring out the best in a dynamic duo of Jordan and Pippen
In the Eastern conference finals, Jordan got his shot at revenge, and this time, Chicago would show no mercy. They easily swept the Pistons, and advanced to the Finals.
1991 NBA finals could not have been scripted any better. Michael vs. Magic. Two of the most prominent names in the league, going face to face. After dropping the first match, the Bulls smoothly went on to win the next four, and win their first ever title! Was there any doubt as to who would be the Finals MVP?
MJ can’t hold back tears as he wins his first ever NBA championship
Once he got to the top of the hill, Mike was not about to let anyone come near his throne. After another successful regular season for the Bulls, he won his second consecutive MVP award.
The media did all but help the Trail Blazers in the ’92 finals, as they tried to create another rivalry – Clyde Drexler vs. Michael Jordan. As with everything else, MJ took this as a personal challenge, and set a record that stands to this day – 35 points in a single half, during Game 1. After another record – 6th three pointer in the first half, Jordan turned to the broadcasters, sitting courtside, and just shrugged his shoulders. The Blazers never recovered after that, and the Bulls won their second consecutive title in six games. Again, there was no dilemma as to who would win the Finals’ MVP.
That summer, MJ was a part of the original ‘’Dream Team’’, assembled for the Olympic games in Barcelona. Considered by many as the greatest basketball team ever, the ‘’Dream Team’’, which featured 11 NBA superstars and one college player, went on to easily dominate all of the matches they played, beating their opponents by an average margin of 43.8 points per game. Even as he was surrounded by 10 legendary NBA players, MJ stood out as the team’s biggest attraction, by far.
As U.S. easily won the gold in 1992 Olympics, MJ was a star of the stars
With the Bulls looking for a Three-peat in 1992-93 season, Jordan found himself going up against the Phoenix Suns, led by one of his best friends and the reigning MVP – Charles Barkley. Competition like that always seemed to bring out the best in Mike, and these series perhaps proved that better than ever before. He went on to average an astounding Finals-record 41.0 ppg, as the Suns’ coach Paul Westphal could only ironically declare: ‘’We can’t stop him. I never said we can stop him, no one can stop him.’’ The Bulls went on to win the series in six games, marking an incredible feat of three straight titles. Consequently, MJ became the first player in NBA history to win three straight Finals MVPs.
MJ celebrates the Three-peat
By the end of 1992-93 season, people were beginning to wonder – what more was there that MJ could possibly accomplish? He had won it all – Rookie of the year, two Olympics, scoring titles, MVP’s, NBA titles and so on. He was the face of some of the world’s most famous brands – Nike, Chevrolet, McDonalds, which made him one of the richest athletes of all times. In one word, Jordan was on top of the world, and as the 1993-94 season was approaching, rumors were beginning to swirl that he had lost his passion for the game, and was contemplating retirement. After his father, who was his idol growing up, and his most reliable confidant throughout his entire life, was murdered in July 1993, there were no more doubts in Michael’s head – he announced his retirement On October 6, 1993. It’s little to say that the NBA, as well as the entire planet – was left in shock. There was the greatest player ever, leaving the game in his prime. His next challenge – baseball.
Fortunately for the fans around the globe, the basketball Gods decided to bring Mike back to the game he was born to play. On March 18, 1995, Michael simply stated ‘’I’m back’’, and took the basketball world into a frenzy. He returned vs. the Indiana Pacers, wearing his childhood number – 45.
The infamous ‘’I’m back’’ Sports Illustrated cover
Jordan’s return boosted the mediocre Bulls team, which found itself matched up against the young, talented and hungry Orlando Magic team in the second round of the playoffs. Though he averaged 31 ppg in those series, Jordan would often commit uncharacteristic mistakes, turning the ball over or missing what used to be his bread and butter shots. Most notable, he lost the ball to Nick Anderson towards the end of Game 1, which led to an easy fast-break basket for the Magic. On the Bulls ensuing possession, he made an errant pass to Scottie Pippen, which went out of bounds. The Bulls lost the game, and never recovered, despite Jordan switching his jersey number back to 23 in the middle of the series. The Bulls lost the series, 4-2.
The playoff elimination in 1995 had an effect that all of his opponents feared – it drove Michael into a rage, as he trained harder that summer, than ever before. In the offseason, the Bulls added one of the greatest rebounders of all times – Dennis Rodman. Redefined, reinvented Bulls, led by a rejuvenated Michael Jordan, went on to post the greatest regular-season record in NBA history, at 72-10. Jordan picked up both regular season and the all-star game MVP, and though the Seattle Supersonics gave their best shot in the finals, they were still defeated 4-2.
The infamous trio of Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman, was too much for any opponent in the league.
As faith would have it, The Bulls won Game 6 on Father’s day, bringing out the lasting image of MJ sobbing in tears, on the locker-room floor, clutching the game ball. Needless to say, it was his 4th Finals’ MVP, in as many appearances.
As the Bulls won their 4th title, Michael was unable to hold back his emotions
In 1996, ‘’Space Jam’’ was released, where MJ tried out as an actor, starring as – himself. In the movie, he showed he was not only dominant against the opponents from this planet, but also from outer space! After helping the Looney Tunes retain their freedom, it was time to help the Bulls repeat the title in 1996-97 season. Jordan had the first triple-double in All-star game history in 1997, and the team had another great regular season run, finishing just shy of 70 wins. They advanced to the Finals, where a legendary duo awaited – Karl Malone (reigning MVP) and John Stockton. Game 1 was won on MJ’s buzzer-beater, after Malone had previously missed both free-throws.
MJ puts Game 1 away
Prior to Game 5, media reported in frenzy that MJ was as sick as hell! His very appearance in the game was under question, as he was barely able to walk to the arena. Visibly shaken and dehydrated, Michael was at times laboring to get back to defense. On the game’s most memorable play, Pippen rebounded Michael’s missed free throw, and got the ball back to him. MJ drained a three-pointer, and won the game for his team. He scored 38 points in that game, once again demonstrating everyone the otherworldly strength of his will.
Mike was so sick at times, he had to be helped off the court by Scottie Pippen
Game 6 featured an unlikely hero. In the decisive moments, during a timeout, reserve point guard Steve Kerr told Jordan he’d be ready to take the final shot, if the Jazz were to double-team Mike. Michael showed faith in his teammate, passing out of double team to a wide-open Kerr, who calmly swished his jump-shot, giving the Bulls the lead and, ultimately, the Championship.
Jordan and Kerr celebrate the ’97 title
As the 1997-98 season was getting under way, Phil Jackson called it ‘’The last dance’’. Indeed, the rumors circled that upon the end of the season, the Bulls would break-up. Their superstar trio was aging, many players were dissatisfied with their status on the team, and Jordan maintained that he wouldn’t play for any coach other than Jackson. All of this made Jordan’s last season with the Bulls into something of a farewell tour. Every arena the Bulls went to was sold out, as people gathered in masses to get one last glimpse at His Airness. As always, Michael didn’t disappoint, coming up with another strong season – leading the league in scoring, and winning both the All-star game, and the regular season MVP award.
In 1998 NBA Finals, Jordan faced familiar foes, who had patiently waited for a year, to get their shot at revenge. In another hard-fought series, the Bulls went to Utah, up 3-2. What followed, was one of the most amazing NBA finals’ performances ever. As Stockton hit a three for an 86–83 lead with a little over 40 seconds to go, Game 7 seemed inevitable. Then, MJ first stormed to the basket, hitting a layup to get it down to one. As the Jazz ran their offense, on the ensuing possession, Michael gambled away from his defender, came up to Malone from behind, and stole the ball from his hands. He quickly dribbled past half-court, shook-off his defender Bryon Russell, and took his one last shot as a Chicago Bull. Swish. Nothing but the net. With little over 5 seconds remaining, Stockton missed a desperation three, and the celebration could begin. It was a second Three-peat for the Bulls, and their 6th title in 8 years. Michael finished the match with 45 points.
A storybook ending, as Michael sinks his last shot as a Chicago Bull, a game-winner for the 6th title
In January 1999, Michael once again officially announced his retirement. When asked about the possibility of some day making another comeback, Jordan responded that he was certain that this time, he was retiring for good. “99.9% certain”, that is.
In September 2001, that 0.1% prevailed, as Jordan announced yet another comeback, this time with the Washington Wizards. Many experts were skeptical about Jordan’s return, at the age of 38. They claimed that physically, he simply would be no match for young, budding superstars of that time, such as Kobe Bryant, or Vince Carter. Despite proving that he could play at the highest level, even at his age, Jordan failed to take The Wizards to the playoffs in the next two seasons.
In the Wizards jersey
Michael Jordan played his last NBA game on April 16, 2003 in Philadelphia. With 1:45 remaining in the game, he made both free-throws, for the last points of his career.
Today, Jordan is a majority owner of an NBA franchise – The Charlotte Hornets.
A small kid, barely 10 years old, is dribbling the ball. All of a sudden, he goes for a drive. His tongue is out, as he tries to palm the ball with one hand and lay it in. On the next possession, he’s pivoting around his right foot and shooting while fading away. He wasn’t even born when MJ last retired, yet go ahead – ask him where he picked up all those moves. ‘’That’s Michael Jordan. He’s the best. Don’t you know him?’’
Single-handedly, MJ made basketball a global phenomenon it is today. He’s a symbol of winning, passion, and endless drive. He’d come to work every single day, knowing that there’d be hundreds of fans in the stands who may just be getting a single shot at seeing him play. And he’d never disappoint, rising to the occasion every single time.
Simply put, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever.