Michael Jordan obviously enjoyed quite the illustrious career. By his fourth season in the NBA, he'd already won Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. He also had scored more than 3,000 points in a season, which is an accomplishment only Wilt Chamberlain had achieved.
Over the next decade, Jordan would go on to lead the Bulls to six titles, with help from Scottie Pippen and a rotating cast of teammates like Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper.
During that time, Jordan was the subject of plenty of stories. Here are 10 that will give a a better understanding of one of the NBA's all-time greats.
On the back end of a home-and-home with the Milwaukee Bucks (and in just his third professional game), Michael Jordan was already showcasing his characteristic poise and drive. The Bucks, a perennial powerhouse in the 1980s with seven straight division titles, were ahead of the Bulls for most of this game. During the fourth quarter, however, Michael Jordan reeled off 22 of his 37 points and pushed the Bulls to a 116-100 win that, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, left various Bucks dazed like deer in the headlights.
Bucks coach Don Nelson: “He was sensational down the stretch. We couldn’t do anything with him. We double-teamed him, and he went over the double-team.”
Bucks guard Mike Dunleavy: “He has tremendous poise. Very few rookies can come into the league and dominate as he did tonight.”
I kept telling our guys we could win, and they started to believe. We had to go out for the home fans and ourselves and show we can beat Milwaukee after that tough loss Saturday night...I’m learning a lot from playing against [Sidney] Moncrief the last two games.
In 1987, Michael Jordan was presented with the Seagram Sports Award. The former ginger ale consortium was also in the business of anointing the best athletes from various sports, and Jordan was the runaway winner for basketball.
Perhaps, one would expect that these awards were based on a vote from an expert panel of media members or even the finest brewers from Seagram's. Instead, the selection was done in BCS fashion, using a computer formula that took into account scoring, field-goal percentage, free-throw accuracy, rebounds, blocked shots, assists and steals.
Jordan’s computerized score of 80.81 trounced Magic Johnson (75.61), Larry Bird (75.58), Hakeem Olajuwon (73.74) and Charles Barkley (73.09).
Michael Jordan’s scoring prowess is well known, but his defensive ability was equal to it. Quick, agile and strong for a man 6’6”, Jordan was a nightmare for opposing wing players. He also had absolutely gargantuan hands that were quick to tip away balls or could clasp like a vice to outright snatch an opponent's dribble. This naturally led to an absurdly high number of steals during his career.
The best moment showing off this skill was in 1988 against the Celtics. He had eight steals in the first half as he terrorized Boston’s passing lanes and dribblers.
Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller had a testy relationship that reached a boiling point in February of 1993. After Miller hit a jumper over Jordan, Reggie threw an elbow into Jordan’s back. His Airness pursued the jesting Miler down the court, finally getting ahold of Miller and throwing a solid punch into his chin.
Benches cleared. Words were exchanged. Pacer coach Bob Hill smashed his clipboard. But only Miller was ejected and Jordan was left to finish the game. Cries of favoritism rang across the NBA, until finally Jordan was suspended for a game.
Five years later, prior to his second retirement in 1998, Jordan quipped what is perhaps the best verbal assault on Reggie Miller in an interview with Jet magazine:
It's like chicken-fighting with a woman. His game is all this flopping-type thing. He weighs only 185 pounds, so you have to be careful, don't touch him, or it's a foul. On offense I use all my 215 pounds and just move him out. But he has his hands on you all the time, like a woman holding your waist. I just want to beat his hands off because it's illegal. It irritates me.
Among Michael Jordan’s more endearing qualities has been his ability to be as stubborn as a mule. Another has been his unending antipathy for anyone standing in his way.
These two qualities came to a marvelous head concerning his relationship with former Bulls GM Jerry Krause. The two feuded petulantly until finally in 1998 when Jordan had enough and declared he would never play for another coach besides Phil Jackson.
Siding with his coach wasn't just a show of affinity for Jackson by Jordan, it was a swipe at Krause, who was none too found of the Zen Master. When Jackson declared he'd likely not return to the Bulls following that season, Krause made no serious move to make Jackson reconsider. Tired of the shenanigans, Jordan before a game in Utah declared he wasn’t taking any more and would walk away away from the NBA...again...but only for a little while just like before.
But before his failed Wizards' comeback, Jordan did witness the Bulls limp to several ridiculously bad seasons of basketball, including a 49-point game in 1999. Yes, 49 points across a full four quarters from a whole team.
From the 1985-86 season until his retirement in 1998, Michael Jordan had 39 games of 49+ points. Even when absent, Jordan still proved his greatness.
This dunk was one of the finest Jordan ever threw down. After lazily coming up court, followed by a hesitation move that creates the space for an explosive drive, Michael Jordan finishes with a thunderous slam on Danny Ferry. Apparently, Ferry rued the embarrassment.
A year later in the 1992 playoffs, Jordan didn’t deliver a double dose of 50-point games, but instead received a one-two knuckle sandwich from Ferry. The cold-cock combo was enough to get Ferry tossed from the Memorial Day game. For the series, Jordan, no worse for the wear, wound up roasting the Cavaliers for 32 points, 6.5 rebounds and six assists.
As much as I’d love to have those punches digitized here, all YouTube evidence of the event has been vaporized, so you’ll have to use your imagination.
A couple of nights after the punches and Ferry’s $5,000 fine, Chicago Bull Stacey King delivered a flagrant foul on Ferry much to the delight of the partisan Chicago Stadium crowd.
In our final look at famous Jordan instigators, there’s Rockets guard Vernon Maxwell. Nicknamed “Mad Max” for his erratic, volatile attitude and play (not for his rambling rants during traffic stops like a certain other "Mad Max"), Maxwell saved his greatest head-case moments for confrontations with Jordan.
He relished trying to demonize Jordan, and although he was largely unsuccessful at it, his effort certainly left an imprint on the Bulls legend. Jordan paid the mercurial shooting guard some props for his maniacal attempts to deny him glory:
It's true that I wake up every day expecting that sort of challenge, but it's still a challenge. When I feel like a guy is trying to take some of the respect away that I've earned in seven or eight years in the league, then that's a challenge.
Jordan’s own pathological need to create challenges aside, Maxwell genuinely would go after Jordan. In the 1990-91 season, Maxwell and Jordan swung a series of elbows at one another and in 1993, Maxwell competently held MJ to 12-of-27 shooting with aid from Hakeem Olajwuon. But in the end, Jordan knew the key to getting the best of Mad Max:
"Against Vernon, you've got to get inside his head. I've got to out-think him when he's guarding me. I've got to use my mental knowledge against him.''
In Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA in 1995, the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets tangled in a hard-fought, first-round series. Now the following may be just one of those apocryphal stories common in history, but it’s so good, one hopes that it’s true.
Former Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach recalled how in Game 4 of the Bulls-Hornets series, Muggsy Bogues was guarded by Jordan and the following occurred:
On the biggest possession of the game, Muggsy had the ball with the Hornets down one. Jordan backed off of him and told him, 'Shoot it, you f***ing midget.' Muggsy shot it, didn’t come close. A year later Muggsy actually told Johnny Bach that he believes that single play ruined his career. His shot never recovered.
Knee injuries in the 1995-96 season would appear to be the actual reason for Bogues’ career decline, but another theory may be that in the filming of Space Jam, the Monstars never actually returned his basketball powers.
In any event, Jordan seems to have had a deleterious effect on Muggsy's career. Certainly not good given the general affinity afforded Bogues, but it does qualify as a great happening in Jordan's career.
In the 1988 playoffs, Michael Jordan went absolutely bananas against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Game 1, he obliterated the Cavs with 50 points and in Game 2 he had 55. This was the first time in NBA history that a player had enjoyed back-to-back 50-point games during the postseason.
His 24 field goals in Game 2 also tied a record held by John Havlicek and Wilt Chamberlain for most field goals made in a playoff game.
Jordan, however, was unmoved by the performance, telling reporters that his 50-point deluges were simply a part of the Bulls playing better as a team.
This an easy choice as the final Michael Jordan story. His return to the NBA was much heralded, but people were afraid he'd lost his luster. Sure, he'd still be great, but would he be three-peat great again?
This 55-point epic, just five games into his comeback in 1995, was truly spectacular. The man just ate John Starks alive for bucket after bucket off fade-away jumpers, layups and spin moves in the low post. It was a tour de force capped by the sweet dish to Bill Wennington for the game-winning slam.
As someone who saw this at the time, it was comforting to know that Jordan's greatness, while rusty, certainly hadn't been lost in his baseball sojourn.
Words don’t, won’t and can’t do it justice. Just watch the video over and over again.