Michael Jordan “His Airness”
It is rare that the player thought to be the greatest of all time in a particular sport is so widely agreed upon. Outside of hockey, where Wayne Gretzky reigns supreme, basketball’s greatest player ever, in a landslide opinion, is Micheal “His Airness” Jordan. The 6-time NBA champion, 6-time NBA Finals MVP, and 5-time NBA MVP, is largely credited with taking the popularity of the NBA to new heights in the 1980’s and 1990’s. His imprint was felt not only across all things NBA, but he quickly became a social icon as the face of the “Air Jordan” brand with Nike. Introduced in 1984, the “Air Jordan” sneaker line remains a hot commodity to this day.
Clearing the Air
Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 3rd overall pick in 1984. It didn’t take long for him to show the world that he was something special. He became an all star almost immediately as he appeared in his first of 14 All-Star Games in 1985. In 1987 and 1988, he won the league’s slam dunk contest during all star weekend, which solidified 2 of the most memorable nicknames in sports history. “His Airness” and “Air Jordan” were the result of him soaring through the air, leaving from the free throw line to finish eye-popping dunks that captured the hearts of basketball fans everywhere. His relationship with Nike and the “Air Jordan” brand began in 1984, though he credits his agent, David Falk, with coming up with the nicknames and the concept.
Success Matching Success
With the marketing side of his professional world already booming, Jordan and the Bulls started the climb to basketball success in the late 80’s. From 1987 to 1990, the Bulls were one of the best, but not the best. The era is known as the “Pistons roadblock.” The team from Detroit consistently held the Bulls in check by using their bruising, physical style. They even developed something called “The Jordan Rules,” which referred to how the Pistons defended him, physically beating him down anytime he dared enter the interior. In the 1990-91 season, MJ averaged 31.5 points per game and along with the help of rising star Scottie Pippen, finally overcame Detroit with a 4 game sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan’s Bulls defeated Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in 5 games. This was the first of 3 consecutive titles for “His Airness,” after which he retired from the game citing fatigue and a loss of desire. His heart was also heavy as his father, James Jordan, had been murdered that summer by carjackers in North Carolina.
In early 1994, Jordan shocked the sports world by launching a baseball career. He signed with the White Sox, a team owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, who also owned the Chicago Bulls. He played minor league ball at the double A level for the Birmingham Barons. He hit .202 with 3 home runs in the ’94 season.
Those 2 words made up the entire press release. After leaving baseball after the one year in the minors, Jordan announced his return to the NBA in March of 1995. He joined the Bulls for the stretch run of the 1994-1995 season, but with Jordan not at full basketball strength, they were defeated by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The following year, however, was a different story. With Jordan back in full form, the Bulls launched a 2nd 3-peat, setting him on an unmatched path to greatness with 6 NBA Finals MVP awards.
The Wizard of Washington
MJ retired again after his 6th title in early 1999. The league was in a lockout forced on the players by the owners, and the Bulls were going to look very different going forward. Head Coach Phil Jackson had been let go and Pippen was a free agent set to sign with Houston. Jordan walked away, but the absence would be short-lived again. In late September 2001, just two weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks, “His Airness” flew again, announcing a return to the league with the Washington Wizards. Jordan also announced he would donate his entire salary to relief efforts related to the attacks. He played 2 seasons with the Wizards, but did not make the playoffs in either of them.
A Nice 401k
A couple of years after his final retirement, Jordan purchased a minority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats. He would later become majority owner in 2010, a title he holds to this day. He became the first NBA player to become a billionaire in 2014. He has not been nearly as successful as an owner as he was as a player. His Charlotte team has struggled to make the playoffs during his regime, and they have never made it out of the first round.