Air Apparent: 23 Reasons We Love Michael Jordan
What can be said about that name that hasn't yet been said? He is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, and even now, five years after he left a basketball court for good, sports fans know his name.
Every great basketball player since MJ will always be compared to "His Airness," and any marketable athlete, be it Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, or Derek Jeter, owes whatever they get to the most marketable athlete in the history of sports.
Now on Sept. 11, 2009, every basketball fan in the world will have their eyes on Springfield, Mass., as the great Air Jordan is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
In tribute to Jordan, who inspired a whole generation of boys who dreamed of ruling the school yard with moves that would make the girls watching say "WOW" (okay, maybe that was just me), here are 23 reasons to love No. 23.
No. 23. The Biggest Mistake in NBA History
This face is almost as famous as Jordan's.
Go ahead, say the name.
Every basketball fan knows the name Sam Bowie. He's the guy that the Portland Trailblazers selected with the No. 2 pick in the 1984 draft, rather than picking a skinny guard out of North Carolina.
That skinny guard was Michael Jordan. The Bulls selected him third overall and the rest is history.
As MJ's name became more synonymous with greatness, Bowie's became more synonymous with bust.
No. 22 The Gene Simmons of Basketball
The only tongue more famous belongs to Gene Simmons.
Like when a rattlesnake shakes its tail, if you were a defending MJ and saw that famous tongue begin to flap, you knew you were about to become the wrong end of a poster.
We all know we bit our tongues once or twice trying to do it.
No. 21 Mr. Wizard
Anyone who looked at MJ's final return to the game as a member of the Wizards as blemish on his resume, totally missed the point.
He had nothing left to accomplish. He was an MVP. He was a champion. No player could guard him, and he was widely regarded as the greatest ever.
Not to mention that between basketball and endorsements, he had more money than he could ever spend in a lifetime.
But he still loved the game, just like the rest of us.
Sure he wasn't the same player, but during his first year in DC, Jordan had that team playing well. If not for an injury, he may have won the MVP.
No. 20 "Like Mike"
Are you singing the song yet?
If you were a kid who loved basketball in the 1990's, you know the Gatorade comercial with the catchy theme song about how we all wanted to be "Like Mike". Who didn't catch themselves in the driveway shooting and singing that song in their head?
It was so catchy, it became and annoying cliche, but it was also so true.
No. 19 Not So Fast, Mr. Bryant
Feb. 8, 1998
The NBA All-Star Game made its way to New York City's Madison Square Garden in 1998. It's the biggest stage on earth, and Kobe Bryant was ready to show the world his greatness.
He did, showing of an array of moves, including a 360 lob and dunk, that the game hadn't seen since the early days of Jordan's career.
He was great that day, but like with so many other players, in the end MJ stole the show.
While Kobe was passing to himself, and showing off his athleticism, all Jordan was doing was scoring a game high 23 points, dishing out eight assists, grabbing six rebounds, and adding six steals while leading the East to a huge win. Jordan was named the MVP of the game for the third time in his career.
Bryant was great that day, but Jordan was better.
No. 18 The Number 23
There are certain numbers in sports that will forever be linked to certain players.
When you think of the numbers 9 and 99 in hockey, you think Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.
When you think of the number 3 and 42 in baseball, you think Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson.
The numbers 56 and 80 in football will forever belong to Lawrence Taylor and Jerry Rice.
Then there is the number 23.
With all due respect to players in other sports who did this number proud, such as Don Mattingly, Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Winder, Bob Gainey, David Beckham, and even LeBron James, the number 23 will always belong to Michael Jordan.
There may be no other number so synonymous with a player in all of sports.
No. 17 Hare Jordan
When an iconic American symbol like Bugs Bunny is made into a cartoon that takes on your persona, you've made it, period.
Just think about it, how cool would it be to be in a movie with Bugs Bunny? Exactly.
No. 16 The World's Most Famous 55-point Performance
One of the best and worst things about growing up a Knicks fan is you were sure you would witness something great anytime Michael Jordan came to Madison Square Garden.
Jordan had only been back from his first retirement for five games, and had not looked like the Michael of old, that is, until the Bulls played the Knicks in New York.
Jordan dropped 55 points on the Knicks that day, and assisted on the game winning shot as the entire Knicks team focused on stopping MJ.
It was a classic performance. About the only thing different about Jordan that day was his number, as he returned and briefly wore number 45.
No. 15 Defense Wins Championships
It's hard to believe now, but there was a time early in MJ's career where he was labeled as "only a scorer."
While many players would have been satisfied with having Jordan's uncanny offensive abilities without worrying about defense, Jordan was not satisfied with the label of offensive player.
Jordan worked feverishly on his defense, and by the time the 1987-88 season was over, MJ became the first scoring champion to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors (David Robinson would be the only other player to acheive that honor).
Jordan would add seven All-Defensive team selections, and would go down as one of the most tenacious defenders in NBA history.
No. 14 Messed Around And Got A Triple Double
Somebody forgot to tell Michael Jordan that the NBA All-Star is only an exhibition game.
MJ had some of his best games at the NBA All-Star game, and the 1997 game in Cleveland was no exception.
Despite being robbed of the award when it was given to Glen Rice, Michael Jordan became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double in an All-Star game, when he totaled 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists, on the way to a 12 point win by the East.
Sure the game meant nothing, but a triple-double against the best players each team has to offer is still pretty impressive.
No. 13 Taking Out The Old Guard...Literally
Nobody can ever say MJ's Bulls back their way into the championship. In fact, Jordan and the Bulls went through the Detroit Pistons and LA Lakers, the premier team in each conference during the late 1980's, to win their first title in 1991.
Think about it, prior to Chicago's first title, the Pistons and Lakers had won the last four NBA championship (Pistons in 88-89 & 89-90, and Lakers in 86-87 & 87-88).
On top of that, the Pistons had regularly defeated the Bulls in the playoffs year after year early in Jordan's career.
But 1991 was different. The Bulls took out the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The torch had been passed.
No. 12 The Michael Jordan Award
If there's an award with the letter M, V, of P in the name, Michael Jordan has probably won it.
Seriously though, the NBA should rename all of their MVP awards after Jordan.
He's been named the MVP of the All-Star Game three times (1988, 1996, 1998, the most ever), NBA regular season MVP five time (87-88, 90-91, 91-92, 95-96, 97-98, the second most ever), and NBA Finals MVP six times, winning the award each time the Bulls won the title (also the most ever).
Maybe the bigger surprise is how any other player ever won an MVP during MJ's playing days.
No. 11 No Luck Chuck
MJ's close friend Charles Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns prior to the 1992-93 NBA season after a tumultuous time in Philadelphia.
Barkley would go on to have a monster season, 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game while leading the Suns to the best record in the NBA that season.
Barkley would be the hands-down MVP that season, as he would take Phoenix to the NBA finals to meet with the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
The best record in the NBA and the league MVP weren't enough to stop Jordan's quest for a three-peat, however, as MJ would average a Finals record 41 points-per-game in the series, including a career finals high of 55 points in Game 4.
Maybe he wasn't the MVP in 1993, but MJ proved he was still the best.
No. 10 Maybe He's Human After All
When Michael Jordan shocked the basketball world with his first retirement, he followed it up with an even more shocking announcement, he had decided to pursue his father's first love, baseball.
Originally, it seemed that Jordan could be successful at anything he did, but baseball may be the most humbling sport of them all, and it proved it by even humbling the greatest basketball player ever.
The move didnt work, as Jordan would only play one season at class AA. He would hit just .202 with three home runs, 51 RBI, and almost as many strikeouts (114) as total bases (116).
Still, the pro-baseball experiment may have made us adore MJ even more, because for the first time in his career he was just like us....we couldn't hit a curveball, either.
No. 9 If You Don't Shut Up, He'll Put Up
Jordan has been as much renowned for his trash talking game as he has for his on-court game.
But if you return the banter, you better bring your A game.
There has been a whole list of numerous guys who have talked trash about MJ, only to have feel the wrath of Jordan's game on the court.
Here are a few highlights:
1987: Desperate to defend their pick of Sam Bowie over MJ in the 1984 draft, Portland brass had claimed that Clyde Drexler was a better player than Jordan because he made his teammates better.
Jordan took that to heart, and then went out and had two 50 point games and a 40 point game in his next three meetings with the Trailblazers, before ultimately having the last laugh in the 1991 NBA Finals.
1993: After bragging about scoring 37 points against Jordan, second year Washington scrub LaBradford Smith probably wishes he just shut up about it. Jordan told anyone who would listen that he would score 37 in the first half of the next game.
MJ would only score 36 in the first half of the next game, on his way to 47 and a win, shutting up LaBradford Smith for good.
1996-1998: Jordan revealed this in his Hall of Fame speech. Jazz guard Bryon Russell practically begged Jordan to leave baseball and come back to the NBA, saying that he could guard MJ.
Well Russell got his wish, as Jordan would beat Russell's Jazz in the MVP finals twice, including hitting one of the most memorable jumpers over Russell in NBA History to clinch the title in 1998.
Plus, anytime John Starks played against Jordan.
No. 8 Reigning in Rodman
Maybe the greatest hustle player ever, Dennis Rodman never cared about scoring, instead he built an entire career doing the little things most players didn't care about.
But looking past the cross-dressing, tattoos, volatile personality, and multi-colored hair, Rodman and Jordan were very much alike.
The both played hard 100 percent of the time, they both hustled on defense, and they both despised losing.
But where Jordan could channel his emotions on the basketball court to help him succeed, Rodman could not, and would often implode at the worst possible time.
That never happened to Rodman in a Bulls uniform. He respected MJ more than any other player he had ever played with (just ask David Robinson), and any time Rodman would begin to lose it, a few word from Mike was all that was needed to keep the Worm in line.
No. 7 Cleveland Rocks
As a Knicks fan, I have known heartbreak at the hands of number 23. The only solice I ever had was saying "Thank God I'm not a Cavs fan!".
The numbers Jordan has put up against Cleveland is that of legend.
Whether it was dropping 50 and 55 in games 1 and 2 of the 1988 playoffs (MJ's first series win), his career playoff high of 69 points (to go along with 18 boards, six assists, and four steals) in 1990, or hitting that famous shot in Craig Ehlo's grill to sweep the Cavs out of the playoffs in 1989 (pictured above), MJ seemed to shine brightest in Cleveland.
No. 6 The Freshman
Dean Smith was reluctant to put too much spotlight on his skinny freshman player who wore number 23, especially in his team-first system.
But the great coach Smith was unable to keep the spotlight off of Michael Jordan for too long, and before you knew it, MJ was taking the NCAA basketball world by storm.
Jordan would have a great freshman season at Carolina, winning ACC Freshman of the Year Honors, before beating Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas by hitting the winning shot in the NCAA Championship game.
So that's MJ winning a regular season award, hitting a game winning shot against a Patrick Ewing lead team, and winning a championship. Who kne it was a sign of things to come.
No. 5 Sick With It
It's one of the greatest on court performances ever.
"The Flu Game" ,as it would come to be known, was actually Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Battling flu-like symptoms, which was diagnosed as food poisoning, the Bulls training staff had told Jordan that there was no way he could play in Game 5.
But with the series tied at two games a piece, that was not an option for MJ.
Despite barely being able to walk on and off the court by himself, Jordan still dropped 38 points, grabbed seven boards, dished out five assists, had three steals, and played 44 minutes.
His 15-point fourth quarter is a brilliant example of how mentally tough MJ was.
Eat your heart out, Willis Reed.
No. 4 "God Disguised As Michael Jordan"
"He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."
That was a quote by NBA legen Larry Bird, as he tried to describe what he just witnessed on April 20, 1986.
After breaking a bone in his foot in the third game of the NBA season that year, Jordan missed almost his entire sophmore season. Despite being advised to sit out until the following year, Jordan returned to play for the Bulls down the stretch, helping them reach the 1986 playoffs.
The first round matchup would be tough, and ultimately the Celtics would sweep the Bulls, but MJ did all he could to keep Chicago in it.
After scoring 49 points in Game 1, Jordan topped the feat by dropping a playoff record 63 points in a double overtime loss.
The point total was tremendous, but if you watched the game, it looked even better. No player on the Celtics, not Robert Parrish, not Kevin McHale, not Larry Bird could stop Jordan that day. In fact, there were moments when Michael made Bird look like a turnstile on defense, his speed and quickness simply overmatching Boston's legend.
No. 3 Off Into The Sunset...Sort Of
Maybe the greatest final minute of a basketball game ever happened in Game 6 of the 1998 Nba Finals.
With Karl Malone in the post looking to seal a Jazz victory, Jordan stripped the ball from Malone's hands, dribbled the ball down court, and pulled up for a jumper with Jazz defensive ace Bryon Russell all over him.
Everyone watching new the shot was good, as Jordan keeped his snapped wrist in the air for dramatic effect.
It was supposed to be the exclamation point at the end of a great career. The greatest of all time, riding off into the sunset a champion.
That didn't last very long, but seeing that Michael would give up the perfect ending just to be able to continue to play this wonderful game, is really the hidden beauty of the whole moment.
Oh, and yes, it was a push off.
No. 2 No Ring For You
Think for a second of all of the all time great players who were denied a championship because they played in the same era as Michael Jordan. Here are some names:
Dominique Wilkens, Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Gary Payton, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Larry Johnson, Shawn Kemp, Mark Jackson and Mark Price.
Plus these great players who only were able to win after MJ retired:
David Robinson, Clyde Drexler, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
If this were boxing, that would be a pretty impressive list of victories.
No. 1 "It's Gotta Be The Shoes"
Anything Michael Jordan did on the basketball court, pales in comparison to Mike's contribution to pop culture simply by adding his last name to a shoe.
The Air Jordan sneaker by Nike changed the way sneakers were percieved, priced, and worn.
The shoes themselves are usually cutting edge, finely crafted, and brutally expensive pieces of high performance basketball couture. Even during the time when MJ was nowhere near a basketball court, the shoe's popularity never wained. They became so popular, that Nike created the Jordan Brand to create all types of athletic gear with MJ's name and likeness attached.
Go to any basketball court in America, from playground to pro, and you'll see a Jordan logo on someone.
And to think, those original Air Jordan's pictured above were originally banned by the NBA because they didn't contain eough white. Hilarious.