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Michael Jordan is regarded by many as the greatest basketball player of all time. His extraordinary skills, fierce competitiveness, and unmatched achievements have left an indelible mark on the sport. From his early days in college to his iconic jump shot with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan revolutionized the game and captivated fans around the world. Beyond his basketball prowess, Jordan’s impact extends far beyond the court, as he has become a global brand and a cultural icon. In this essay, we will dive into the life, career, and lasting legacy of the legendary Michael Jordan.
Who Is Michael Jordan?
Michael Jordan is a former professional basketball player, American Olympic athlete, businessperson, and actor. Considered one of the best basketball players ever, he dominated the sport from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships and earned the league’s MVP Award five times. With five regular-season MVPs and three All-Star MVPs, Jordan became the most decorated player in the NBA.
FULL NAME: Michael Jeffrey Jordan
BORN: February 17, 1963
BIRTHPLACE: Brooklyn, New York
SPOUSES: Juanita Vanoy (1989–2006), Yvette Prieto (2013–present)
CHILDREN: Jeffrey, Marcus, Jasmine, Ysabel, and Victoria
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Aquarius
Early Life and Family
Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born on February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Deloris, was a bank teller who has since written several books. His father, James, was a maintenance worker turned manager at General Electric. Jordan, the fourth child of Deloris and James, has four siblings: James Jr. (known as Ronnie), Deloris, Larry, and Roslyn.
Growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina, Jordan developed a competitive edge at an early age. It was James who introduced his son Michael to baseball and built a basketball court in their backyard. Michael idolized his brother Larry, and the two would often play one-on-one into the night. Michael wanted to win every game he played.
Jordan attended Laney High School in Wilmington. He was notably assigned to the school’s junior varsity basketball team as a sophomore—he was still under 6 feet tall then—before developing into one of the country’s top recruits.
During a basketball camp in the summer of 1980, Jordan grabbed the attention of legendary University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill head coach Dean Smith and his staff. He signed his letter of intent with the school in 1981.
Jordan enrolled at North Carolina in 1981 and soon became an important member of the university’s basketball team. UNC won the NCAA Division I championship in 1982, with Jordan scoring the final basket needed to defeat Georgetown University. He was also singled out as the NCAA College Player of the Year in 1983 and in 1984.
Jordan left college after his junior year to join the NBA in 1984. In 1986, Jordan finished his bachelor’s degree in geography as he continued to play basketball professionally.
Professional Basketball Career
The 6-foot-6 Jordan began his professional basketball career when he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. He was the third overall pick, behind Hakeem Olajuwon, who was selected first by the Houston Rockets, and Sam Bowie, taken by the Portland Trail Blazers; the draft also featured legendary players John Stockton and Charles Barkley.
Jordan soon proved himself on the court. He helped the Bulls make the playoffs and scored an average of 28.2 points per game that season. For his efforts, Jordan received the NBA Rookie of the Year Award and was selected for the All-Star Game.
Although his second season was marred by injury, he broke new ground on the court during the 1986-87 season. He became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to score more than 3,000 points in a single season. By the late 1980s, the Chicago Bulls were quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with, and Jordan was an instrumental part of the team’s success.
The Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1990 and won their first NBA championship the following year by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers. Jordan was well known by then for his superior athleticism on the court and for his leadership abilities.
In 1992, the Chicago Bulls beat the Portland Trail Blazers to win their second NBA championship. The team took their third championship the following year, dominating in the basketball world.
Following the 1993 death of his father and a short stint in minor league baseball, Jordan returned to the basketball court and the Bulls in March 1995. He came back even stronger the following year, averaging 30.4 points per game to lead the Bulls to a then-record 72 regular-season wins before they defeated the Seattle SuperSonics for the NBA championship.
Chicago nearly matched the previous year’s record with 69 wins in 1996-97, a season that ended with a Game 6 win over the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. The two teams faced each other again for the championship in 1998, with Jordan sinking the winning shot in Game 6 to claim his sixth and final title. In addition to those six rings, Jordan won each of his five league MVP awards with Chicago.
After his second retirement from basketball in 1999, Jordan joined the Washington Wizards in 2000 as a part owner and as president of basketball operations. In the fall of 2001, Jordan relinquished these roles to return to the court once more. He played for the Wizards for his final two NBA seasons.
Jordan’s Jersey Numbers
Jordan is most famous for donning No. 23 during the majority of his career. He once said the number was a reference to brother Larry, as it was roughly half of his elder sibling’s high school number 45.
Jordan did wear 45 upon his 1995 return to the NBA because 23 was the number his late father knew him by, and he wanted a new beginning. That lasted only a couple months before Jordan switched back to 23 during the 1995 playoffs.
Jordan famously wore No. 12 for one game on February 14, 1990, because his jersey had been stolen. The Bulls didn’t have a backup and tried to locate a 23 jersey in the stands that would fit Jordan but couldn’t. The temporary change didn’t affect his performance, as Jordan scored 49 points in a loss to the Orlando Magic.
During the summer of 1984, Jordan made his first appearance at the Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. The team of college amateurs won the gold at the games that year, which were held in Los Angeles.
Jordan later helped the American team bring home the gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games, held in Barcelona, Spain. The U.S. squad featured professional players for the first time that year, including Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Jordan, and became known as the “Dream Team.”
Awards and Honors
In 1988, Jordan received his first MVP Award from the NBA, an honor he would earn four more times, in 1991, 1992, 1996, and 1998.
In April 2009, Jordan received one of basketball’s greatest honors: He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Attending the induction ceremony was a bittersweet affair for Jordan because being at the event meant “your basketball career is completely over,” he explained.
In 2016, Jordan was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Here is a rundown of Jordan’s NBA career averages and totals, according to Basketball Reference:
- Minutes: 38.3
- Field Goal Percentage: 0.497
- 3-Point Field Goal Percentage: 0.327
- Free Throw Percentage: 0.835
- Offensive Rebounds Per Game: 1.6
- Defensive Rebounds Per Game: 4.7
- Assists Per Game: 5.3
- Steals Per Game: 2.3
- Blocks Per Game: 0.8
- Turnovers Per Game: 2.7
- Personal Fouls Per Game: 2.6
- Points Per Game: 30.1
- Games: 1,072
- Games Started: 1,039
- Minutes: 41,011
- Field Goals Made: 12,192 of 24,537 attempts
- 3-Point Field Goals Made: 581 of 1,778 attempts
- Free Throws Made: 7,327 of 8,772 attempts
- Offensive Rebounds: 1,668
- Defensive Rebounds: 5,004
- Total Rebounds: 6,672
- Assists: 5,633
- Steals: 2,514
- Blocks: 893
- Turnovers: 2,924
- Personal Fouls: 2,783
- Points: 32,292
Retirements from Basketball
Jordan retired from the sport three times over the span of his 19-year professional career. He first stepped away on October 6, 1993, at age 30 to pursue a career in baseball following the death of his father. In July of that year, James was murdered when two teenagers shot him in his car in an apparent robbery as he was driving from Charlotte to Wilmington, North Carolina. He was missing for 23 days until his body was found in a swamp in McColl, South Carolina. The teens were later tried and convicted of the crime and received life sentences for first-degree murder.
Jordan retired from the Bulls again on January 13, 1999, at age 35 before eventually returning to the court with the Wizards. He finally hung up his jersey for good at age 40 on April 16, 2003.
In a move that shocked many, after the end of the 1992-93 basketball season, Jordan announced his retirement from basketball to pursue baseball. For one year in 1994, Jordan played for the Birmingham Barons, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, as an outfielder.
This decision came shortly following the murder of Jordan’s father, who always wanted him to play baseball. He had last played baseball as a high school senior in 1981.
“You tell me I can’t do something, and I’m going to do it,” Jordan said.
During his short career in baseball, which many fans considered a whim, Jordan had a rather dismal .202 batting average. However, many of the people who worked with him at the time said he was an extremely dedicated player with potential.
“He had it all: ability, aptitude, work ethic. He was always so respectful of what we were doing and considerate of his teammates. Granted, he had a lot to learn,” former Barons manager Terry Francona said. “I do think with another 1,000 at-bats, he would’ve made it. But there’s something else that people miss about that season. Baseball wasn’t the only thing he picked up. I truly believe that he rediscovered himself, his joy for competition. We made him want to play basketball again.”
After his season with the Barons, Jordan went to the Arizona Fall League to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions. After hitting .252 and naming himself the team’s “worst player,” he returned to the NBA in March 1995 with a two-word press release: “I’m back.”
Jordan’s Business Ventures
Outside of his career in basketball, Jordan has been involved in a number of profitable business and commercial ventures, including a longtime partnership with Nike. Jordan signed his first deal with Nike in 1984. The company launched its signature Air Jordan basketball sneakers in 1985. In its initial contract, Nike gave Jordan a generous 25 percent in royalties.
The Air Jordan quickly proved very popular, and it continues to be a best-seller for the apparel maker more than 30 years later. The collaboration mints money for Nike and Jordan, with Nike reporting nearly $2.9 billion in revenue for the Air Jordan line in 2018.
The story of Jordan’s partnership with Nike is the subject of the 2023 biographical drama Air, which stars Ben Affleck as Nike founder Phil Knight and Matt Damon as marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro.
Over the years, Jordan has signed a number of other endorsement deals with brands like Hanes, Upper Deck, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet, and Wheaties. The Gatorade partnership featured a memorable ad campaign encouraging kids and adults to “Be Like Mike.”
In 1998, Jordan launched into the restaurant business as the owner of Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C. Designed to reflect Jordan’s tastes and style, this typical steakhouse seated 150 and 60 at the bar, occupying 7,000 square feet in Grand Central Terminal, before closing in late 2018.
As of April 2023, there are four Michael Jordan’s Steak House locations: in Chicago; in Oak Brook, Illinois; at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut; and at the Ilani Casino in Ridgefield, Washington.
Part Owner of the Charlotte Hornets
In 2006, Jordan bought a share of the Charlotte Hornets (formerly known as the Bobcats) and joined the team’s executive ranks as its managing member of basketball operations. In 2010, he became the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets and serves as the team’s chairman.
Improving the team’s less-than-stellar record seemed to be Jordan’s priority. In November 2012, he told ESPN: “I don’t anticipate getting out of this business. My competitive nature is I want to succeed. It’s always been said that when I can’t find a way to do anything, I will find a way to do it.” While the Hornets’ on-court record wasn’t hugely successful—they failed to make the playoffs six straight seasons from 2016 through 2022—the organization has grown from a $175 million valuation in 2006 to $1.7 billion as of October 2022.
In March 2023, ESPN reported that Jordan was in talks to sell his majority stake in the franchise to a group led by two NBA minority owners. If completed, Jordan is expected to maintain a minority stake in the team.
Jordan’s NASCAR Team
In 2020, Jordan partnered with NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin to form the 23XI Racing team. The name is a reference to Jordan’s basketball number and Hamlin’s No. 11 race car.
Jordan is a longtime NASCAR fan and grew up watching legends of the sport like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Dale Earnhardt. Hamlin is a Jordan brand athlete and fan of the Charlotte Hornets, so the two were friends before the NASCAR partnership.
The team debuted in the 2001 Daytona 500 with Bubba Wallace driving the No. 23 car. Wallace picked up the team’s first NASCAR Cup victory later that season on October 4 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
The team expanded to two cars for the 2022 season, with former champion Kurt Busch driving the No. 45 car. Busch and Wallace each won a race at Kansas Speedway that year. Tyler Reddick replaced Busch in the 45 for the 2023 season and quickly gave the team a fourth race win at Circuit of the Americas.
Forbes listed Jordan’s net worth at $2 billion as of April 3, 2023. According to Sportico, he is the highest paid athlete of all time.
From 2001 through 2014, Jordan hosted an annual charity golf event known as the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational, with proceeds benefiting foundations including Make-A-Wish, Cats Care, the James R. Jordan Foundation, Keep Memory Alive, and Opportunity Village.
The four-day tournament and celebration attracted celebrity participants, including Wayne Gretzky, Michael Phelps, Chevy Chase, Samuel L. Jackson, and Mark Wahlberg.
In 2023, Jordan made a $10 million donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation—the largest by an individual in its history—in honor of his 60th birthday.
Wives and Children
In 1989, Jordan married Juanita Vanoy. The couple had three children together: Jeffrey, Marcus, and Jasmine. After 17 years of marriage, they divorced in December 2006.
On April 27, 2013, Jordan married 35-year-old Cuban American model Yvette Prieto in Palm Beach, Florida. Tiger Woods, Spike Lee, and Patrick Ewing, among other celebrities, reportedly attended the wedding ceremony. The couple welcomed twin daughters, Victoria and Ysabel, in February 2014.
Jordan and Juanita’s two sons, Jeffrey and Marcus, both played basketball in college and had dreams of making it to the NBA.
Jeffrey joined the basketball team at the University of Illinois in 2007. Both Jordan and his ex-wife, Juanita, supported their son and tried to help him deal with playing in the shadow of an NBA legend. “The thing that we have tried to tell Jeff is that you set your own expectations. By no means in this world can you ever live up to someone else’s expectations of who you are,” Jordan said during an appearance on the Today show.
Jeffrey played for the University of Illinois for three seasons, from 2007 to 2010. He then played for the University of South Florida for one season, from 2011 to 2012, before retiring from basketball. He later entered a management training program at Nike.
Jordan’s younger son, Marcus, played basketball for the UCF Knights, for three seasons from 2009 to 2012. He went on to open a basketball shoe and apparel store in Florida. “They wanted to be like their dad. What boy doesn’t? But they both got to a point where they said, ‘We’re not going to the NBA,’” Juanita said in 2013.
Michael Jordan in Pop Culture
Jordan made a big splash as the lead actor in the 1996 movie Space Jam. The film mixed live action and animation and paired Jordan with Looney Tunes legends Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck on screen. Jordan did not appear in the 2021 sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy, which features LeBron James.
Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls were the subject of the 2020 documentary The Last Dance, co-produced by Netflix and ESPN Films. ESPN aired the 10-part series after the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2019-20 NBA season, and it became a must-watch for basketball fans. Along with featuring archival footage of Jordan and interviews with teammates and opponents, The Last Dance explored the tension between the Bulls front office and its peerless superstar over his final triumphant year with the team.
Jordan has also appeared on the cover of the popular NBA 2K video game franchise four times, including as recently as 2022.
A photograph of Jordan in tears during his 2009 induction into the Hall of Fame turned into a popular internet meme called “Crying Jordan,” in which Jordan’s teary face is superimposed on pictures of other people suffering mishaps.
- You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.
- By no means in this world can you ever live up someone else’s expectations of who you are.
- My competitive nature is I want to succeed. It’s always been said that when I can’t find a way to do anything, I will find a way to do it.
- I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career. I just feel that I don’t have anything else to prove.
- I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
- Limits, like fear, is often an illusion.
- [A]t the end of the day, the team’s got to go out and play. I think the players win the championship, and the organization has something to do with it, don’t get me wrong. But don’t try to put the organization above the players.
- The game of basketball has been everything to me. My place of refuge, place I’ve always gone where I needed comfort and peace. It’s been the site of intense pain and the most intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. It’s a relationship that has evolved over time, given me the greatest respect and love for the game.
- I try to be a role model for Black kids, white kids, yellow kids, green kids.
- Enjoy every minute of life. Never second-guess life.
- I always thought I would be a professional athlete. I always loved sports. I knew one thing I didn’t want was a job. Me and working were never best friends. I enjoyed playing.
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In conclusion, Michael Jordan’s impact on the game of basketball and popular culture is undeniable. His skill, athleticism, and competitive drive propelled him to achieve numerous accolades and cement his status as one of the greatest players of all time. Beyond his on-court accomplishments, Jordan’s influence extended to the global stage through his brand and business ventures, making him an iconic figure not only in sports but in the realms of fashion and commercial endorsements as well. His indomitable will, unmatched basketball prowess, and unparalleled success have left an everlasting legacy that will continue to inspire future generations of athletes. Michael Jordan will forever be remembered as a sports legend who revolutionized the game of basketball and left an indelible mark on history.
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