If Michael Jordan isn’t the most well-known athlete in history, he most definitely ranks among the top two or three. Jordan undoubtedly has had the biggest influence on how sports stars are marketed. From high school to the pros, take a peek at his professional career.

A lifetime of motivation

Jordan failed to make the Laney High team in Wilmington, North Carolina’s varsity as a sophomore. He took that hard, and it was evidently the beginning of a competitive flame that occasionally burned so hot it was bordering on pathological.

North Carolina and national attention

Jordan went on to play for the famous Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina after making a name for himself for Laney’s varsity team as a junior and senior. He achieved success right away. Jordan’s game-winning shot as a freshman in 1982 pulled the Tar Heels ahead of Georgetown to win the national championship and placed him on the fast track to stardom. The NBA called after two more outstanding seasons in Chapel Hill.

Olympic gold in college

Jordan made his Olympic debut in 1984 while playing for the United States under the famous Bob Knight. Jordan led the United States squad, which won all eight of its games by double digits en route to a gold medal, on a roster that also featured future NBA stars Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, averaging 17.1 points per game.

1984 NBA Draft: Bowie over Jordan

It is regarded as possibly the worst or at least most unlucky draft selection in NBA history and possibly all of sports history. Sam Bowie of Kentucky was chosen by the Portland Trail Blazers despite the fact that Bowie already had a lengthy injury history after Hakeem Olajuwon first went to the Houston Rockets. Portland’s reasoning was that Clyde Drexler, whose skill set was comparable to Jordan’s, was already there. With the third pick, the Bulls selected him, and the rest is history.

Rookie of the Year

After averaging 28.2 points per game, Jordan was voted NBA Rookie of the Year in 1985. Despite having a losing record (38-44) the Bulls still managed to qualify for the playoffs, however Milwaukee eliminated Chicago in the first round.

Air Jordans and the start of a popular trend

In 1983, if you had mentioned the words “Air Jordan” to someone, they would have given you a weird look. Everything changed in 1984 when Nike released the initial model of the sports shoe that would go on to become the most recognizable of all time. David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, banned the original Air Jordans because they broke the league’s requirement that shoes include a considerable proportion of white in their color scheme.

Legendary in defeat

Jordan broke his foot in the third game, which cost him the most of his second season. The Bulls managed to make the playoffs despite having a 30-52 record because he eventually came back in time for the final weeks of the regular season. Chicago received a first-round matchup with the Celtics, one of the greatest teams in league history, as compensation. Jordan nonetheless left his mark, setting an NBA playoff record with 63 points in Game 2 despite the Bulls being swept, 3-0.

Dominant scorer and MVP

In his third season (1986–87), Jordan averaged 37.1 points and joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to reach 3,000 points in a calendar year. He came up short in the MVP race to Magic Johnson, but he took it home the next year after averaging 35 points. From the start of his third season to his second retirement in 1998, he won the scoring title each full season he participated in.

“The Shot”

With Cleveland in 1989, Jordan made his name as the player who always delivered in crunch time. Craig Ehlo’s layup with three seconds left gave the Bulls a 100-99 deficit against the Cavaliers, who were the favorite. Jordan outran a double team to grab the ball on the next inbounds play, moved to his left, and then beat Ehlo’s tight defense with a double-clutch foul line jumper to give the Bulls a 101-100 victory and win the first-round playoff series.

The Pistons and the “Jordan Rules”

Despite Jordan’s individual brilliance, the Bulls frequently found themselves unable to advance in the playoffs against strong, talented “Bad Boys” Pistons teams. The “Jordan Laws” in Detroit restricted Michael Jordan’s offensive flexibility, and the Pistons defeated the Bulls in the 1988 postseason second round as well as the 1989 and 1990 Eastern Conference Finals.

Getting past the Pistons

In the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, Jordan and the Bulls finally defeated the Pistons, sweeping Detroit and avenging their three consecutive postseason failures. The triangle offense, created by head coach Phil Jackson and associate coach Tex Winter, allowed Chicago to finally manage Detroit’s aggressive, bordering on dirty, defensive style.

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At last a championship

The Bulls faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals after convincingly dispatching their rival in the 1991 Eastern Finals. An evenly matched Bulls squad headed by Jordan was no match for the Lakers, and Chicago won in five games. The first of his six Finals MVP Awards went to MJ, who scored 31.2 points on average.

The Dream Team

Jordan added to his trophy collection later that summer as he averaged 14.9 points for a star-studded United States team, fresh off winning his second consecutive NBA championship. Jordan was the only member of the “The Dream Team” Olympic team to start each of its eight games as it dominated the opposition and won the gold medal. Yet since most of the games were over after the first 10 minutes, he didn’t have to work too hard.

Three-peat, Part 1

Jordan was beaten out by Charles Barkley for the 1992–93 NBA MVP Award. Yet when his Bulls defeated Barkley’s Suns in six games to win their third consecutive title, he had the final laugh. Throughout the series, Jordan averaged 41 points, a Finals record, and became the first player to ever win three consecutive Finals MVP Awards.

Battles with the Knicks

Jordan needed a new opponent after leaving the Pistons behind, and he discovered one in the raucous Knicks, who were captained by Jordan’s former college rival, Patrick Ewing. Although the Knicks were never able to defeat Jordan and the Bulls in the playoffs, their matches, which included plenty of animosity and Jordan’s interactions with the Madison Square Garden audience (including Spike Lee! ), were must-see television in the early 1990s.

Family tragedy

After winning three consecutive championships, Jordan appeared to be at the top of the basketball world. However, in July 1993, his father James was kidnapped and killed in a carjacking. MJ’s next move stunned the sports community.

Stepping away … for baseball?

In October 1993, Jordan announced his retirement from basketball due to a loss of interest in the sport following the passing of his father. He further astonished onlookers by signing a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox in February 1994, later adding that the choice was made in part to follow his late father’s goal that he would play professional baseball (he also hinted at his father’s death as a contributing cause).

“I’m back.”

Jordan left baseball despite beginning to have success with the Double-A Birmingham Barons due to the ongoing MLB strike as well as other reasons. After several rumors, Jordan declared his return to the hardwood on March 18, 1995. I’m back, was the news release’s only sentence.

At guard, No. 45, Michael Jordan

The Bulls had retired Jordan’s No. 23, which he had worn since high school, in November of the previous year. By choosing to don the No. 45 for Chicago, the same number he had donned with the Barons, he made the decision to maintain a small link to his brief dalliance with baseball.

“Double nickel” at the Garden

In the game that became known as “Double Nickel” on March 28, 1995, Jordan erupted for 55 points against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The victory helped the Bulls to a 13-4 record in their final 17 regular-season games. Chicago, however, was unable to win another championship after losing to Orlando in the Eastern Conference playoffs in six games.

Three-peat, Part 2

At the outset of the 1995–96 season, Jordan was fully committed to basketball and tortured opponents with a new weapon: an almost unblockable fadeaway jumper. In his first full season back, the Bulls set a record by going 72-10, and Jordan began a streak of three consecutive scoring crowns, three consecutive championships, and three consecutive Finals MVP Awards. Not bad for a man who had spent the previous year being captivated by baseball. In the Finals of 1996. Bulls defeated Seahawks in six games.

The “Flu Game”

The Bulls faced the Jazz, a powerful squad that included league MVP Karl Malone, in the 1997 NBA Finals. After making a buzzer-beater to help Chicago win Game 1, Jordan outperformed himself in a crucial Game 5. Jordan scored 38 points and made the game-winning three-pointer with less than 30 seconds left despite being weak from a stomach ailment and occasionally needing the help of teammates just to stand. Given Jordan’s ill condition at the time, some considered the performance to be his best of his career. It was dubbed the “Flu Game.”

“The Shot,” Part 2

Jordan’s Bulls and the Jazz faced again in the 1998 Finals, and Utah once more proved to be a difficult opponent. With 41 seconds left in Game 6, Chicago trailed by three and was trying to win the series. Jordan made a jump shot to reduce the deficit to one, then on the next possession, he stripped Karl Malone. As Jordan had Bryon Russell all to himself as he brought the ball down the court, he faked right, moved left (perhaps pushing off), and buried the winning shot with five seconds remaining.

Retirement again

The NBA was now locked out, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, and Dennis Rodman were all on their way out, and the Bulls were going to be dismantled. On January 13, 1999, Jordan thus announced his second retirement. It’s reasonable to question if the Bulls would have won eight straight championships if Jordan hadn’t dabbled in baseball.

The Wizards years

In January 2000, Jordan transitioned to the front office after acquiring a portion of the Washington Wizards. Jordan also assumed the role of president of basketball operations in Washington, where he had final say in all hiring and firing decisions. Jordan joined the Wizards as a player at the start of the 2001 season after becoming unable to avoid on-court competition and being motivated by his friend Mario Lemieux’s NHL comeback. Jordan spent the latter part of the 2002–03 season on his farewell tour following two seasons in Washington.

The final game for real

Jordan’s final game was against the 76ers on April 16, 2003, in Philadelphia. He only made 6 of 15 shots for a meager total of 15 points. He returned to the game in the closing minutes and was purposefully fouled by Eric Snow after pleading with the audience and Washington head coach Doug Collins. Jordan made two free throws, and the Wizards then purposefully fouled him to allow him to leave the game. Jordan was greeted with a prolonged standing ovation as he left the court for the final time.

More than a man, Jordan the brand

Jordan’s accomplishments on the court made him well-known, but his talent for marketing helped him transcend sports and become genuinely legendary. He was a well-known and successful brand ambassador for a number of goods, including Gatorade, McDonald’s, and Nike. He was the first athlete to take ownership of his image in terms of advertising. His Air Jordan shoes became so well-known that Nike eventually separated apart everything Jordan into its own brand, the Jordan Brand, which makes use of the “Jumpman” icon.

From player to owner

In 2006, Jordan acquired a small investment in the NBA team in Charlotte and, as he did with the Wizards, assumed control of basketball operations. The only African-American majority owner in the league and the first former player to do so, Jordan became the team’s main owner in 2010. The 2011–12 lockout-shortened season saw Charlotte go 7–59, the poorest winning percentage in league history (.106). Throughout Jordan’s ownership of the team, little success has been achieved.

The Last Dance

A much-anticipated ESPN documentary series on Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls enthralled a sports-starved audience in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it had its moments, the series wasn’t really ground-breaking, but it did bring Jordan’s name back into the news. Although it also infuriated some of his former teammates, including Horace Grant, the overall result was that Jordan once again became the center of attention in the sports world.

From the court to the race track

Although calling himself a NASCAR owner may seem odd, Jordan has long had a passion for the sport. This fascination began when he was a young boy and continued during his time as Brad Daugherty’s teammate. The only Black driver at NASCAR’s highest level will be paired with a Black majority owner when Jordan and driver Denny Hamlin announce their plan to join a team in September. Bubba Wallace will be their driver. Jordan made it plain that he felt the time was perfect to enter the sport in a significant way because of NASCAR’s dedication to racial equality in the wake of Wallace’s racially tinged episodes.