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NBA 75 Series: #1 Michael Jordan

At last, we have reached #1 on my highly revered NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time List, and at #1 is a man who jumped from the free throw line, defying gravity as he mesmerized the crowd and millions globally around the world with his aerial exploits as he stuck his tongue out, led the Chicago Bulls to their six and only championship rings in franchise history, defined an era of sports and pop culture, and is arguably the most influential and greatest athlete who made flying in the air as cool and stylish like no one ever before or since with the best selling shoe of all time, Michael Jeffrey Jordan!

Jordan was born on February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, NY to his mother Deloris, and father James. In 1968 he moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he ended up spending his adolescent years attending Emsley A. Laney High School. Growing up Jordan had famous legendary battles in the backyard with his older brother Larry, whom he idolized and a spectacular athlete in his own right helped get Jordan into the game of basketball. Larry and Jordan would have many one-on-one battles with Larry coming up on top for many years, taunting him and letting him know all about it (something Jordan did to opponents all his career) until Jordan ultimately got good enough to beat him.

That older brother love and toughness exponentially helped form Jordan’s competitive fervor and game that has become synonymous with his legend. For someone who is considered by most to be the greatest player of all time (GOAT), you would think he was some prodigy and phenom as a player coming through the ranks… think again.

Jordan was anything but that, in fact, he tried out for the varsity basketball team as a 5-foot-10 sophomore and was cut from the team because he was deemed too short to play at that level. Talk about adding more motivation to a man who had fuel like a cigarette lighter dropped on gasoline! Jordan wanted to quit at first, but his mother encouraged him to keep playing and work as hard as he could.

He did just that, dominating the junior varsity level to prove his worth by tallying some 40-point games and showing he can be the star of a team. That summer heading into his junior year, Jordan worked tirelessly on his game and ended up growing four inches that summer to now be listed at 6-foot-3.

Jordan’s relentless work ethic that summer helped him come his junior season as he made the varsity team and averaged more than 25 points per game (ppg) over his final two seasons as a Laney Buccaneer, averaging 27 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists per game as a senior. His impressive two years on varsity helped him garner a selection to the 1981 McDonald’s All-American Game, a game in which Jordan put his stamp on the game by scoring 30 points.

As Jordan started to garner more national attention, he started getting recruited by big-time colleges such as Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia to name a few. Jordan ended up staying home by committing to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels under legendary head coach and life teacher Dean Smith.

Under the vision of Smith, Jordan’s game developed massively as he learned discipline and the fundamentals of the game early on from the legendary Tar Heel coach that would be beneficial for him throughout the duration of his career. While with the Tar Heels Jordan didn’t put up eye-popping stats as you would assume from someone that eventually became the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) in most people’s eyes and arguably the greatest most influential athlete ever.

The Tar Heels played in a system that was very team-oriented that included NBA legend James Worthy, and former NBA player Sam Perkins who was picked right after Jordan in the famed 1984 NBA Draft. In Jordan’s freshman season, he averaged 13.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game on 53% from the field, garnering ACC Freshman of the Year honors in the process.

Jordan was considered “Mike Jordan”, but once the Tar Heels made it to the NCAA title game in 1982 against the Georgetown Hoyas where he would go against legendary Hall of Fame coach John Thompson and future NBA rival Patrick Ewing, where everyone would learn the name.

Jordan, the scrawny freshman would hit arguably the biggest most clutch shot in NCAA history against the Hoyas in the 1982 National Championship game that helped uplift the Tar Heels over the Hoyas with a game-winning jumper with 17 seconds left in the game to give the Tar Heels a 63-62 win to and the National Championship.

As you see in his jumper he had supreme confidence in the elevation of his shot, the extreme focus, and beautiful form and follow through to swish it right through the net. He was waving his hand for the ball in a highly pressurized moment, an 18-year-old freshman on a team with All-Americans in Worthy who became the No.1 pick that year, and other older players such as Perkins. They trusted the young skinny freshman from Wilmington, North Carolina… And he delivered.

I mean, just look at this incredible inspirational, bone-chilling scene in the movie “AIR” (which I suggest you all go see an incredible movie) where Matt Damon played Sonny Vaccaro (former Nike executive) where he grabbed the Jordan family and Jordan to get him to sign with Nike. Vaccaro saw the vision and the future in Jordan and he displayed that with that shot against Georgetown which changed Jordan’s life forever, hence why Nike gave him the full $250,000 offer they had to him solely instead of splitting it between four players which they were initially going to do.

Jordan would go on to be selected as an All-American in back-to-back seasons his sophomore and junior seasons, as well as winning the National Player of the Year in 1984 to cap off a remarkable collegiate career for the gravity-defying star.

The highly acclaimed guard would forgo his senior year as a Tar Heel to enter his name for the legendary 1984 NBA Draft, a draft that featured future Hall of Famers and contemporaries of Jordan in Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton. The Houston Rockets had the 1st overall pick in that class and selected Olajuwon who’d go on to become one of the absolute greatest players of all time and all-time shot-blocking leader, revolutionizing the big man position.

Then came the controversy, the Portland Trail Blazers had the 2nd overall pick in that class and already had a young high-flying shooting guard in Clyde Drexler who played the same position as Jordan they drafted a year earlier. Portland needed a big and looked at Kentucky big man Sam Bowie who they ultimately ended up selecting. Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight even said to the Blazers GM Stu Inman, who was wary of selecting another guard “Play him [Jordan] at center, and he will be the best center in the league.”

If Inman would’ve listened to his advice that would’ve changed the whole course of NBA and sports history, but instead, the Chicago Bulls made the biggest/greatest selection not just in their franchise’s history, but in Chicago sports history and arguably sports history by selection the scrawny turbo-athletic shooting guard out of North Carolina.

Jordan was so special that Nike even paid $5,000 in fines per game for the league with the way his first shoe color design (black and red) violated league policy at the time because shoes had to be 51% white and in accordance with what the rest of the team was wearing.

Jordan proved to be worth all the stress and every single penny, his debut came with a lot of fanfare with the Chicago crowd screaming and cheering in his first-ever NBA game where he scored 16 points, but it just wasn’t 16 points, it was the way he scored them.

Whether it was his first career points that came off a turnaround spin move that resulted in a beautiful double clutch off the glass shot, or when he stole the ball took it the length of the court on two defenders, and soared in the air hanging for what felt like forever to kiss it beautifully in with his right hand. It was a taste of what was to come for many years for Bulls fans, the NBA, and sports.

Jordan went on to have one of the most spectacular rookie seasons in NBA history by putting up gaudy statistical numbers of 28.2 points per game on 51% from the field, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals, and a shade under a block per game… A preposterous stat line for a player in their prime let alone a rookie.

He became a fan favorite immediately, being named an All-Star starter in his first season, and brought a new dimension to the game that had never been seen before with his aerial artistry and charisma. In fact, Jordan was so good, many veteran All-Stars at the All-Star festivities in 1985 (most notably Detroit Pistons legend & Jordan’s nemesis Isiah Thomas) were bitter about the attention he was receiving at such an early stage of the year and “froze” him out of the game by refusing to pass him the ball.

Jordan’s impressive numbers helped the Bulls make the playoffs in 1985 finishing with a 38-44 record. They would end up losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. However, he did end up winning the 1985 NBA Rookie of the Year and it was just a small taste of what’s to come.

Many were excited to see what the Bulls star would do his sophomore season, but unfortunately, he broke his foot in just the third game of the year in 1985-86, costing him to miss 64 games. In the aftermath of a devastating injury, Jordan at least would leave many mesmerized with one of the greatest performances in sports history with a 63-point outing in Game 2 on April 20, 1986, against the 1986 Boston Celtics (one of the greatest teams ever) that had Larry Bird (who went on to win his 3rd consecutive MVP that season), Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, defensive stalwart Dennis Johnson, and a former MVP turned Sixth Man of the Year in Bill Walton.

Against one of the toughest arenas to play in and arguably the greatest frontcourt lineups of all time with also one of the greatest defensive guards ever in Johnson, Jordan torched the Celtics and left many in awe despite the Bulls coming up short in a double-overtime 135-131 loss to the eventual champions in the Celtics.

Bird after the game: “I would never have called him the greatest player I’d ever seen if I didn’t mean it,” Bird told The Boston Globe. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

Talk about hefty praise for just a 23-year-old phenom at the time who had yet to have any significant playoff success.

In 1986-87, Jordan’s third season and having a full offseason to recover from his broken foot injury the year prior, he went on to have the best statistical season since Wilt Chamberlain, recording 3,000 points in a single season while averaging a career-high 37.1 points per game on 48.2% from the field.

In addition to his offensive mastery is the defensive prowess that saw him finish with 200 steals and 100 blocks that same season. Despite his godly statistical output, Los Angeles Lakers star point guard Magic Johnson took home the MVP trophy that season.

The Bulls finished with a 40-42 record, making the postseason for the third consecutive year but were swept by the Celtics for the second consecutive year.

The Bulls had an otherworldly talent and the future of the league in Jordan, but he needed help, and that’s what they did in the 1987 NBA Draft by drafting his future running mate of all six titles and one of the NBA’s greatest players and defenders of all time in Scottie Pippen who went fifth overall in a trade with the Seattle Sonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder). They also drafted Horace Grant 10th overall in the same class who was a key component as well during the Bulls' initial three-peat run.

Is Michael Jordan the Greatest of All Time (GOAT)?

  • Yes, no doubt about it, and will forever be

  • LeBron James

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  • Other (Bill Russell, Magic, Kobe, Wilt,etc.)

Jordan again led the league in scoring in 1987-88 by averaging 35 points per game on 53% from the field including 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, a staggering 3.2 steals a game, and 1.6 blocks. He became the first player to ever win MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) in the same season with Olajuwon and current Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo being the only other two to accomplish such a feat.

The success started coming for the Bulls as they finished with a 50-32 record and allowed the fewest points in the league. They made it out of the first round for the first time in Jordan’s career by defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers and would face what would become his mountain to climb the next few seasons against the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons led by their Hall of Fame backcourt in Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, defensive and rebounding menace Dennis Rodman, the lengthy John Salley, and physical brute forces in Bill Laimbeer, and Rick Mahorn.

The “Bad Boy” Pistons were known for their uncharacteristic, unsportsmanlike physical style of play that left many in the league with disdain taste of how they played. The Bulls would lose in the Semifinals in five games.

In 1988-89, Jordan led the league in scoring once again with 32.5 per contest on 53.8% from the field along with 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game. He even played point guard that season for a stretch when he expressed to head coach Doug Collins that Sam Vincent (the Bulls' point guard at the time) was having trouble running the offense.

Jordan averaged 10 triple-doubles in eleven games as the primary playmaker with 33.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 10.8 assists, 2.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game on 51% shooting… Unprecedented numbers.

The Bulls finished with a 47-35 record, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, defeating the Cavaliers, and New York Knicks with one of his most iconic moments… ”The Shot” coming against the Cavaliers in Game 5 over Craig Ehlo to end the series in cold-blooded fashion, jumping up in the air and punching his fists in the air as if he just won the lotto.

The Pistons were once again in the way of Jordan and the Bulls and they once again were victorious by defeating the Bulls in six games by implementing the “Jordan Rules”, a set of rules to double and triple-team the scoring savant and making him go left, or have one of his teammates create for themselves, getting the ball out of his hands.

1989-90 ushered in a new era for the Bulls with a coaching change with the hire of the man known as the “Zen Master” Phil Jackson who implemented the triangle offense in the Jordan-Pippen-led offense.

Jordan again led the league in scoring with 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists on 52.6% from the field highlighted by a career-high 69-point outing against the Cavaliers on March 28, 1990, in a 117-113 road win.

The Bulls finished with the third-best record in the East at 55-27 and advanced to the Conference Finals once again to face the Pistons after defeating the Celtics and Philadelphia Sixers. Jordan and the Bulls came oh so close but came up short in seven games to fall to the eventual back-to-back champions in the Pistons.

He wouldn’t get denied again…

Jordan used all the pain, shortcoming, and failures over the years and used the summer of 1990 to strengthen his body to be able to take the physical pounding of the Pistons if they were to face off again… And that’s exactly what happened in 1991 after winning his second career MVP, Jordan and the Bulls faced the Pistons in the Conference Finals once again, this time sweeping them and getting their sweet revenge after all the years of coming up short.

Overall, Jordan would go on to win his first of six titles in 1991 by defeating the Magic Jonson, James Worthy-led Lakers. He has six NBA titles (1991-93, 1996-98) with six Finals MVPs, to go along with five NBA MVPs (1988, 1991-92, 1996,1998), a DPOY (1988), which he won in the same season as his 1988 MVP, an 11-time All-NBA selection, nine-time All-Defensive first-team selection, an NBA record 10-time scoring champion, and numerous other awards.

He has changed the whole complexion of the league, sports, and sports marketing forever with his aerial assault of moves and wreaking havoc on his opponent's psyche. He helped turn basketball into a global phenomenon and inspired many future NBA stars after him such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, and many others.

He was the face of the NBA for a long time and proved you can combine scoring and winning together. He had no weaknesses in his game and will probably never be surpassed legacy-wise as he is considered in most people’s eyes the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) of basketball and arguably the greatest most iconic athlete of all time.

Ladies and gentlemen, Michael “Air” Jordan!

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