Everyone knows about Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player the game has ever known. What can you say that hasn’t been told already? Well, here’s a trip down memory lane for MJ fans – from his beginnings to his magical last shot for the Bulls against Utah.
Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with basketball like no other – he took the game to the next level, both on and off the court while also inspiring generations to come; overcoming his own fame; spectacularly leaving and then returning to the game; and staking his claim as the greatest ever in the game.
Here is the story how Michael Jeffrey Jordan became “His Airness” – arguably the greatest basketball player the game has ever seen and a sports icon up around the world.
Jordan – then known as Mike – grew up in a seven-person household in Wilmington, North Carolina. He ended up not making his high school team as a sophomore, which he famously used as motivation. Jordan would play as a junior and star the rest of his high school career before landing with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
UNC already had a stacked team with the likes of James Worthy and Sam Perkins and would make to the NCAA title game. It was Jordan who delivered the game-winner against Georgetown – hitting a jumper with 14 seconds left. Jordan developed into one of the NCAA’s best players in his next two seasons at North Carolina before leaving for the NBA after his junior season – something still very uncommon back in 1984.
In the end, Jordan was selected third in the 1984 Draft by the Chicago Bulls behind Akeem (later Hakeem) Olajuwon, who went to Houston; and Sam Bowie, picked by the Portland Trail Blazers.
Before joining the Bulls, Jordan would play for Team USA and win the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. With gold in hand, Jordan dominated the NBA from the start, scoring at least 40 points seven times and winning the Rookie of the Year award despite playing for a bad Bulls team.
His rookie season also began a new era in the shoe industry as Nike developed a new shoe for Jordan with his Air Jordans bringing in 130 million dollars for Nike. And that even though the sneakers were prohibited in the league as the black and red Jordans violated the NBA’s dress code and he was fined 5,000 dollars for every game he wore them.
Jordan broke his foot in the third game of his second season and missed 64 games. The Bulls ended up making the playoffs despite a 30-52 record and despite being swept by the Boston Celtics, MJ was outstanding in his first playoffs, including scoring a still unbroken record 63 points in a double-overtime loss, prompting Celtics legend Larry Bird to say: “I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
The next season Jordan dominated the league, averaging 37.1 points to win the scoring crown – his first of seven straight to go along with 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Jordan, named the MVP in 1988, still didn’t trust his teammates and that led to the Detroit Pistons eliminating the Bulls in the playoffs in 1988, 1989 and 1990, thanks to their “Jordan Rules”.
Phil Jackson, who joined the club as assistant coach in 1987, took over the reins in 1989 and finally got Jordan to buy into the team concept of the triangle offense. MJ also worked on his body in the 1990 off-season to fight off the Detroit “Bad Boys” defense and Chicago swept the Pistons to reach the 1991 NBA Finals.
Awaiting MJ and the Bulls were the Los Angeles Lakers with Magic Johnson. It was a showdown of the old NBA world and the new with the Bulls prevailing 4-1 to mark the end of the Magic-Bird era. Jordan would guide the Bulls to the NBA crowns in 1992 and 1993 as well – taking home the MVP both seasons as well.
Jordan’s world was rocked on July 23, 1993 as his father was killed by two teenagers and dumped into a swamp and not found until August 3 and identified 10 days later. Jordan was very close to his father, who was a calming force in the mass hysteria around MJ.
After playing 104 playoff games between 1987 and 1993 – not to mention winning the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics with the Dream Team – Jordan had had enough, especially since he didn’t have anything to prove with a three-peat in the bag – something neither Bird nor Magic had done. And Jordan announced his retirement from basketball on October 6, 1993.
Jordan decided to pursue his and his father’s dream and tried to become a professional baseball player. Thanks to the fact that the Chicago White Sox were owned by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Jordan had a connection to a baseball club.
The move was seen as a gimmick but Jordan took it seriously and worked hard after not swinging a bat in 14 years. He did not make the Major League Baseball team, instead playing for the Birmingham Barons in essentially baseball’s third division, where he struggled but did show improvement while riding the bus around the country.
In March 1995 with baseball’s MLB on strike, Jordan decided he had the fire for basketball again, and he famously faxed two words: “I’m back.” to newspapers and TV stations across the USA.
In his fifth game back – wearing No. 45 – Jordan dropped 55 points on the New York Knicks, which was a new scoring record for an opposing player at the Madison Square Garden.
Jordan and the Bulls made the 1995 playoffs but were bounced in the Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-2 by Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway.
That gave him more than enough motivation to come back even stronger the next season and he did so with an evolved game at 32 years of age with a lethal fadeaway jumper.
Jordan and the Bulls started the 1995-96 season with a 41-3 record en route to a record-breaking 72 wins – with Jordan taking the MVP crown a fourth time.
In the NBA Finals, the Bulls knocked off the Seattle SuperSonics with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in six games. Game 6 took place on Father’s Day, which made his return to the summit that much more emotion for Jordan.
The Bulls defended their crown in 1997 by downing the Utah Jazz in six games, with Jordan leading the Bulls to the win in Game 5 in the famous “Flu Game”.
The Bulls decided to bring back the gang for one more run despite Chicago showing some age – Jordan at 34, Scottie Pippen and Steve Kerr 32, Ron Harper 34, Dennis Rodman even 36. But they knew how to win and they had Jordan.
Chicago’s opponents in the 1998 NBA Finals were once again the Utah Jazz and again there was a Game 6. The Bulls were down by three points with 42 seconds left when Jordan streaked in for a layup. He followed that by slapping the ball away from Karl Malone and when Jordan dribbled the ball up the court the whole world knew what would happen. Jordan faked a drive and gave Bryon Russell a slight nudge to get him off balance and then rose to hit a jumper – holding his hand. It was his last shot with the Bulls, his last title.
That may have been Jordan’s most famous shot. It meant more than all the others. Michael Jordan is basketball and everyone who got the chance to see him live – in the arena or on TV – know there will never be another one like him.
by FIVE Magazine #169 – Michael Jordan: Air – Text: André Voigt