- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
Every so often, someone comes around that transcends everything we know about sports. These athletes revolutionize the sport and break barriers that once seemed impossible. They are the reason casual fans become diehard fans. It’s because of them stadiums sell out and advertisers pay millions of dollars for them to endorse their products.
Perhaps this has never been more true than when Michael Jordan burst onto the NBA scene in the mid 80’s. The NBA was in the middle of a transition period with two other notable superstars. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird carried the rivalry they started in college to the NBA. Together they would lead the Celtics and Lakers to eight NBA titles collectively. The NBA was growing in popularity thanks in part to the rivalry created by these two.
While they were winning championships, a young kid from North Carolina was taking the league by storm. Michael Jordan was the talk of the NBA. This tongue wagging, high-flying Tar Heel was the player every kid wanted to be. Its all the fans could talk about. News reporters showed Jordan’s dunks on a consistent basis. Playgrounds were full of kids trying to fly like number 23.
Perhaps to understand the career of Michael Jordan, you need to understand his beginning. Jordan spent hours every day after school playing his older brother in the back yard. Michael would consistently lose to his brother and decided to make it his mission to beat him in basketball. The reason Jordan wore number 23 was because his brother wore number 45. Michael hoped to be half as good as his brother so he chose number 23, since 22 and a half isn’t available.
The combination of constantly losing to his brother and being cut from the varsity basketball team drove him to become the best he could be. The competitive fire would propel him to a scholarship at North Carolina. Playing for coach Dean Smith, the Tar Heels made it to the championship game in 1982. With 16 seconds left to go in the game and North Carolina trailing to Georgetown by one point, Jordan found himself open from 16 feet out. With no reservation, he took the shot and watched as the ball swished through the net. The Tar Heels would win the NCAA championship. That shot would be a sign of things to come for Jordan. Jordan would play two more years for North Carolina before going to the NBA.
In 1984, the Chicago Bulls drafted Jordan third overall behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie. Before beginning his NBA career, Jordan represented the USA men’s basketball team in the Olympics. Jordan would help team USA win the gold medal in front of the hometown fans as the games were played in Los Angeles.
Jordan would go to the NBA and dazzle fans with his acrobatic moves and spectacular plays. In his first year, he was named Rookie of the year and was named to the All NBA Second Team. He led the Bulls to the playoffs in his rookie year. Fans in Chicago were excited about basketball.
Perhaps what set Jordan apart, though, from everyone else was his ability to take control of a game when it mattered the most. If the Bulls were trailing in the final seconds of the game, everyone knew who was getting the ball. Even though everyone knew he was getting it, people still had a hard time stopping him. Jordan had 25 game winning shots in his career. * Cleveland fans still cringe when they hear his name. In the 1989 playoffs, Jordan hit “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer as the Bulls sent the higher seeded Cavaliers home. In 1993, Jordan did it to Cleveland again in the playoffs. This time, he hit a shot over Gerald Wilkins to win game 4 of Eastern Conference Semifinals. Perhaps, the most famous game winning shot, though, was Jordan’s final shot for the Bulls. On June 14, 1998 and the Bulls needing one game to win the Championship, Jordan hit a shot over Bryon Russell with 5.2 seconds left. The shot gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth championship in eight years.
It was in 1991 that Jordan finally reached the pinnacle of the NBA. The Bulls faced Magic Johnson and the Lakers for the right to be called champion. After the Lakers won the first game, the Bulls would win the next four and claim the title. Jordan had finally silenced the critics. Up until then, he was known as a great player but could he ever win the big game. On this night, he proved he could. Jordan and the Bulls would go on to win the next two titles against Portland and Phoenix respectively.
Jordan was on top of the world, however his world came crashing down a month later. Jordan’s dad was murdered as he slept in his car at a roadside park. Jordan often talked about how close he and his father were. The infamous tongue wag came from watching his father work when he was a kid. Jordan decided to retire from basketball. For the next two years Jordan pursued a career in baseball. Joining the minor league team for the White Sox, he would play for the Birmingham Barons.
In March of 1995, Jordan did what everyone wanted: he announced his comeback to the NBA. Jordan’s comeback came with two words, “I’m back”. That’s all he needed to say to send the sports world into a frenzy. Excitement filled the atmosphere. Jordan and the Bulls would make an early exit in the playoffs but the next season, Jordan would show he was truly was back. The Bulls would go on to set an NBA record and win 72 games during the regular season, and would win the NBA championship against the Seattle Supersonics. What made this championship extra special for Michael was the fact that the game was won on Father’s Day. An emotional Jordan could be seen on the floor hugging the basketball after the game was over. The next two seasons the Bulls would beat the Utah Jazz for the championship.
Besides winning six championships, Jordan was named Finals MVP for all six championships, and league MVP five times. He was on the All Star team 14 times and won the All Star MVP three times. He was scoring champion 10 times and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1988.
Besides all the accomplishments on the court, Jordan was just as famous for his off the court accomplishments. Whether he was promoting Nike shoes with Bugs Bunny, or playing Larry Bird in a game of HORSE for a Big Mac sandwich, Jordan could be seen on commercials everywhere. Michael Jordan revolutionized the game of basketball on a global level. When Jordan travelled to Barcelona in 1992 as part of the Dream Team, people knew who he was. Gatorade put out a song that said, “I want to be like Mike”. Kids all over America were wearing Jordan shoes.
People all over wanted to see what he would do next. I was just as guilty as everyone else. I wanted to be like Mike. I would play basketball with my tongue hanging out, and every time I hit a shot I felt like I was number 23. I wanted to hit the game winning shot for the high school team. Jordan changed the way kids played basketball.
I wonder where the game of basketball would be today without Jordan and his influence. The impact he had globally on the game of basketball paved the way for people like Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming to enter the NBA. Would Lebron James have the same impact if it hadn’t been for Jordan? Did he come into the league at the perfect time? Could he have been the same player and had the same impact if he came into the league a decade earlier? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions but I can tell you this, I’m glad he came into the league when he did. My dad is the reason why I like sports, but Michael Jordan is the reason I fell in love with them. So, this sports writer wants to say Happy Birthday to the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball. Happy 50th Jordan.
P.S. The Mavericks could really use some help if you feel up to the challenge.
*According to Houston Mitchell of the Los Angeles Times