I had originally planned to write a paper on Michael Jordan’s economical effect on today’s sports in America. I had even researched and written two pages before I stopped and realized that I would like to instead discuss Michael Jordan’s life and mystical career. Over the last twenty years Michael Jordan has captivated and awed me with his brilliant success both on and off the basketball court. I have wanted for some time to write about him and try to rationalize his seemingly unbelievable life and this paper has given me a chance.
The legend began in 1981 with seventeen seconds left on the clock and seventeen feet between Michael and the basket. It was a shot any coach drawing up a play for a talented player for the final shot would die for. He knocked it in and North Carolina had its first National championship. Even though North Carolina had the best college player in the country in James Worthy and other great stars in Sam Perkins and Matt Doherty, it was the scrawny freshman who had come on the scene that year to become the first Carolina freshman to ever start that took the biggest shot in the program’s history.
It was Michael Jordan who was the man that night and he was determined either consciously or unconsciously to never let anyone question who the man is again. Michael went on to become two-time national college player of the year and in 1999, was voted the greatest college basketball player ever. (CNN/Sports Illustrated) After his junior year, having accomplished everything possible for a college player, Michael decided to turn professional. (He later completed his degree taking summer school courses) But first he would go on to dominated the 1984 Olympics and lead the United States to the gold medal.
It could be left up to Spanish Olympian Fernando Martin to sum up the Michael Jordan phenomenon, circa 1984. “Michael Jordan? ” he asked. “Jump, jump, jump. Very quick. Very fast. Very, very good. Jump, jump, jump. ” No NBA scouting report could have been more pertinent. By the time Michael detonated on the league in 1984, he had sprouted from a precocious and exciting young talent into a full-fledged human event.
As his rookie season marched on, Jordan upstaged proven giants like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Dr. J. and already was becoming the first player to transcend team affiliation on the road. Fan’s didn’t come out to see their hometown heroes beat the Bulls; they bought tickets to watch Michael Jordan fly. In his rookie year Michael averaged an astonishing 28. 2 points per game (third overall) and was selected to the all-star game. He also led the team to the playoffs for the first time in four years. A feat he would continue to ensure every year of his career. It was in his second year that Jordan’s bitter relationship with Bulls general manager Jerry Krause and owner Jerry Reinsdorf began.
Michael had broken his foot three games into the season and had spent the next months rehabilitating in order to come back as soon as possible. When he was finally healthy to play the Bulls record was 24-43. Michael believed that the team could still make the playoffs and was excited for the challenge. Krause and Reinsdorf had other ideas. They wanted to keep Michael from playing so that they could keep losing and secure a place in the draft lottery. To someone as competitive as Michael Jordan, this idea was simply sinful.
It meant that the people who employed him were not as committed to winning as he was, that they accepted the idea of defeat as he did not, and that they were wiling to bag the current season and any chance at the playoffs in order to improve their roster for the future. Even on a bad team with marginal players like the early Bulls, the remarkable thing about Michael Jordan was that he never accepted the idea of defeat. He believed that as long as he played, the Bulls could make the playoffs, and that if he got there, he could carry them on to victory.
Management finally did let him play and the Bulls did make the playoffs where they faced the best team in the league, the Boston Celtics. It was the stage that Michael lived for and he took full advantage. Although the Bulls were swept by the eventual champions, Michael’s fame and notoriety had a quantum increase after the series. No one was really prepared for what happened. In the first game Michael came out blistering and scored forty-nine points. A great performance against the top defensive team in the league, but not extraordinary.
In the second game Michael performed at a playoff level that no one had witnessed before. The CBS sports broadcast seemed more like a personal highlight reel than an actual game. By the end of the double overtime war, he’d hit for 63 points, the most points ever scored in playoff history. Celtic Danny Ainge later said, “We knew when we had gone into the game that he was very good, but none of us knew yet that he was going to be the best player who ever laced up sneakers, but we were in the process of learning it, and that afternoon was a good beginning.
Perhaps Larry Bird, the MVP of the league at the time, put it best, “That was god disguised as Michael Jordan. ” In his rookie year Michael already had become one of the top product endorser in the league. He had signed a then unheard of contract with Nike that paid him $250,000 a year for five years with an annuity, incentives, and royalties on all Nike basketball related items. Michael had originally wanted to sign with Addidas even if they offered him less money than Nike, but Nike threw in the kicker. They offered to name a shoe after him.
The first Air Jordan shoe was a high-top black and red shoe. Three games into the season, the NBA did Michael and Nike a huge favor. The league banned the shoe because it didn’t conform to the rest of the Bulls uniform. Michael continued to wear the shoe and the league subsequently fined him $5,000 a game. Nike didn’t blink. They paid every penny and Michael continued to wear the shoe. It would have cost millions of dollars to come up with a promotion that produced as much publicity as the league’s ban did.
The first commercial showed Jordan’s head, and the camera slowly moved down his body to his feet. When the camera hit the shoes a big “X” was stamped on the screen and the announcer said, “Banned”. After that sales went crazy. But it was Michael’s third year when his remarkable qualities where able to be portrayed through the television. Nike had hired a little known film producer named Spike Lee to direct Michael in commercials. The commercials that they make together were able to show Michael’s innate charm and wit, and his obvious confidence.
He knew who he was and liked who he was. There was nothing threatening about him. He was judgmental- you had to win his respect, and he was clearly shrewd about how he was used- but there was an innate coolness and elegance about him. If this was not yet expressed in anything he said, it was self evident in the smile, in the deft facial gestures, in the ability to roll his eyebrows at just the right moment. He was good looking, he was likable, he had that luminescent smile, and he was the greatest basketball player in the world.
The Nike commercials were so good, that they fed on themselves and inspired other companies such as McDonald’s, Coke, Hanes, Gatorade, Wilson, and Ballpark Franks among many others to do comparable commercials. And so it was that a true American icon was born. Michael continued for the next three years to grow in both his basketball achievements and his fame. Michael won every single individual basketball award possible and was already considered one of the best players in the history of the game. And outside of basketball the public became more and more fond of him.
But in his mind and the mind of many others, Michael was missing something. A championship. For years Michael had carried a seemingly inferior team to the brink, only to succumb to either the great Celtic teams of the early 80’s, or the great Pistons, led by Isaah Thomas, in the late 80’s. But in 1991 the basketball world could no longer contain Michael Jordan’s destiny. After the first championship against the Lakers and Magic Johnson, Michael’s fame again skyrocketed. He went from being the most famous athlete in America to being the most famous person in America.
By the time Michael had claimed his third championship in a row, his notoriety transcended not only sports but American culture. He was unquestionably the most well known human on the planet. More famous in many distant parts of the globe than the President of The United States. American journalists and diplomats on assignment to the most rural parts of Asia and Africa were often stunned when they visited small villages to find young children wearing tattered replicas of Michael Jordan’s Bulls jersey. Michael Jordan’s life from 1980 to 1993 was that of a storybook.
The success that he achieved in that short time frame quit possibly is unparallel in American history. But at the same time it seemed possible by a very unique and gifted individual. However, the events that occurred in Michael Jordan’s life from 1994-1999, in my and many others opinion, at times do not seem possible and in fact almost immortal. You could almost get a sense watching him over the years that you were not in fact witnessing a real story, but one made of fiction. As if all the major media sources in the world got together and decided to concoct this seemingly unbelievable human that never seems to fail.
To put the success that Michael Jordan achieved in the last six years in the proper perspective would significantly increase the length of this paper so I would like to instead let some well known others describe Michael Jordan. Harry Edwards, a sociologist at the University of California, talks about Jordan representing the highest level of human achievement, on the order of Gandhi, Einstein, or Michelangelo. If, he added, he were in charge of introducing an alien being “to the epitome of human potential, creativity, perseverance, and spirit, I would introduce that alien life to Michael Jordan.
Doug Collins, once spoke of Jordan belonging to that rarest category of people who are so far above the norm, men like Einstein and Edison, that they were identifiable geniuses. Jordan’s talented teammate B. J. Armstrong, frustrated in his early years with the Bulls by his failure to rise to Jordan’s level and apparent expectations, had gone to the library and checked out a series of books on geniuses to see if there was anything he might learn about how to deal with Jordan.
He’s god’s child,” teammate Wes Matthews said in Jordan’s first year. And there were a number of players more talented than Matthews who agreed. “Jesus in Nikes,” in the words of Jayson Williams of the Nets. After Jordan led the Bulls to their second title, Larry bird said that there had never been an athlete like Jordan. I think author Scott Turow says it best, “Michael Jordan plays basketball better than anyone else in the world does anything else. ”
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