Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born February 17, 1963), also known by his initials, MJ, is an American former professional basketball player. He played 15 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. His biography on the official NBA website states: “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.” Jordan was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and was considered instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s. He is currently the principal owner and chairman of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
Jordan played three seasons for coach Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina. As a freshman, he was a member of the Tar Heels’ national championship team in 1982. Jordan joined the Bulls in 1984 as the third overall draft pick. He quickly emerged as a league star and entertained crowds with his prolific scoring. His leaping ability, demonstrated by performing slam dunks from the free throw line in Slam Dunk Contests, earned him the nicknames Air Jordan and His Airness. He also gained a reputation for being one of the best defensive players in basketball. In 1991, he won his first NBA championship with the Bulls, and followed that achievement with titles in 1992 and 1993, securing a “three-peat”. Although Jordan abruptly retired from basketball before the beginning of the 1993–94 NBA season, and started a new career in Minor League Baseball, he returned to the Bulls in March 1995 and led them to three additional championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998, as well as a then-record 72 regular-season wins in the 1995–96 NBA season. Jordan retired for a second time in January 1999, but returned for two more NBA seasons from 2001 to 2003 as a member of the Wizards.
Jordan’s individual accolades and accomplishments include six NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards, ten scoring titles (both all-time records), five MVP Awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections, three All-Star Game MVP Awards, three steals titles, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA records for highest career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press’ list of athletes of the century. Jordan is a two-time inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, having been enshrined in 2009 for his individual career, and again in 2010 as part of the group induction of the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team (“The Dream Team”). He became a member of the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2015.
Jordan is also known for his product endorsements. He fueled the success of Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers, which were introduced in 1984 and remain popular today. Jordan also starred as himself in the 1996 film Space Jam. In 2006, he became part-owner and head of basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats; he bought a controlling interest in 2010. In 2014, Jordan became the first billionaire player in NBA history. He is the third-richest African-American, behind Robert F. Smith and Oprah Winfrey.
Michael Jordan Professional career
Early NBA years (1984–1987)
During his rookie season with the Bulls, Jordan averaged 28.2 ppg on 51.5% shooting. He quickly became a fan favorite even in opposing arenas, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the heading “A Star Is Born” just over a month into his professional career. The fans also voted in Jordan as an All-Star starter during his rookie season. Controversy arose before the All-Star game when word surfaced that several veteran players—led by Isiah Thomas—were upset by the amount of attention Jordan was receiving. This led to a so-called “freeze-out” on Jordan, where players refused to pass the ball to him throughout the game. The controversy left Jordan relatively unaffected when he returned to regular season play, and he would go on to be voted Rookie of the Year. The Bulls finished the season 38–44 and lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in four games in the first round of the playoffs.
Jordan’s second season was cut short when he broke his foot in the third game of the year, causing him to miss 64 games. Despite Jordan’s injury and a 30–52 record (at the time it was fifth worst record of any team to qualify for the playoffs in NBA history), the Bulls made the playoffs. Jordan recovered in time to participate in the playoffs and performed well upon his return. Against a 1985–86 Boston Celtics team that is often considered one of the greatest in NBA history, Jordan set the still-unbroken record for points in a playoff game with 63 in Game 2. The Celtics, however, managed to sweep the series.
Jordan had completely recovered in time for the 1986–87 season, and he had one of the most prolific scoring seasons in NBA history. He became the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season, averaging a league high 37.1 points on 48.2% shooting. In addition, Jordan demonstrated his defensive prowess, as he became the first player in NBA history to record 200 steals and 100 blocked shots in a season. Despite Jordan’s success, Magic Johnson won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. The Bulls reached 40 wins, and advanced to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. However, they were again swept by the Celtics.
Pistons roadblock (1987–1990)
Jordan (center) in 1987
Jordan again led the league in scoring during the 1987–88 season, averaging 35.0 ppg on 53.5% shooting and won his first league MVP Award. He was also named the Defensive Player of the Year, as he had averaged 1.6 blocks and a league high 3.16 steals per game. The Bulls finished 50–32, and made it out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in Jordan’s career, as they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games. However, the Bulls then lost in five games to the more experienced Detroit Pistons, who were led by Isiah Thomas and a group of physical players known as the “Bad Boys”.
In the 1988–89 season, Jordan again led the league in scoring, averaging 32.5 ppg on 53.8% shooting from the field, along with 8 rpg and 8 assists per game (apg). The Bulls finished with a 47–35 record, and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, defeating the Cavaliers and New York Knicks along the way. The Cavaliers series included a career highlight for Jordan when he hit The Shot over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer in the fifth and final game of the series. However, the Pistons again defeated the Bulls, this time in six games, by utilizing their “Jordan Rules” method of guarding Jordan, which consisted of double and triple teaming him every time he touched the ball.
The Bulls entered the 1989–90 season as a team on the rise, with their core group of Jordan and young improving players like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, and under the guidance of new coach Phil Jackson. Jordan averaged a league leading 33.6 ppg on 52.6% shooting, to go with 6.9 rpg and 6.3 apg in leading the Bulls to a 55–27 record. They again advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after beating the Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. However, despite pushing the series to seven games, the Bulls lost to the Pistons for the third consecutive season.
First three-peat (1991–1993)
In the 1990–91 season, Jordan won his second MVP award after averaging 31.5 ppg on 53.9% shooting, 6.0 rpg, and 5.5 apg for the regular season. The Bulls finished in first place in their division for the first time in 16 years and set a franchise record with 61 wins in the regular season. With Scottie Pippen developing into an All-Star, the Bulls had elevated their play. The Bulls defeated the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers in the opening two rounds of the playoffs. They advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where their rival, the Detroit Pistons, awaited them. However, this time the Bulls beat the Pistons in a four-game sweep.
The Bulls advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history to face the Los Angeles Lakers, who had Magic Johnson and James Worthy, two formidable opponents. The Bulls won the series four games to one, and compiled a 15–2 playoff record along the way. Perhaps the best known moment of the series came in Game 2 when, attempting a dunk, Jordan avoided a potential Sam Perkins block by switching the ball from his right hand to his left in mid-air to lay the shot into the basket. In his first Finals appearance, Jordan posted per game averages of 31.2 points on 56% shooting from the field, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks. Jordan won his first NBA Finals MVP award, and he cried while holding the NBA Finals trophy.
Jordan and the Bulls continued their dominance in the 1991–92 season, establishing a 67–15 record, topping their franchise record from 1990–91. Jordan won his second consecutive MVP award with averages of 30.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game on 52% shooting. After winning a physical 7-game series over the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs and finishing off the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals in 6 games, the Bulls met Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers in the Finals. The media, hoping to recreate a Magic–Bird rivalry, highlighted the similarities between “Air” Jordan and Clyde “The Glide” during the pre-Finals hype. In the first game, Jordan scored a Finals-record 35 points in the first half, including a record-setting six three-point field goals. After the sixth three-pointer, he jogged down the court shrugging as he looked courtside. Marv Albert, who broadcast the game, later stated that it was as if Jordan was saying, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” The Bulls went on to win Game 1, and defeat the Blazers in six games. Jordan was named Finals MVP for the second year in a row and finished the series averaging 35.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 6.5 apg, while shooting 53% from the floor.
In the 1992–93 season, despite a 32.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 5.5 apg campaign and a second-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting, Jordan’s streak of consecutive MVP seasons ended as he lost the award to his friend Charles Barkley. Coincidentally, Jordan and the Bulls met Barkley and his Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals. The Bulls won their third NBA championship on a game-winning shot by John Paxson and a last-second block by Horace Grant, but Jordan was once again Chicago’s leader. He averaged a Finals-record 41.0 ppg during the six-game series, and became the first player in NBA history to win three straight Finals MVP awards. He scored more than 30 points in every game of the series, including 40 or more points in 4 consecutive games. With his third Finals triumph, Jordan capped off a seven-year run where he attained seven scoring titles and three championships, but there were signs that Jordan was tiring of his massive celebrity and all of the non-basketball hassles in his life.
During the Bulls’ playoff run in 1993, controversy arose when Jordan was seen gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the night before a game against the New York Knicks. In that same year, he admitted that he had to cover $57,000 in gambling losses, and author Richard Esquinas wrote a book claiming he had won $1.25 million from Jordan on the golf course. In 2005, Jordan talked to Ed Bradley of the CBS evening show 60 Minutes about his gambling and admitted that he made some reckless decisions. Jordan stated, “Yeah, I’ve gotten myself into situations where I would not walk away and I’ve pushed the envelope. Is that compulsive? Yeah, it depends on how you look at it. If you’re willing to jeopardize your livelihood and your family, then yeah.” When Bradley asked him if his gambling ever got to the level where it jeopardized his livelihood or family, Jordan replied, “No.”
First retirement and stint in Minor League Baseball (1993–1994)
Birmingham Barons – No. 45, 35
Batted: Right Threw: Right
Southern League: April 8, 1994, for the Birmingham Barons
Arizona Fall League: 1994, for the Scottsdale Scorpions
Last Southern League appearance
March 10, 1995, for the Birmingham Barons
Southern League statistics
Batting average .202
Home runs 3
Runs batted in 51
Arizona Fall League statistics
Batting average .252
Birmingham Barons (1994–1995)
Scottsdale Scorpions (1994)
Jordan in training with the Scottsdale Scorpions
On October 6, 1993, Jordan announced his retirement, citing a loss of desire to play the game. Jordan later stated that the death of his father three months earlier also shaped his decision. Jordan’s father was murdered on July 23, 1993, at a highway rest area in Lumberton, North Carolina, by two teenagers, Daniel Green and Larry Martin Demery, who carjacked his luxury Lexus bearing the license plate “UNC 0023”. His body was dumped in a South Carolina swamp and was not discovered until August 3. The assailants were traced from calls that they made on James Jordan’s cell phone. The two criminals were caught, convicted at trial, and sentenced to life in prison. Jordan was close to his father; as a child he had imitated his father’s proclivity to stick out his tongue while absorbed in work. He later adopted it as his own signature, displaying it each time he drove to the basket. In 1996, he founded a Chicago area Boys & Girls Club and dedicated it to his father.
In his 1998 autobiography For the Love of the Game, Jordan wrote that he had been preparing for retirement as early as the summer of 1992. The added exhaustion due to the Dream Team run in the 1992 Olympics solidified Jordan’s feelings about the game and his ever-growing celebrity status. Jordan’s announcement sent shock waves throughout the NBA and appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
Jordan then further surprised the sports world by signing a Minor League Baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox on February 7, 1994. He reported to spring training in Sarasota, Florida, and was assigned to the team’s minor league system on March 31, 1994. Jordan has stated this decision was made to pursue the dream of his late father, who had always envisioned his son as a Major League Baseball player. The White Sox were another team owned by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who continued to honor Jordan’s basketball contract during the years he played baseball.
In 1994, Jordan played for the Birmingham Barons, a Double-A minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, batting .202 with three home runs, 51 runs batted in, 30 stolen bases, 114 strikeouts, 51 base on balls, and 11 errors. He also appeared for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the 1994 Arizona Fall League, batting .252 against the top prospects in baseball. On November 1, 1994, his number 23 was retired by the Bulls in a ceremony that included the erection of a permanent sculpture known as The Spirit outside the new United Center.
“I’m back”: Return to the NBA (1995)
In the 1993–94 season, the Bulls achieved a 55–27 record without Jordan in the lineup, and lost to the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs. The 1994–95 Bulls were a shell of the championship team of just two years earlier. Struggling at mid-season to ensure a spot in the playoffs, Chicago was 31–31 at one point in mid-March. The team received help, however, when Jordan decided to return to the Bulls.
In March 1995, Jordan decided to quit baseball due to the ongoing Major League Baseball strike, as he wanted to avoid becoming a potential replacement player. On March 18, 1995, Jordan announced his return to the NBA through a two-word press release: “I’m back.” The next day, Jordan took to the court with the Bulls to face the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, scoring 19 points. The game had the highest Nielsen rating of a regular season NBA game since 1975. Although he could have opted to wear his normal number in spite of the Bulls having retired it, Jordan instead wore number 45, as he had while playing baseball.
Although he had not played an NBA game in a year and a half, Jordan played well upon his return, making a game-winning jump shot against Atlanta in his fourth game back. He then scored 55 points in the next game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 1995. Boosted by Jordan’s comeback, the Bulls went 13–4 to make the playoffs and advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Orlando Magic. At the end of Game 1, Orlando’s Nick Anderson stripped Jordan from behind, leading to the game-winning basket for the Magic; he would later comment that Jordan “didn’t look like the old Michael Jordan” and that “No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to.”
Jordan responded by scoring 38 points in the next game, which Chicago won. Before the game, Jordan decided that he would immediately resume wearing his former number, 23. The Bulls were fined $25,000 for failing to report the impromptu number change to the NBA. Jordan was fined an additional $5,000 for opting to wear white sneakers when the rest of the Bulls wore black. He averaged 31 points per game in the series, but Orlando won the series in 6 games.
Second three-peat (1995–1998)
Jordan was freshly motivated by the playoff defeat, and he trained aggressively for the 1995–96 season. The Bulls were strengthened by the addition of rebound specialist Dennis Rodman, and the team dominated the league, starting the season at 41–3. The Bulls eventually finished with the then-best regular season record in NBA history, 72–10; this record was later surpassed by the 2015–16 Golden State Warriors. Jordan led the league in scoring with 30.4 ppg and won the league’s regular season and All-Star Game MVP awards.
In the playoffs, the Bulls lost only three games in four series (Miami Heat 3–0, New York Knicks 4–1, Orlando Magic 4–0). They defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 4–2 in the NBA Finals to win their fourth championship. Jordan was named Finals MVP for a record fourth time, surpassing Magic Johnson’s three Finals MVP awards. He also achieved only the second sweep of the MVP Awards in the All-Star Game, regular season and NBA Finals, Willis Reed having achieved the first, during the 1969–70 season. Because this was Jordan’s first championship since his father’s murder, and it was won on Father’s Day, Jordan reacted very emotionally upon winning the title, including a memorable scene of him crying on the locker room floor with the game ball.
In the 1996–97 season, the Bulls started out 69–11, but missed out on a second consecutive 70-win season by losing their final two games to finish 69–13. However, this year Jordan was beaten for the NBA MVP Award by Karl Malone. The Bulls again advanced to the Finals, where they faced Malone and the Utah Jazz. The series against the Jazz featured two of the more memorable clutch moments of Jordan’s career. He won Game 1 for the Bulls with a buzzer-beating jump shot. In Game 5, with the series tied at 2, Jordan played despite being feverish and dehydrated from a stomach virus. In what is known as the “Flu Game”, Jordan scored 38 points, including the game-deciding 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining. The Bulls won 90–88 and went on to win the series in six games. For the fifth time in as many Finals appearances, Jordan received the Finals MVP award. During the 1997 NBA All-Star Game, Jordan posted the first triple double in All-Star Game history in a victorious effort; however, he did not receive the MVP award.
Jordan with coach Phil Jackson, 1997
Jordan and the Bulls compiled a 62–20 record in the 1997–98 season. Jordan led the league with 28.7 points per game, securing his fifth regular-season MVP award, plus honors for All-NBA First Team, First Defensive Team and the All-Star Game MVP. The Bulls won the Eastern Conference Championship for a third straight season, including surviving a seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals; it was the first time Jordan had played in a Game 7 since the 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals with the Knicks. After winning, they moved on for a rematch with the Jazz in the Finals.
The Bulls returned to the Delta Center for Game 6 on June 14, 1998, leading the series 3–2. Jordan executed a series of plays, considered to be one of the greatest clutch performances in NBA Finals history. With the Bulls trailing 86–83 with 41.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Phil Jackson called a timeout. When play resumed, Jordan received the inbound pass, drove to the basket, and hit a shot over several Jazz defenders, cutting the Utah lead to 86–85. The Jazz brought the ball upcourt and passed the ball to forward Karl Malone, who was set up in the low post and was being guarded by Rodman. Malone jostled with Rodman and caught the pass, but Jordan cut behind him and took the ball out of his hands for a steal. Jordan then dribbled down the court and paused, eyeing his defender, Jazz guard Bryon Russell. With 10 seconds remaining, Jordan started to dribble right, then crossed over to his left, possibly pushing off Russell, although the officials did not call a foul. With 5.2 seconds left, Jordan gave Chicago an 87–86 lead with a game-winning jumper, the climactic shot of his Bulls career. Afterwards, John Stockton missed a game-winning three-pointer. Jordan and the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship and second three-peat. Once again, Jordan was voted the Finals MVP, having led all scorers averaging 33.5 points per game, including 45 in the deciding Game 6. Jordan’s six Finals MVPs is a record; Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Tim Duncan are tied for second place with three apiece. The 1998 Finals holds the highest television rating of any Finals series in history. Game 6 also holds the highest television rating of any game in NBA history.
Second retirement (1999–2001)
Plaque at the United Center that chronicles Jordan’s career achievements.
With Phil Jackson’s contract expiring, the pending departures of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman looming, and being in the latter stages of an owner-induced lockout of NBA players, Jordan retired for the second time on January 13, 1999. On January 19, 2000, Jordan returned to the NBA not as a player, but as part owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. Jordan’s responsibilities with the Wizards were comprehensive. He controlled all aspects of the Wizards’ basketball operations, and had the final say in all personnel matters. Opinions of Jordan as a basketball executive were mixed. He managed to purge the team of several highly paid, unpopular players (such as forward Juwan Howard and point guard Rod Strickland), but used the first pick in the 2001 NBA draft to select high schooler Kwame Brown, who did not live up to expectations and was traded away after four seasons.
Despite his January 1999 claim that he was “99.9% certain” that he would never play another NBA game, in the summer of 2001 Jordan expressed interest in making another comeback, this time with his new team. Inspired by the NHL comeback of his friend Mario Lemieux the previous winter, Jordan spent much of the spring and summer of 2001 in training, holding several invitation-only camps for NBA players in Chicago. In addition, Jordan hired his old Chicago Bulls head coach, Doug Collins, as Washington’s coach for the upcoming season, a decision that many saw as foreshadowing another Jordan return.
Washington Wizards comeback (2001–2003)
Jordan as a member of the Washington Wizards, April 14, 2003
On September 25, 2001, Jordan announced his return to the NBA to play for the Washington Wizards, indicating his intention to donate his salary as a player to a relief effort for the victims of the September 11 attacks. In an injury-plagued 2001–02 season, he led the team in scoring (22.9 ppg), assists (5.2 apg), and steals (1.42 spg). However, torn cartilage in his right knee ended Jordan’s season after only 60 games, the fewest he had played in a regular season since playing 17 games after returning from his first retirement during the 1994–95 season. Jordan started 53 of his 60 games for the season, averaging 24.3 points, 5.4 assists, and 6.0 rebounds, and shooting 41.9% from the field in his 53 starts. His last seven appearances were in a reserve role, in which he averaged just over 20 minutes per game.
Playing in his 14th and final NBA All-Star Game in 2003, Jordan passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leading scorer in All-Star Game history (a record since broken by Kobe Bryant). That year, Jordan was the only Washington player to play in all 82 games, starting in 67 of them. He averaged 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He also shot 45% from the field, and 82% from the free throw line. Even though he turned 40 during the season, he scored 20 or more points 42 times, 30 or more points nine times, and 40 or more points three times. On February 21, 2003, Jordan became the first 40-year-old to tally 43 points in an NBA game. During his stint with the Wizards, all of Jordan’s home games at the MCI Center were sold out, and the Wizards were the second most-watched team in the NBA, averaging 20,172 fans a game at home and 19,311 on the road. However, neither of Jordan’s final two seasons resulted in a playoff appearance for the Wizards, and Jordan was often unsatisfied with the play of those around him. At several points he openly criticized his teammates to the media, citing their lack of focus and intensity, notably that of the number one draft pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Kwame Brown.
With the recognition that 2002–03 would be Jordan’s final season, tributes were paid to him throughout the NBA. In his final game at the United Center in Chicago, which was his old home court, Jordan received a four-minute standing ovation. The Miami Heat retired the number 23 jersey on April 11, 2003, even though Jordan never played for the team. At the 2003 All-Star Game, Jordan was offered a starting spot from Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson, but refused both. In the end, he accepted the spot of Vince Carter, who decided to give it up under great public pressure.
Jordan played in his final NBA game on April 16, 2003, in Philadelphia. After scoring only 13 points in the game, Jordan went to the bench with 4 minutes and 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter and his team trailing the Philadelphia 76ers, 75–56. Just after the start of the fourth quarter, the First Union Center crowd began chanting “We want Mike!” After much encouragement from coach Doug Collins, Jordan finally rose from the bench and re-entered the game, replacing Larry Hughes with 2:35 remaining. At 1:45, Jordan was intentionally fouled by the 76ers’ Eric Snow, and stepped to the line to make both free throws. After the second foul shot, the 76ers in-bounded the ball to rookie John Salmons, who in turn was intentionally fouled by Bobby Simmons one second later, stopping time so that Jordan could return to the bench. Jordan received a three-minute standing ovation from his teammates, his opponents, the officials, and the crowd of 21,257 fans.