While the whole basketball world has yet to come up with a suitable superlative for Mister 23, here it comes the sport-odyssey of a man celebrated so far by ink on skin…
It’s so hard to explain in few lines what it is that Michael Jeffrey Jordan (born in Brooklyn on 17th February 1963) has meant to world sport. So let’s take this in stages. His Airness, his most famous nickname, made his first appearance in professional basketball as far back as 1984 thanks to the inspired move by the Chicago Bulls who scouted him out at the University of North Carolina (where with the Tar Heels he had already won the NCAA title in ‘82).
Then for seven long years he won practically nothing. Of course we’re not even counting the playoffs he took part in during that period, the thousands of points scored, a style that was simply dominant, all played at a height (which is where he got his nickname ‘Air’, but also lots of technical flack for his marked individualism).
But the final title always went to the others: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, aka the other legends of NBA in the ’80s. Then 1991 saw the real turnaround. After the umpteenth temper tantrum (there was talk of a chair being smashed in the changing room after they were whipped by Detroit), Jordan decided to commit himself totally to the Bulls and with the priceless counselling of a trainer-psychologist like Phil Jackson managed to find the necessary calm to carry the weight of an entire team on his shoulders.
Thanks to this superhuman player, Chicago would now win three consecutive titles against Los Angeles, Portland and Phoenix and, in 1993 (with Charles Barkley’s Suns), played one of the best series of all time. Sir Charles came out with the famous remark: «I thought that Michael had 2000 different moves on the court, but I was wrong. He’s got 3000.». Wow!
The Bulls’ first three-peat would be repeated from ’96 to ’98 in three more epic finals against the Seattle Supersonics and John Stockton‘s unfortunate Utah Jazz who they thrashed twice in a row. In the end, Michael would collect all of 6 rings, two Olympic victories (Los Angeles ’84 and Barcelona ’92), score over 32,000 points throughout his career, play in 14 All-Star Games and be awarded the MVP title (Most Valuable Player) no less than 11 times.
When he retired in ’98, the US basketball scene had no idea who could take his place, but Mister 23 (the number on his jersey) kept on slam dunking over the age of 40 and spent two seasons with the Washington Wizards (from 2001 to 2003), a team he just happens to own.
In 1993/’94, he made the most controversial move of his distinguished career. To honour the memory of his father who had been brutally killed during a robbery during summer of ‘93, he suddenly abandoned the world of the NBA (which had become too cramped for someone of his stature) and tried his hand batting on the baseball field. It had been his dad’s favourite sport. He signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox, but seeing his limitations on the home plate they passed him on straight away to the Birmingham Barons, their second team that plays in the Minor League.
In the end it didn’t turn out so badly after all (127 matches in all with just 3 off the field), but the rest of the world couldn’t put up with MJ’s hobby any more. Many think it was the advertising campaign with Nike (Jordan’s only true soul mate), but in any case, in 1995 he was back, hungry for new victories, and the rest is history. His only words in the course of a hysterical press conference in march ’95 that monopolised the American media were straight and to the point, pure Michael Jordan: «I’m back!». And so he was. Thanks for the thrills on court, MJ!