NCAA champion. Six-time NBA champion. Naismith Hall of Famer. Team owner Sneaker icon.
There are a million more things you could say about Michael Jordan, but an important one today is: Happy birthday!
That’s right, February 17 is MJ’s birthday, so to celebrate His Airness we decided to put together a little look back at some of his most iconic career moments.
In just his second season, following his Rookie of the Year efforts in 1984-85, Mike and the Chicago Bulls met the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. In Game 2, Jordan carried his team through two overtime periods with a 63-point explosion at the Boston Garden. The Bulls lost the game, and eventually the series, but if there was any doubts about MJ before this, they were dispelled.
Jordan suited up for his fourth NBA All-Star appearance, this time in his own gym in Chicago, and wowed the world with a soaring dunk from the free throw line in the Slam Dunk Contest.
Long before the time of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers were a force of some note in the East. By the time the Cavs and Bulls met in the Eastern Conference first round in 1988-89, Cleveland had already dominated the season series between the two teams. But Jordan had the last laugh in a deciding Game 5 on the road, draining a last-second jumper over Cavaliers shooting guard Craig Ehlo, sending the Cavs home in heartbreaking fashion.
The 1991 NBA Finals saw Chicago win its first championship, with victory in five games over the Los Angeles Lakers. While it was MJ’s first Finals appearance, it would be the last for another legend of the game, Magic Johnson.
The Bulls played host to Portland for Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals, and MJ used his hometown advantage to great effect. He hit six three-pointers in the first half against the Trail Blazers, and even he seemed surprised about it when he dropped the famous shrug.
After completing a championship threepeat with the Bulls, and the death of his beloved father, Jordan stepped away from the game to pursue another lifelong passion: baseball. But he once again developed the itch to play on the hardwood, so he began training for hooping again, and then ultimately announced his comeback with a two-word fax to the world: “I’m back.”
We all know this one, either from basketball lore or sneaker colorway legend. In Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Utah, Jordan played through fever and dehydration from a stomach virus (which, from The Last Dance, we now know to be food poisoning from a bad delivery pizza) to topple the Jazz and put the Bulls in front 3-2 going back to Chicago. Seemingly nothing could stop His Airness.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson saw the end of the dynasty rushing up to meet Chicago, so he dubbed the 1997-98 season their “Last Dance.” And what a dance it was. Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls fought their way through the Eastern Conference to secure a rematch with the Utah Jazz. On the road in Game 6, with a 3-2 series lead, MJ hit Bryon Russell with a crossover (and maybe a push-off, but who knows?), rose above him and drained what would prove to be the game- and series-winning shot, securing a second threepeat for the Bulls.
Does anybody ever believe that MJ is truly retired? I wouldn’t put it past him to bring it back for one more shot. In his stint with the Washington Wizards in 2001-03 he showed glimpses of his former self but struggled with injury. His final NBA appearance, a home loss to Philadelphia, was a who’s-who of basketball and cultural icons, and he received a lengthy standing ovation after checking out of the game for the last time ever (maybe).
Never was there a greater lock for the Naismith Hall of Fame than Michael Jeffrey Jordan, but they made it official in 2012. Jordan got on stage and delivered a speech that contained as many genuine heartfelt moments as it did schadenfreude-laced comments. It even brought us the Crying Jordan meme.