Michael Jordan might be the best player who ever lived. His career scoring average is the highest in the history of the NBA. He won one collegiate championship, two Olympic gold medals, and six NBA titles. He captured 10 NBA scoring crowns, the most ever. He had more moves in his offensive repertoire than anybody else.
Without a doubt, he was the most popular player of all time, surpassing all others in endorsement income and public adulation. McDonald's named a sandwich -- the McJordan burger -- after him. His native state of North Carolina dedicated a seven-mile stretch of I-40 to him. He's appeared on countless magazine covers and hosted Saturday Night Live.
Jordan's game was characterized by high-flying, tongue-wagging dunks. He took the concept of "hang-time" and expanded on it exponentially. Yet he was far from one-dimensional. For a guard, he was a terrific rebounder and shot-blocker. He led the league in steals three times and was named to the All-Defensive first team nine times. He was practically the perfect basketball player.
Born February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York, Jordan was raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, where his father, James, worked for General Electric Company and his mother, Deloris, worked at a bank. Michael excelled in sports.
In basketball, he blossomed late, failing as a sophomore to make the varsity team at Laney High School. Feeling snubbed, Jordan intensified his basketball workouts and pushed into the starting lineup as a junior. The next year, he received a scholarship from the University of North Carolina.
He averaged 13.5 points as a freshman and hit the game-winning shot against Georgetown in the NCAA championship game.
Satisfied that he had achieved his goals, Jordan left school a year early to try his luck in the NBA draft. The Houston Rockets, picking first, selected Hakeem Olajuwon. The Portland Trail Blazers followed with Sam Bowie. The Chicago Bulls got Michael.
Jordan joined a Bulls team rife with has-beens and never-weres, and soon the Bulls were known as "Michael and the Jordanaires." Jordan averaged 28.2 points and won the Rookie of the Year Award. Early in his second season, Jordan suffered a broken foot, costing him 64 games.
He returned in time for the playoffs and was sensational. In Game 1 of a best-of-five series against Boston, he had 49 points. In Game 2, he scored a playoff-record 63 points in a 135-131 double-overtime loss. The Celtics, however, went on to sweep the series.
During the 1986-1987 season, Jordan averaged 37.1 points while becoming the first player in 24 years to crack the 3,000-point barrier. He joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to score 50 or more points in three consecutive games.
The next season, he won the first of his four Most Valuable Player Awards, and he became the first player in NBA history to win the scoring title (35.0 PPG) and be named Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.
Jordan was so good that the Detroit Pistons, Chicago's bitter rivals, designed 13 defensive sets -- "The Jordan Rules" -- to deal with him. Detroit bounced the Bulls from the playoffs in 1988, 1989, and 1990, holding Jordan in check each time. He won the scoring crown in 1989 and 1990 and, during a stretch of games at point guard in the spring of 1989, had triple-doubles in seven consecutive games.
Jordan was particularly effective against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He averaged 45.2 points against them in the 1988 playoffs, a record for a five-game series. In 1989, his buzzer-beater in Game 5 eliminated the Cavs from the postseason. And on March 20, 1990, he scored a career-high 69 points against Cleveland.
In the early 1990s, the Bulls surrounded Jordan with outstanding players such as Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, players Jordan dubbed his "supporting cast," and finally won a championship. Two more quickly followed.
The Bulls vanquished the Los Angeles Lakers in 1991, Portland in 1992, and Phoenix in 1993 -- the first "three-peat" since the Boston Celtics won eight titles in a row from 1959-1966. Against the Lakers, Jordan averaged 31.2 points, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.8 steals.
Against the Blazers, he had 35 points and six 3-pointers in the first half of Game 1. Against the Suns, he averaged 41.0 points, the highest mark in NBA Finals history. Jordan appeared to be at the peak of his powers, yet on October 6, 1993, saying he no longer had the motivation to compete at his customary level, he announced his retirement. He reached his decision after a tragic summer during which his father was murdered in North Carolina.
But while plotting his retirement, Jordan busily prepared for a new career in professional baseball. He went to spring training with the Chicago White Sox in 1994, then was sent to Birmingham, Alabama of the Double-A Southern League, where he batted .202 with three home runs and 30 stolen bases.
However, after a major-league players strike extended into 1995 spring training and Jordan was forced to cross picket lines to continue his career, he decided to walk away from baseball.
On March 18, 1995, he released a two-word statement -- "I'm back" -- and rejoined the Bulls. Ten days later, he scored 55 points in a nationally televised game at Madison Square Garden in New York. Missing, though, was Jordan's usual sharpness. His mistakes mounted and he had a dismal playoff performance, with the Bulls being eliminated by Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Jordan promised better things for the 1995-1996 season, and he responded mightily. He won his record eighth scoring title (30.4); led the Bulls to a league-record 72 wins and another NBA title; and was MVP of the regular season, the All-Star Game, and the NBA Finals. Two more titles would follow in 1996-1997 and 1997-1998, before Jordan retired from the NBA for a second time.
Amazingly, Jordan would attempt a third comeback at age 38, joining the Washington Wizards both on and off the floor (as a team executive) for the 2001-2002 season. While many derided him for yet another comeback, he was a productive player, averaging more than 20 PPG in two seasons and retiring for the final time at 40; his 31.5 PPG career scoring average still tops in history.
Jordan remains close to the NBA. His Washington experience ended in failure, with Wizards owner Abe Pollin essentially firing Jordan as general manager. His Airness made a failed run at purchasing the Milwaukee Bucks soon thereafter, and currently is a minority owner and general manager of the Charlotte Bobcats.