Jordan, Michael Jeffrey

I INTRODUCTION  Jordan, Michael Jeffrey (1963- ), American professional basketball player, considered by many to be the greatest player in basketball history. The 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 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 has helped keep 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. As a teenager, Jordan became well known in North Carolina for his baseball skills, and he was named the 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 (1.8 m) 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 (1.7 m) tall, he regularly beat Michael in one-on-one games and taught Michael about the importance of competition.

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 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.

At UNC in 1981-82, Jordan earned a spot as a starter on the Tar Heels. He was only the fourth freshman ever to do so under coach 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 national fame by making a last-second jump shot from the baseline, sealing a 63-62 Tar Heels victory and the national championship.

Jordan played two more seasons with the Tar Heels and then turned professional after he won the Naismith and Wooden awards as the best college basketball player in his junior season. Before the start of his professional career, Jordan played on the United States national team at the 1984 Olympic Games (see African Americans and the Olympics) in Los Angeles, California. He served as captain of the gold-medal-winning amateur squad, which also featured Perkins and other future NBA standouts such as center Patrick Ewing and guard Chris Mullin.

The Chicago Bulls selected Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft as the third overall pick, behind the Houston Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Sam Bowie. 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 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. Articles of clothing such as 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. In the playoffs the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time, but lost to Isiah Thomas and 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. 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, but in the end the Pistons won 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 for the first time, 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 Pippen, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and other top-level players from the NBA to win the gold medal.

VI 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, as well as the press attention from his well-publicized gambling troubles, contributed to his decision. After three consecutive NBA titles with the Bulls, however, 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. The following season Jordan again topped the league in scoring (28.7 points per game), 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.

VII SECOND RETIREMENT AND LEGACY  Following the resolution of a labor dispute that cancelled nearly half of the 1998-99 NBA season, Jordan announced his second retirement from professional basketball in January 1999, saying that he had accomplished everything he had wanted to in the game. In the flood of tributes and reminiscences that followed, his financial statistics were recounted nearly as often as his basketball ones, particularly Fortune magazine’s estimation that his economic impact over his career—as a basketball player, as a product endorser, as a movie star (in Space Jam [1996])—had reached $10 billion. That number continued to grow after his retirement, but his basketball totals stopped at these historic numbers: six NBA titles, six NBA Final MVPs, five NBA regular season MVPs, a record 10 scoring titles, nine NBA All-Defensive Team honors, 29,277 regular season points scored (3rd all-time), 2,306 steals (3rd all-time), and a 31.5 scoring average (1st all-time).

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. 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 (see Sports and African Americans). He 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. From his sportswear to his cologne to his movies and books, Michael Jordan has become one of the most valuable brand names in the world economy, and a symbol of his age much as the equally world-famous African American athlete Muhammad Ali had been of his a quarter century before.

During the 1999-2000 season Jordan returned to basketball when he was named president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. His new position gave him authority over all basketball-related positions in the franchise.