This Day in Black Sports History: February 21, 2003
Although in the twilight of his career, with nothing left to prove, Michael Jeffrey Jordan continued his assault on the National Basketball Association’s record books.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Wilmington, N.C., Jordan was motivated to prove his worth since he failed to make his high school’s varsity basketball team as a sophomore.
So upon earning a spot on the varsity roster, it should come as no surprise that Jordan tallied approximately 20 points per game over his final two seasons of play, including averaging a triple-double—29.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 10.1 assists—during his senior season.
After accepting a scholarship offer to play at the University of North Carolina, Jordan went on to average 17.7 points and five rebounds per game over the course of three seasons. In the process, Jordan was named the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Freshman of the Year and won the Naismith and Wooden College Player of the Year Awards for his junior season exploits.
Jordan gave up his final year of eligibility to enter the 1984 NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the third overall pick after Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) and Sam Bowie (Portland Trail Blazers).
For the 15 seasons he played in the NBA, Jordan would prove that the Rockets and Trail Blazers missed the mark with each All-Star Game he made (14), each Most Valuable Player Award he won (five) and each Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy he brought back to the Windy City (six).
From 1991 to 1998, the Bulls would win the NBA title every season that Jordan was playing. The only two years Chicago didn’t lay claim to the championship (1994, 1995), was when Jordan temporarily retired to pursue a career in baseball.
Jordan would walk away from the game a second time after leading the Bulls to their second three-peat in eight years, further affirming his status as the greatest player in league history.
Two years later, Jordan returned to the NBA as part-owner and President of Basketball Operations for the Washington Wizards, which would only stoke the competitive flames that still burned within.
As a result, Jordan returned to play for the Wizards the following season, in which he led the team in scoring (22.9 ppg), assists (5.2 apg) and steals (1.42 spg).
The 2002-03 season would be Jordan’s last, as advancing age and nagging injuries finally caught up with “greatest basketball player of all-time,” but he would depart with a flourish.
Playing in his 14th and final NBA All-Star Game, Jordan scored 20 points to become the all-time leading scorer in All-Star Game history.
For an encore, on Feb. 21, 2003, Jordan became the oldest player to score 40 points or more in a game, when he lit up the New Jersey Nets for 43 points in an 89-86 Wizards victory.
In a testament to his love of the game, Jordan was the only Washington player to play all 82 games that season, averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.
After tributes were paid to him throughout the league, Jordan played his final game on April 16, 2003 in Philadelphia.
Jordan went to the bench in the third quarter after scoring only 13 points and with the Wizards trailing the Philadelphia 76ers, 75–56.
The fourth quarter would see Jordan re-enter the game for a 50-second stint to sink the final free throws of his career. Subsequently, when he returned to the bench, Jordan would receive a three-minute standing ovation from his teammates, the Sixers team, the officials and the capacity crowd at the First Union Center.
His legacy secured, the ultimate form of acknowledgment would come from one of Jordan’s legendary peers who once said:
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