This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-45 and 44-23.
22. Jordan announces retirement from basketball, Oct. 6, 1993
The entire sports world watched in stunned silence as Jordan, on the heels of a third NBA title, announced his retirement from basketball at 30 years old. The true reasons behind the retirement will likely never be known, but in a press conference Jordan told those watching that he had lost a sense of motivation and felt he had nothing more to prove. His next step, he said, was to pursue his first passion – baseball – to honor his late father. The Bulls moved on from Jordan with Scottie Pippen running the show, but that day marked one of the darkest in Chicago sports history.
21. Jordan named league MVP for first time, May 25, 1988
Jordan had plenty of historic seasons, but his first MVP might have been his best. The raw numbers – 82 games, 35.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 3.2 steals, 1.6 blocks – were unbelievable. But also consider that Jordan shot 54 percent from the field, won Defensive Player of the Year and led the Bulls to 50 wins, their first winning season since 1977. Jordan’s PER was 31.71 that season. The only two higher PER seasons in NBA history to this day are Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 and 1963. In those seasons Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds, and 44.8 points and 24.3 rebounds. Yeah, solid company.
20. Jordan scores 30 points in Game 5 of NBA Finals to clinch Bulls’ first title, June 12, 1991
Jordan finally overcame the doubters when he stormed through the Eastern Conference Finals and then the L.A. Lakers to earn the Bulls their first title. The Bulls lost just twice in the postseason (both times by two points), and followed each with double-digit wins. Jordan was magnificent against Magic Johnson and the Lakers, averaging 31.2 points on 56 percent shooting while playing 44 minutes per game. He also had double-digit assists in four of the five games (and nine in the other). Fittingly enough, Jordan played all 48 minutes in Game 5 to earn his first title.
19. Bulls become first team in NBA history to win 70 games, beating Bucks, April 16, 1996
The Bulls, sitting at 69-9, had four opportunities to become the first team ever to reach 70 wins. It was a question of when, not if, they would make history. Still, it was a sight to behold when the Bulls came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to set the record in Milwaukee. They shot just 39 percent and trailed a Bucks team with a 24-55 record much of the evening, but they came back with a strong fourth quarter, with Jordan’s 22 points leading the way. It toppled the ‘71-72 Lakers’ NBA record of 69 wins.
18. Jordan clinches 5th title, scoring 39 points in Game 6, June 13, 1997
Seemingly the forgotten title (if there ever could be one), there wasn’t a 72-win team attached to this title, and it wasn’t MJ’s final win with the Bulls. But it was a big one nonetheless, as the Bulls were tied with the Jazz after splitting the first four games, the home team winners in each. So how did His Airness respond? By going for 38 points in Game 5 (more on that tomorrow) and 39 in the closeout game back at the United Center. The points were nice, but it was Jordan’s pass to Steve Kerr with 5 seconds left that clinched the game, and the title, for the Bulls. Jordan was named Finals MVP for a record fifth time, averaging 32.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
17. Jordan announces return to NBA with “I’m back” statement, scores 19 the next day, March 18, 1995
Perhaps the most famous words in Bulls history aside from Michael and Jordan are “I’m back.” That’s all Jordan’s statement read when he famously returned to the NBA late in the 1995 season. He showed some obvious rust in his first game, shooting 7-for-28 in a loss to the Pacers, but the fact that a 32-year-old Jordan was back and committed to a Bulls team still every bit a contender as when he left was the bigger story that day.
16. Jordan inducted into Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Sept. 11, 2009
Jordan’s global impact on basketball far outweighed what he did on the court, and we all know how much he accomplished on the hardwood. That’s why Jordan’s induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was just as much about the six titles, scoring records and trophies as it was what he’s done for Nike, Jumpman and basketball around the world. The iconic 2009 class also included Jerry Sloan, John Stockton and David Robinson, among others. And yes, the Crying Jordan meme was birthed on this day.
15. Michael Jordan named NBA Rookie of the Year, May 16, 1985
Jordan earned 57.5 of the 78 first-place votes for NBA Rookie of the Year, with Hakeem Olajuwon earning the other 20.5. But it was hard to argue with Jordan winning the award. His 28.3 points were the most by a rookie since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 28.8 per game, and he was the seventh rookie ever to average 28 per game. The others? George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Walt Bellamy, Elvin Hayes and Kareem. That’s 7 of 7 Hall of Famers, if you’re counting at home. And since Jordan’s rookie campaign, only David Robinson has even eclipsed 24 points per game in his first season.
14. Jordan dunks over Patrick Ewing in Game 3 as Bulls sweep Knicks, April 30, 1991
You know the play. In what is perhaps Jordan’s most iconic in-game dunk, His Airness spun baseline out of a John Starks/Charles Oakley double team and took an elevator up and over a defending Patrick Ewing. Ewing didn’t stand a chance, and neither did the Knicks. Jordan wound up scoring 33 points in a Game 3 win at Madison Square Garden, sweeping the Knicks out of the first round. It may not have been Jordan’s biggest moment at the Garden, but it’s certainly his most memorable.
13. Jordan scores a career-high 69 points at Cleveland in overtime, March 28, 1990
The list wouldn’t be complete without including the highest scoring performance of Jordan’s career. At the time Jordan’s 69-point effort was the ninth highest in NBA history, and it was as remarkable as you would think. Jordan played 50 minutes, going 23 of 37 from the field and getting to the free throw line 23 times. He even made a pair of 3-pointers, and capped off his effort with a career-best 18 rebounds. Only four players have ever gone for 60 and 18 in a game: Wilt Chamberlain (7 times), Jordan, Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. Jordan scored seven of the Bulls’ 12 points in overtime as they pulled away for a four-point win.
12. Jordan scores 22 points in Gold Medal Game with Dream Team, August 8, 1992
It was only fitting that Jordan led the team in scoring as the Dream Team won gold in Barcelona. The journey of the greatest team ever assembled featured so many lasting memories, including the infamous scrimmage, MJ and Pippen defending Toni Kukoc, Charles Barkley predicting trouble for Angola, and John Stockton walking around the city with no one recognizing who he was. For the tournament, Jordan averaged 14.9 points and was the only Dream Teamer to start all eight games. It was Jordan’s second gold medal, as he had won one as a college player in 1984 at the Summer Games in Los Angeles.
11. 55 points at MSG in 5th game back in return to NBA, March 28, 1995
Jordan proclaimed he was back two weeks earlier, but everyone knew he was actually back once he arrived at Madison Square Garden. Jordan torched the Knicks for 55 points, making it look easy on 21-for-37 shooting. New York had no answer for No. 45, and it was almost fitting that Jordan found Bill Wennington wide open under the basket with 3.1 seconds remaining to break a 111-111 tie. Jordan only had two assists all night, but his scoring barrage and subsequent double team as the clock wound down made his second one his easiest. That night was proof that MJ still had it and that the Bulls were back, knocking off the 44-24 Knicks at home.
10. 55 points in Game 4 vs. Suns of 1993 NBA Finals, highest scoring average ever in Finals, June 16, 1993
Jordan’s best Finals performance might have been his third. The 41.0 points he averaged over the six-game series still stands as the highest in NBA Finals history. His lowest point total in the series was 31 points, and in four of the games he scored 40+. The average boomed in Game 4 when he dropped 55 in a crucial victory after the Suns had taken Game 3 in triple overtime. Those 55 points stand as tied for the second most in an NBA Finals game, behind only Elgin Baylor’s 61 in 1962. Jordan made 21 of 37 shots and got to the free throw line 18 times.
9. Jordan beats Dominique Wilkins in iconic 1988 Dunk Contest in Chicago Stadium, Feb. 6, 1988
Was Dominique robbed? That debate can happen on his birthday. Jordan won the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest on his home court thanks for a handful of iconic dunks, one of which became one of the most recognizable logos in all of sports. The two traded 50s on each of the first dunks in the final round. Wilkins tallied a 50 on his next dunk, and Jordan could only counter with a 47. But after Wilkins managed just a 45 on his third dunk, Jordan needed a 49 to repeat. Jordan did just that, finishing his dunk from the free-throw line to earn a perfect 50. He was the first player to ever repeat as champion, and since then only Jason Richardson, Nate Robinson and Zach LaVine have done so.
8. Jordan hits jumper vs. Georgetown to win NCAA title, March 29, 1982
The knock on Jordan in college was that he couldn’t hit jump shots. Well, he sure looked comfortable draining his first of what would become innumerable iconic shots. With 17 seconds left and the North Carolina trailing Patrick Ewing and Georgetown by one, Jordan hoisted up from the left corner and buried a 15-footer to put the Tar Heels ahead. His 15th and 16th points were all they needed to earn the program’s first title since 1957. Years later Jordan admitted that his shot to win it all “was the birth of Michael Jordan.”
7. Jordan switches hands in mid-air against Lakers, part of 33-point night in Game 2 of Finals, June 5, 1991
On his way to the first championship of his NBA career, Jordan went full acrobat during Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Jordan took a pass Cliff Levingston while cutting down the lane, took one dribble, gathered and took flight toward the rim. Both A.C. Green and Jordan’s college teammate Sam Perkins were waiting under the basket to defend the attempt. And while neither wound up jumping to contest the shot, Jordan made sure of it by switching the ball from his right to his left hand in mid-air and finishing high off the glass. The 33 points were a game-high and got the Bulls in the win column after the Lakers had taken Game 1.
6. Jordan’s Shot on Ehlo to win Game 5 of 1989 series against Cavs, May 7, 1989
The Bulls had actually defeated the Cavaliers in the playoffs the previous year in five games, but this shot still meant plenty. Jordan and the Bulls had been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round two of the previous three years, and they were on the verge of blowing a 2-1 series lead in Cleveland. Trailing by six, the Bulls clawed back in the final quarter and actually took a 99-98 lead with 6 seconds left on a Jordan jumper. Ehlo then scored a layup with 3 seconds left that pushed Cleveland’s lead back to 1. That’s when Jordan heroics took center stage, with No. 23 taking the inbounds pass from Brad Sellers, rising up from the free throw line and burying a 15-footer at the buzzer. “Bulls win, The Bulls win it!”