Air Jordan turned 50 in 2013. TSN.ca Producer Shane McNeil looks back on some of the indelible moments that made him the face of basketball.
Originally published on TSN.ca – February 17, 2013.
As Michael Jordan turns 50, it gives basketball fans yet another opportunity to examine the countless highlights and moments that made him one of the greatest stars the NBA has ever seen.
But when looking at Jordan’s legacy, it is the vast expanse of everything he achieved both on and off the court that makes it difficult to nail “His Airness” down to just one defining moment.
So – as he turns 50 – what is the defining Jordan moment for you?
The first image that often comes to mind when discussing Jordan is how he revolutionized the art of the slam dunk.
Of course, the dunk was there before Jordan and one of his most iconic dunks – the 1988 Slam Dunk contest-winning free throw line dunk – was in part an homage to Julius Erving.
However, when it came to consistently covering distance and taking on the biggest players in the league, no one quite did it like Jordan.
From the back-handed windmill to the tongue hanging out, Jordan is single-handedly responsible for the term “posterizing” due to his ability to dunk under almost unthinkable conditions.
But while the dunks would dominate his early career, it would be championships that would become synonymous with Jordan’s name as the 90s rolled in.
After struggling against Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons for three seasons as the 80s turned to the 90s, Jordan would finally get the best of the Pistons in a 1991 Eastern Conference Final sweep.
From that point on, Jordan’s dominance was virtually uncontested. He led the Bulls to a three-peat, winning titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
He would shock the basketball world by announcing his retirement after the 1993 season, but it would not last long. He would return mid-way through the 1994-95 season and while that Bulls team would fall short, the old Jordan would return the next season. Jordan would lead the team to yet another three-peat, taking the 1996, 1997 and 1998 titles.
Jordan would go head to head with many of basketball’s greatest players throughout his career. From his NCAA championship-winning shot over Patrick Ewing, to his record-setting 63-point night against Larry Bird’s Celtics in the 1986 playoffs, Jordan already took on the elite early in his career.
After he got the best of Thomas and the Pistons, his first three titles would come against some of the game’s top players: Magic Johnson in 1991, Clyde Drexler in 1992 and Charles Barkley in 1993.
He would play with all three on the 1992 USA Basketball Dream Team and would draw on fierce practices against the likes of Magic and Bird to take on the mantle of “Best Player in the World” and to elevate his game once he returned to the NBA.
Jordan was a man of indelible images that went beyond Nike’s MJ-inspired “Jumpman” logo and the tongue-wagging dunks.
His clincher against Cleveland in 1989 was so memorable that it has been simply dubbed “The Shot,” meanwhile his first Championship back from retirement will always be remembered for Jordan clutching the ball and sobbing over his father’s death after the final buzzer.
His return with the Wizards notwithstanding, many see Jordan’s clinching jumper against the Jazz in 1998 to secure the Bulls’ sixth title in eight years as the fitting end to Jordan’s dominant NBA career.
Jordan’s statistical achievements were unparalleled during his career, claiming the NBA scoring title every year from 1987 to his retirement in 1993.
Speaking of retirement, perhaps that’s part of Jordan’s legacy, too.
Since Jordan stepped away from the game at the height of his popularity, the notion of being gone for good has become anything but a guarantee. From Mario Lemieux to Roger Clemens to Brett Favre, coming out of retirement has become a common theme throughout North American pro sport. While few tried to make it in another sport in their downtime, the image of Jordan returning with the number 45 has led to many athletes deciding to give it another go.
Of course, Jordan’s legacy was not limited to what he did on the court.
Few athletes transcended sport the way Jordan did. He went one-on-one with The King of Pop. He led the Looney Tunes gang past the menacing MonStars. He went to unthinkable lengths for the right to eat a Big Mac(which he had already presumably paid for). He fought crime and helped the children alongside Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky.
And few athletes’ likenesses have become internationally recognizable logos like the “Jumpman”.
With so many memories to look back on, what is your greatest Jordan memory?