Previously Known For: Chicago Bulls Shooting Guard
|Currently Known For: Greatest Basketball Player of All Time and Owner of the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Marlins|
“I have to stay away from basketball because of the excitement. I wouldn’t say it’s an addiction, but a passion. When you have a passion, you want to do it as much as possible. Addiction means you can’t help yourself. I have a strong passion for the game of basketball.” Although baseball was the first to capture his attention as the fourth of five children growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina in the 1960s, it was basketball that truly set Michael Jeffrey Jordan apart from his siblings, his classmates, his teammates and, eventually, the world. Long before he ever graced the hardwoods of the NBA or endorsed products like Nike Air Jordans, Jordan, who was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 17, 1963, was a star athlete at his North Carolina high school where his love of baseball was soon overshadowed by his talent on the basketball court.
Showing great promise on the baseball diamond and the football field, Jordan couldn’t deny his abilities on the hardwoods as he spent his freshman year practicing twice as hard as his classmates with the hopes of making the varsity team as a sophomore. Told he was far too short to play at 5’11” tall, Jordan channeled his father’s work ethic and became the star of the junior varsity team at Emsley A. Laney High School before he earned a spot on the varsity roster. “I was taught by my parents and by the way they approached their daily activities,” Jordan said of his work ethic. “It wasn’t half-assed. So, I practiced like I played. So, when I played, playing was fun. Practice is work. You’re working on the idiosyncrasies of what your game needs, so when the game comes, you showcase it and you utilize it. You build your game on it. Practice wasn’t just a place to take time off. You work on things in practice. On shooting, on going left or on using your left hand—those types of things that help you get better.”
His hard work paid off as a senior when he joined the McDonald’s All-American Team and was later recruited by Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Syracuse and Duke. Wanting to stay close to home, he accepted a scholarship to North Carolina and put on his Tar Heels jersey where Coach Dean Smith named him Freshman of the Year after an incredible 53.4% shooting average and a winning shot at the NCAA Championship game. Going on to play with the NCC All-American First Team, Jordan’s talent was far beyond the college level, which is why Smith encouraged him to consider a future with the NBA.
“Coach Smith taught me a lot about the game, not just about the athleticism required to play it,” Jordan said of his coach. “It was Coach Smith’s call and I relied so much on his knowledge. The NBA was an area where I wasn’t too knowledgeable. My parents weren’t knowledgeable about it either, and it was a great opportunity. Coach Smith felt that it would be the best opportunity for me to make it in professional basketball. Once he researched the situation to find out where I would go in the draft, then I started weighing the pros and cons.” By then, the decision was easy with Jordan entering the 1984 NBA Draft where he was selected in the first round by the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan made a huge impact during his rookie year with the Bulls and averaged 28.2 points per game, not to mention the six games where he scored over 40 points! Appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and later named “Rookie of the Year,” he played alongside veterans in the NBA All-Star Game and built his reputation as “Air Jordan” thanks to his impressive slam dunk that helped the Bulls win NBA Championship titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Soon enough, Nike offered the young star an endorsement deal and a chance to design his own line of athletic shoes.
“I never wore a Nike shoe until I signed with Nike. I wore Converse in college and I was a big Adidas fan,” Jordan admitted. “Then Nike came to me about creating my own show. They wanted to put my name on my shoe and let me have input into the design… I’d never heard of that before. It was a great pitch. It gave me an opportunity to learn more about the shoe industry, and they gave me an opportunity to create. I sat down with the designers and I talked to them about my personality and things that I like and things I feel people may like. We put all those thoughts into a brand, into the Jordan brand and into the shoe…”
With the brand still going strong today, it’s a reflection of Jordan’s personal strength throughout his career especially after announcing his retirement in 1993 following his father’s murder during a robbery. The following year, he ventured into baseball and signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox but his performance was lacking, which left many to wonder if “His Airness” had lost the talent that set him apart. For Jordan, it was exactly the opposite. “Everybody said it was a failed opportunity to play baseball,” he said. “For me, it was the best thing to happen because it allowed me to go back to the game of basketball with a stronger passion.”
Returning to basketball in 1995 with his famous “I’m Back” announcement, Jordan had undeniably rekindled his passion and took the Bulls to incredible victories in 1996, 1997 and 1998 while being lauded as the “greatest NBA player of all time.” Then, in 1999, he announced his retirement and purchased a share in the Washington Wizards before returning to the hardwoods with the Wizards in 2001. Two years later, he officially retired with 14 NBA All-Star Games, 10 All-NBA First Team honors and six NBA Finals MVP Awards under his belt, not to mention dozens of other honors.
Today, the 54-year-old still shies away from calling himself the greatest basketball player of all time but he certainly enjoys the perks of his career as the third richest African American in the world—only behind Oprah Winfrey and Robert F. Smith—and the first billionaire in the NBA. Of course, part of that fortune comes from his many endorsement deals, his clothing line, and various investments including his ownership in the Charlotte Bobcats and the Miami Marlins MLB teams. And, while “Air Jordan” may not like to be called the greatest, his NBA player profile says it best: “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time.”