Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born February 17, 1963), also known by his initials, MJ, Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Deloris (née Peoples), who worked in banking, and James R. Jordan Sr., an equipment supervisor. His family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, when he was a toddler.
Jordan is the fourth of five children. He has two older brothers, Larry Jordan and James R. Jordan, Jr., one older sister, Deloris, and one younger sister, Roslyn. Jordan’s brother James retired in 2006 as the Command Sergeant Major of the 35th Signal Brigade of the XVIII Airborne Corps in the U.S. Army.
Jordan attended Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, where he highlighted his athletic career by playing basketball, baseball, and football. He tried out for the varsity basketball team during his sophomore year, but at 5’11” (1.80 m), he was deemed too short to play at that level. His taller friend, Harvest Leroy Smith, was the only sophomore to make the team.
Motivated to prove his worth, Jordan became the star of Laney’s junior varsity squad, and tallied several 40-point games. The following summer, he grew four inches (10 cm) and trained rigorously. Upon earning a spot on the varsity roster, Jordan averaged about 20 points per game over his final two seasons of high school play. As a senior, he was selected to the McDonald’s All-American Team after averaging a triple-double: 29.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 10.1 assists.
Jordan was recruited by numerous college basketball programs, including Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia. In 1981, Jordan accepted a basketball scholarship to North Carolina, where he majored in cultural geography.
As a freshman in Coach Dean Smith’s team-oriented system, he was named ACC Freshman of the Year after he averaged 13.4 points per game (ppg) on 53.4% shooting (field goal percentage). He made the game-winning jump shot in the 1982 NCAA Championship game against Georgetown, which was led by future NBA rival Patrick Ewing. Jordan later described this shot as the major turning point in his basketball career.
During his three seasons at North Carolina, he averaged 17.7 ppg on 54.0% shooting, and added 5.0 rebounds per game (rpg). He was selected by consensus to the NCAA All-American First Team in both his sophomore (1983) and junior (1984) seasons. After winning the Naismith and the Wooden College Player of the Year awards in 1984, Jordan left North Carolina one year before his scheduled graduation to enter the 1984 NBA draft.
The Chicago Bulls selected Jordan with the third overall pick, after Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) and Sam Bowie (Portland Trail Blazers).
One of the primary reasons why Jordan was not drafted sooner was because the first two teams were in need of a center. However, Trail Blazers general manager Stu Inman contended that it was not a matter of drafting a center, but more a matter of taking Sam Bowie over Jordan, in part because Portland already had Clyde Drexler, who was a guard with similar skills to Jordan.
ESPN, citing Bowie’s injury-laden college career, named the Blazers’ choice of Bowie as the worst draft pick in North American professional sports history. Jordan returned to North Carolina to complete his degree in 1986.
During his rookie season in the NBA, 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. Jordan was also voted in as an All-Star starter by the fans in 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 joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only two players 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.
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.
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 an outstanding 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 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, 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.”
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 two weeks later.
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.