The Short Version
Many people think Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever. He led the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association (NBA) championships. He earned the nickname “Air Jordan” because he often seemed to defy gravity on leaps toward the basket. Fans adored his smiling face and his determination to succeed. During his playing career, Michael Jordan became the most famous athlete in the world.
Michael Jordan was born on February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York. His family later moved to Wilmington, North Carolina.
Young Michael’s best sport was baseball. He didn’t make his high school basketball team as a sophomore. Later, he played well enough to be noticed by Coach Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Jordan won a scholarship to UNC.
As a freshman at UNC, Jordan scored the winning basket in the 1982 national college tournament championship game. He played two more seasons at UNC. He also played for the United States team in the 1984 Olympic Games.
In 1984, Jordan entered the NBA player draft. He was chosen by the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan was a star from his first season with the Bulls. He was a scoring machine. The Bulls were not one of the NBA’s better teams, but they gradually improved. They made the NBA playoffs in their first five seasons with Jordan. However, they failed to make the NBA championship finals.
In 1989, Phil Jackson became the Bulls’ head coach. Under Jackson, Jordan became more of a team player, although he remained the NBA’s leading scorer. Jordan developed an incredible “court sense.” He knew where every player was on the basketball court, and what was the best play for the circumstances. In the 1990-1991 season, the Bulls won their first of three straight NBA championships.
In 1993, Jordan retired from basketball. He tried to make it in professional baseball, but he had little success. He rejoined the Bulls in 1995. In the 1995-1996 season, the Bulls started another run of three straight championships.
Jordan retired for a second time in 1998. He became part owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards. The Wizards were not a good team. Jordan grew frustrated watching them lose. So in 2001, he came out of retirement again and played two seasons with the Wizards.
Jordan retired for good in 2003. He was third on the all-time NBA scoring list, with 32,292 points. He had the highest scoring average in league history: he scored an average of 30.1 points per game during his career. He led the NBA in scoring a record ten times. He won five NBA most valuable player awards. In addition, Jordan created millions of new fans for professional basketball around the world.
The Long Version
Michael Jordan, born in 1963, is an American professional basketball player, considered by many to be the greatest player in basketball history. The 6 ft 6 in (198 cm) shooting guard first became known as an explosive individual scorer, but as he matured as a player, he adopted a more team-oriented approach to the game. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association (NBA) championships (1991-1993, 1996-1998). His widespread appeal to fans helped make basketball one of the world’s most popular spectator sports.
Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York, the fourth of five children born to James and Deloris Jordan. The family moved from Brooklyn to Wilmington, North Carolina, when Michael was still a young child. Long before his basketball skills emerged, young Michael liked to play baseball with his father. As a teenager, Jordan became well known in North Carolina for his baseball skills, and he was named most valuable player (MVP) of the Babe Ruth League after his team won the state championship.
Jordan attended Wilmington’s Laney High School, where at first, he failed to make the varsity basketball team. Instead, Laney’s basketball coach, Clifton ‘Pop’ Herring, decided that Jordan could improve his skills with more playing time on the junior varsity team. As a sophomore on the junior varsity, Jordan, then 5 ft 11 in (180 cm) tall, averaged 25 points per game.
The following summer Jordan worked diligently on his own and at basketball camps to improve his game. During this early period in his career, Jordan’s brother Larry contributed much to his development as a player. Although Larry was only 5 ft 7 in (170 cm) tall, he regularly beat Michael in one-on-one games and taught Michael about the importance of competition. By the time high school started the next fall, Jordan had grown to 6 ft 3 in (191 cm) and was confident he would make the varsity squad.
As a high school junior Jordan did make the Laney varsity and was a valuable member of the squad. He then attended the nationally renowned Five-Star Basketball Camp during the summer before his senior season. There, Jordan met legendary University of North Carolina (UNC) coach Dean Smith, who began recruiting Jordan for college. In November 1980 Jordan signed a letter of intent to attend UNC. As a high school senior Jordan led Laney to 19 wins.
At UNC in 1981-82, Jordan earned a spot as a Tar Heel starter, only the fourth freshman ever to do so under Smith. Jordan spent most of his freshman season in a supporting role, as the UNC offense revolved around forwards James Worthy and Sam Perkins, both of whom went on to star in the NBA. During the 1982 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship game against Georgetown University, however, Jordan earned fame by making a last-second jump shot to seal a 63-62 Tar Heels victory and the national title.
Jordan played two more seasons with the Tar Heels before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft. Before the start of his professional career, Jordan played on the United States national team at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California. He served as captain of the talented amateur squad, which also featured Perkins and other future NBA standouts such as center Patrick Ewing and guard Chris Mullin. Jordan’s 17.1 points per game led the team, which captured the gold medal.
MICHAEL AND THE BULLS
The Chicago Bulls selected Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft as the third overall pick. Only the Houston Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Sam Bowie were chosen before him. Jordan’s presence on the Bulls immediately resurrected interest in the Chicago franchise, which had struggled in the early 1980s. During his rookie year, Jordan led the team in points (28.2), rebounds (6.5), assists (5.9), and steals (2.4) per game. His performance earned him the rookie of the year award, a spot on the All-Star team, and a place on the all-rookie team, but Chicago lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The pattern of spectacular individual performances but disappointing playoff losses was repeated over Jordan’s next five seasons. He astounded fans and players alike with his play, but the Bulls were stymied in the playoffs, particularly by the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons. One problem was that Jordan sometimes played at a level so above his teammates that the Bulls failed to function as a team.
Jordan was hampered by a foot injury during his second NBA season, 1985-86, and missed all but 18 games. Once healthy enough to take the floor, he returned to record one of his most amazing scoring performances. During a first-round playoff series against the Celtics, Jordan averaged 43.7 points per game. During game two Jordan set the record for the most points scored in a playoff game, amassing 63 points in a double-overtime loss. The Bulls, however, were swept by the Celtics.
The following season, Jordan continued his scoring feats, recording 50 or more points during 8 separate games of the 82-game season. He ended the season with 3,041 points and a 37.1 points per game average—becoming only the second player after Wilt Chamberlain to score more than 3,000 points in a single season. The totals also earned Jordan the first of seven consecutive scoring titles.
Jordan’s status as an NBA superstar was cemented when he won the slam-dunk contest during the 1988 All-Star Game. His leap from the free-throw line for a dunk elevated his popularity beyond the expectations of the league. Jordan also boosted the popularity of the Nike shoe company and other sponsors with his sincere, plainspoken endorsements. Jordan’s appeal as a basketball player and spokesperson was especially strong among children and teenagers. Jordan’s Nike basketball shoes and jerseys and T-shirts with his number (23) became popular. Many advertisements focused on Jordan’s determination to succeed and encouraged kids to “be like Mike.”
Jordan finished the 1988 season as the NBA leader in scoring (35.0) and was named the league’s MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year. In the playoffs the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time but lost to the Pistons.
Before the start of the 1989-90 season, Bulls assistant coach Phil Jackson was promoted to the head coaching position. Jackson introduced the so-called triangle offense, which allowed Jordan to use his incredible offensive talents while also involving his teammates—primarily center Bill Cartwright, forwards Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, and guards B. J. Armstrong and John Paxson. The triangle offense focused on passing and balancing the players across the floor. Because there were few set plays, the strategy permitted individuals to create their own plays when the situation allowed. This meant that the Bulls could still benefit from Jordan’s playmaking skills, but at the same time the system encouraged his teammates to play aggressively as well. During the season Jordan won his fourth scoring title (33.6). In the playoffs the Bulls pushed the Pistons to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals before losing again.
As he grew older, Jordan made a concerted effort to help his teammates reach their own potential. The result of his renewed commitment to team-oriented play was the Bulls’ first NBA championship title. After the 1990-91 season the Bulls swept the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and then defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Jordan won the league MVP award for the second time and was named MVP of the championship series. Two more NBA titles (and two championship series MVP awards for Jordan) followed in 1992 and 1993. Jordan was named league MVP again in 1992.
In 1992 professional players were allowed to compete in Olympic basketball, and Jordan starred on the U.S. national team, known as the Dream Team, that dominated the Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. He teamed with Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and other top-level players from the NBA to win the gold medal.
FIRST RETIREMENT AND RETURN
On the eve of the 1993-94 season, Jordan shocked the sports world by announcing his retirement from basketball, stating that he had lost his desire to play the sport. Many speculated that the death of his father, who had been murdered in the summer of 1993, contributed to his decision. After three consecutive NBA titles with the Bulls, Jordan himself cited a lifelong dream to play baseball for his abrupt career change.
In 1994 Jordan signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox organization. He then spent the season with the Birmingham Barons of the Class AA Southern League—two levels below the major leagues. He played in the outfield and batted .202 with 3 home runs, 51 runs batted in, and 30 stolen bases. Later that year he batted .252 with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The Bulls, meanwhile, faltered without Jordan. They won 55 games in the 1993-94 season but saw their run of three straight championships end with a loss to the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
In 1995 Jordan was scheduled to advance to the Triple-A level with the Nashville Sounds of the American Association, with a chance to move up to the major leagues in September. But when major league players went on strike that spring, Jordan decided to quit baseball rather than serve as a replacement player for the White Sox.
Jordan ended his retirement from professional basketball by rejoining the Bulls with 17 games left in the 1994-95 season. The abrupt decision meant that Jordan had little time to prepare for the rigors of postseason play, and the Bulls lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In 1995-96, Jordan returned to his preretirement form. He again wore uniform number 23, which had been retired in 1994, and he led his team to an NBA record 72-10 win-loss record during the regular season. Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Toni Kukoc led a squad that some considered the best in NBA history, and the Bulls went on to win their fourth championship in six years. Jordan was again named regular-season and championship series MVP, becoming the first player ever to win the championship series honor four times.
Jordan continued to dominate the league during the next two seasons. Chicago finished the 1996-97 regular season with a 69-13 record, paced by Jordan’s league-leading 29.6 points per game. In the playoffs they won a hard-fought NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, and Jordan received his fifth NBA Finals MVP award.
In 1997-98 Jordan topped the league in scoring (28.7 points per game) for the tenth time, leading the Bulls to a 62-20 regular-season mark. He also earned his fifth regular season MVP award. Jordan then led the Bulls past the New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference playoffs before meeting the Jazz again in the NBA Finals. Chicago defeated Utah, 4 games to 2, and Jordan scored the last basket of the series, a jump shot with 5.2 seconds left in the sixth game that gave the Bulls an 87-86 victory and their sixth NBA championship. His exploits earned him his sixth NBA Finals MVP award.
SECOND RETIREMENT AND RETURN
Following the NBA championship Jackson left the Bulls to pursue other interests and Jordan hinted at a second retirement, stating that he did not want to play for a coach other than Jackson. On January 13, 1999, before the start of the lockout-shortened 1999 season, Jordan once again announced his retirement from professional basketball.
During the 1999-2000 season, Jordan returned to basketball again when he became part-owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. His new position gave him authority over all basketball-related aspects of the franchise. But the Wizards suffered through several miserable seasons and unsuccessful coaches, and Jordan grew frustrated watching the team lose. In September 2001 he announced his second comeback as a player, giving up his ownership stake, according to league rules, and signing a two-year contract with the Wizards.
During his first season back, Jordan showed flashes of his former brilliance, scoring 51 points in one game. He averaged almost 23 points a game in 2001-02, spurring his team to a newly competitive level. By midseason, however, his knees hurt, and Jordan decided to have surgery in February 2002. He went on injured reserve for the remainder of the season and the Wizards slumped, falling short of the playoffs. During the 2002-03 season Jordan played in every game and averaged 20 points per contest, passing Wilt Chamberlain for third place on the NBA all-time scoring list (32,292 points). The Wizards missed the playoffs again, however, and Jordan retired for the third time at the end of the season. He did so with the highest scoring average (30.1 points per game) in NBA history, as well as the record for most times leading the league in scoring (10).
When Jordan joined the NBA in 1984, basketball’s popularity was already on the rise, thanks to two great stars of the 1980s—Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. But observers believe that Jordan was the driving force that kept basketball’s appeal fresh after Johnson and Bird retired in the early 1990s. The Bulls’ domination of the NBA under Jordan’s leadership captured the imagination of many people, and his athletic skills, charisma, and competitive drive created new basketball fans as few other players have.
Jordan’s popularity has spread well beyond scoring titles, championships, and other aspects of the NBA. He has become one of the most-recognized individuals in the world. Jordan has been especially influential in the sportswear industry, starting with Nike’s introduction of the famous line of Air Jordan basketball shoes in 1984. The partnership between Jordan and Nike became so successful that, before the 1997-98 season, Nike created a separate business unit known as the JORDAN brand to market footwear and apparel that Jordan himself helped design.