The Ultimate Michael Jordan Birthday Tribute
There are very few retired athletes whose legacies should be honored whenever possible. Michael Jordan is perhaps the only such individual whose birthday always prompts us to dwell upon his greatness.
February 17, 2014, marks Jordan's 51st birthday, and it also gives us ample reason to compile the ultimate birthday tribute to "His Airness."
From remarkable performances and dunks to captivating stories and off-court entertainment, this slideshow features the best of MJ. The manner in which he impacted the game of basketball and sports culture in general is worthy of our reverence.
Happy 51st, Mike. You're always a joy to celebrate.
Let's kick things off by reflecting upon Jordan's career resume and his extensive list of accomplishments:
- Six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls (1991-93, 1996-98)
- Six-time NBA Finals MVP (1991-93, 1996-98)
- Five-time NBA MVP (1988, 1991-92, 1996, 1998)
- 14-time NBA All-Star (1985-93, 1996-98, 2002-03)
- 10-time All-NBA First Team (1987-93, 1996-98)
- Nine-time All-NBA Defensive First Team (1988-93, 1996-98)
- NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1988)
- 10-time NBA scoring champion (1987-93, 1996-98)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1985)
- NCAA champion with North Carolina (1982)
- Consensus National Player of the Year (1984)
- No. 23 retired by both the Chicago Bulls and North Carolina
His career averages in the NBA are as follows, per Basketball-Reference: 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game, plus 49.7 percent field-goal shooting and 83.5 percent free-throw shooting.
When studying Jordan's illustrious career resume, specifically his statistics, there are a handful of items worthy of note:
- His rookie numbers were astounding: 28.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.9 APG and 2.4 SPG. From the moment Jordan hit the NBA scene, his remarkable abilities were on display.
- His best all-around statistical season was likely 1988-89, when he tallied 32.5 points, 8.0 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field. While LeBron James has had some statistical seasons that approach this, he has never had one as eye-popping across the board.
- Jordan's playoff averages are even better than his career numbers: 33.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.7 APG and 2.1 SPG. MJ rose to the occasion time and time again.
- He really only had 11 healthy and legitimate seasons in the league. He missed 64 games in 1985-86 due to a broken bone in his left foot, his stint pursuing professional baseball wiped out all of 1993-94 and the majority of 1994-95, and he then retired at the age of 34 after winning his sixth ring. (No, the two years with the Washington Wizards after being out of the game for three seasons do not count, although he did still average over 20 PPG.) With this in view, it's crazy to think about how much more impressive Jordan's already wondrous career resume could look. He could've had a couple more championships and perhaps another MVP or two if he'd played 15 quality seasons.
Greatest Dunk: Jordan Posterizes Patrick Ewing
MJ's long list of highlight-reel plays contains plenty of eye-opening dunks. There are so many that it's inevitable some get overlooked.
Jordan's baseline drive and dunk on the New York Knicks' Patrick Ewing ranks at the top. Not only was it a posterization, but the magnitude of it was also noteworthy because it came during a playoff game in 1991.
Mike earned the nickname "Air Jordan" for a clear reason. Few have ever played "above the rim" quite like him. His leaping ability, coupled with the manner in which he could gracefully hang in the air, was a pure delight to watch.
Jordan's game was centered more upon competitive fire and toughness than flashy plays, but he nonetheless accumulated plenty of flashiness in his highlights.
Enjoy the above video, which showcases the best in-game dunks of His Airness, including the slam on Ewing.
Dunk Contest Memories
- His jams were forceful.
- His ideas were creative.
- He floated through the air.
- He had to duck his head to avoid hitting the rim.
- He was flat-out incredible.
On the heels of the NBA's All-Star festivities, it's fitting to also recognize what Jordan once did during those weekends: He mesmerized in the dunk contest.
The shows Jordan used to exhibit during the '80s are still talked about today. His emphatic slams in the above video leave the observer with numerous observations.
Here are a few:
Greatest Shot: The 'Last Shot' in Utah
The jumper known as the "last shot" goes down as MJ's greatest one.
In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, the Bulls, leading the series 3-2, trailed the Utah Jazz by three in the final minute when Jordan scored on a drive. He then stole the ball on the other end from Utah superstar Karl Malone.
After calmly dribbling the ball down the floor, Jordan cashed in the game-winning shot from 20 feet, holding his follow-through in a pose that Bulls fans will forever treasure.
It was the perfect finish to Jordan's decorated career with Chicago, resulting in his sixth NBA championship.
There are surely a handful of memorable shots throughout Jordan's NBA tenure, but this one leaps above the rest when considering how MJ is remembered.
Greatest Game: 63 Points in the Playoffs
From his 69-point outburst in 1990 to the "The Flu Game" (or the "Food Poisoning" game) during the 1997 finals, there are numerous choices available when considering Jordan's greatest overall game. He recorded a plethora of dazzling performances.
The "best individual game" label is ultimately stamped on his 63-point showing in the first round of the 1986 playoffs in his second season. This came after he had returned from a foot injury, but he showed no signs of rust in this matchup against the Boston Celtics.
Critics of this can point to the fact that the Bulls lost the game. Boston, led by the legendary Larry Bird and four other players who also landed in the Hall of Fame (Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton), won the double-overtime shootout 135-131.
This Boston bunch was one of the greatest squads in NBA history. The Celtics went 67-15 before rolling through the postseason and winning the championship. They only lost three games during the entire playoffs.
Therefore, Jordan's performance here shouldn't be minimized because he lost, but rather should be praised because it came in a playoff game against one of the greatest teams ever.
Jordan finished the evening with 63 points (22-of-41 from the field, 19-of-21 from the free-throw line), six assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. It's especially mind-boggling to consider how he notched so many points without even attempting a three.
Check out Jordan's highlights from this unforgettable game at the Boston Garden, which featured Jordan's famous dribbling between the legs of Bird before splashing a mid-range jumper.
Since Jordan's career contained an exorbitant number of terrific plays, this tribute to Air Jordan should seek to capture a good chunk of them.
This well-done video recognizes the 50 greatest plays of MJ's basketball journey.
From his dunk and finger wag on Dikembe Mutombo to his torturous treatment of Greg Ostertag, these clips have Jordan's finest covered.
Greatest Story: 'Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw'
In 2012, Sports Illustrated featured an excerpt entitled "Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw" from Jack McCallum's book Dream Team. It detailed a Team USA scrimmage in Monte Carlo before the 1992 Olympics.
There are endless stories that magnify Jordan's competitive nature, but this scrimmage featuring the world's best players—including Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone—has become legendary. The gym was nearly empty while the best basketball players on the globe went at each other.
Jordan reminisced on this game by saying, "It was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court."
The excerpt provides the details of this bout between Jordan's squad and Johnson's. Not only was Jordan on his A-game in terms of production, but his smack talk and competitive fire were also distinctly evident. It didn't matter if hardly anyone was watching. Jordan always wanted to win, and this story summarizes his mindset.
The game concluded with Jordan's team winning, but the fun had only begun for MJ. He began singing, "If I could be like Mike" from his own Gatorade commercial. He kept singing it even on the bus back to the hotel.
It was quintessential Jordan, thriving on his unparalleled will to win while also cherishing the victory in his own Jordan-esque manner. And it didn't matter that the world wasn't watching. This was who Jordan was, all the time.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, an assistant coach on the 1992 Olympic squad, recalled the game vividly:
A lot of players talk trash because the TV cameras are on. But the doors on that day were closed. This was just you against me. This is what I got -- whatta you got? It taught me a lot about accepting personal challenges. You know, if somebody could've taped the sound track of the game, not necessarily recorded the basketball but just the sounds, it would be priceless.
Jordan reflected on it further with much appreciation:
In many ways, it was the best game I was ever in. Because the gym was locked and it was just about basketball. You saw a lot about players' DNA, how much some guys want to win. Magic was mad about it for two days.
Johnson added this:
Let me tell you something -- it would've been worse for everybody if he lost. Because I could let something go after a while. But Michael? He'd never let it go. He never let anything go.
There are loads of entertaining stories about MJ, but this one identifies his persona and what made him unique.
Greatest Jordan Sneaker: Air Jordan I's
There is certainly much room for debate here, but the Air Jordan I's set the tone for the Jordan brand. They remain a classic.
The look of Jordan's shoes have changed over the years, but they have always been good-looking and appealing to buyers.
There has never been an athlete whose brand has flourished like MJ's, and this has extended far beyond shoes. His logo, apparel, jerseys and much more continue to circulate throughout contemporary culture.
People have not just wanted to "be like Mike" on the hardwood. They've also wanted to dress like him, particularly when it comes to sneakers. And this all began with the legendary Air Jordan I's.
Check out the video above for a rundown of Jordan's many shoes.
Greatest Quote: 'I Can Accept Failure.... But I Can't Accept Not Trying'
- "If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."
- "Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation."
- "I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot. ... When you think about the consequences you always think of a negative result."
- "Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen."
- "There is no 'i' in team but there is in win."
This quote nails Michael Jordan's mentality: "I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."
Greatest Commercial: 'Failure'
Jordan has appeared regularly in commercials, endorsing anything from shoes to underwear. His Hanes commercials continue to be a hit.
Whether the ads are humorous in spirit or more motivational, Jordan is a marketable figure. The motivational ones are especially memorable because of how moving MJ's words can be in a mere 30 seconds.
Case in point: His "failure" commercial is more than intriguing. It's inspiring. His words here ring true for any athlete.
Jordan exemplified how success via athletics comes through many failures, demonstrating how his mental toughness was arguably his greatest attribute.
The aura of MJ stretched off the court into a myriad of endeavors, one of which was the classic movie Space Jam.
The movie was a box-office success with a fantastic cast of characters, including Wayne Knight, Bill Murray, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and all the fabulous Looney Tunes characters.
The plot was compelling, as Jordan and the Tune Squad got the best of the fearsome Monstars.
What's more, the soundtrack was also a thrill, featuring the hit "I Believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly. The "Space Jam" theme as well as "Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem)" were also quite catchy. And don't forget about that goofy song entitled "Buggin'" by Bugs Bunny.
Years later, Space Jam is still remembered, as NBA 2K14 now enables users to play with the Tune Squad and Monstars (see the above video).
This paints the picture of Space Jam's popularity, and it all points back to the prestige of Air Jordan.
Hall of Fame Speech
Jordan's skills have waned, but his mindset will never change, as evidenced in his Hall of Fame speech.
His competitive nature will always be at the core of who he is, as well as the pride he carries in overcoming so many personal hurdles.
This speech demonstrates this, as he calls out Bryon Russell and has an overall swagger that relishes in being the game's greatest.
Around 17 years earlier, he hounded Magic Johnson about winning a scrimmage, and you can tell that his persona has remained the same over the years.
While Jordan extolled his personal accomplishments, he was also quick to thank many who supported and enhanced his career, such as his family, Scottie Pippen, Dean Smith, Jerry Reinsdorf and Phil Jackson.
A Legacy That Will Never Be Forgotten
Some great athletes are eventually forgotten, or people at least fail to remember what made them special.
This will never be the case with Michael Jordan. He was that special.
Jordan was the perfect combination of an athlete who possessed all the physical and mental tools. He was ridiculously athletic and had a tireless work ethic. He was also continuously driven to accomplish more in his career, never satisfied and always hungry for further success.
Rarely do we see all the qualities of what makes a phenomenal athlete collide. This happened in Michael Jordan.
Happy birthday, Mike. You'll never be forgotten. We'll be talking about you once again a year from now.
Haddon Anderson is an NBA Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.