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Happy Birthday, Michael Jordan, Basketball Icon

February 17, 2011
by findingDulcinea Staff
Michael Jordan was perhaps the most dominant player in NBA history, leading the Chicago Bulls to three straight NBA titles two different times. Electrifying on the court and polished off it, Jordan’s image was marketed to a global audience and he retired as one of the most recognized figures in the world.

Michael Jordan’s Early Days

Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born Feb. 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up playing baseball and basketball in Wilmington, N.C.  In his sophomore year of high school, Jordan was cut from the varsity basketball team. His disappointment drove him to become a better player; “Jordan made himself into a megastar,” writes ESPN’s Larry Schwartz. “His burning desire to win, his utter refusal to quit, his desire to carry his team to the mountaintop made him a legend in his time.”

He attended the University of North Carolina and ended his freshman year by hitting the game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA championship game. He remained at UNC for two more years before entering the NBA draft, where he was drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls. In the summer, he played on the U.S. Olympic team and won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Jordan’s NBA Career

In 1984, Jordan “burst into the league as a rookie sensation scoring in droves with an unmatchable first step and acrobatic drives and dunks,” says his biography on NBA.com. He was one of the NBA’s most exciting players during the ’80s, lifting the Bulls from the NBA’s dregs to a yearly playoff team.

He also defined the fashion of the NBA. His sneakers, Nike’s “Air Jordan,” became one of the most popular shoes of all-time. His baggy shorts—worn to cover up the North Carolina shorts he wore underneath—were soon copied by other players. Even his shaved head was emulated.

In 1991, Jordan led the Bulls to their first NBA championship in franchise history, ushering in an era ruled by Jordan and the Bulls. “Jordan so dominated the basketball world that, for the second half of a pro career … there was no debate about the game's supreme player,” writes Art Thiel for NBA.com. “Jordan stood alone, so far ahead of his peers that individual rivalry ceased.”

Jordan’s Bull won three straight NBA titles, with Jordan winning Finals MVP each year. He also led the U.S. Olympic team, the original “Dream Team,” to a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics. But before the 1993-4 season and a few months after his father was murdered, Jordan decided to retire. Just 30 years old and still the NBA’s best player, he said that “the desire just isn’t there.” He decided to try playing baseball, but appeared overmatched during a season in the minors.

Jordan returned to basketball late in the 1995 season, but looked rusty in a second round playoff loss. He regained his form the following year, though, leading the Bulls to the best record in NBA history (72-10) and another NBA championship, the first of three straight between 1996-8. In his final Bulls game with less than six seconds to play, he hit a game-winning jump shot that clinched his sixth NBA title. He retired for a second time before the following season.

During his career, Jordan not only dominated his sport in a way that few, if any, athletes had done before; he also became a global icon, inspiring millions people in all corners of the world to “Be Like Mike.” Jordan had “become the First Celebrity of the World, positively ubiquitous,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford.

The Rest of the Story

In 2000, Jordan became part-owner of the Washington Wizards; a year later, he joined the team as a player. Though he remained an all-star player, the aging Jordan was unable to lead the team to the playoffs in either of his two seasons. In 2003, after he was fired as team president, Jordan retired again.

Jordan was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. He used his induction speech to mock many of his opponents—and even former coaches and a general manager—who had crossed him during his career.

It wasn’t a speech so much as it was an entertaining rant,” described The Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon, and revealed “what fueled his ruthless passion for basketball, for competition in general, and for, well, stomping all over other world-class opponents.”

In retirement, Jordan continues to market his image through Nike’s Jordan brand and in various commercials. He is active in several business ventures and is part-owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.

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