How Michael Jordan and LeBron James broke through the NBA's glass ceiling

How Michael Jordan and LeBron James broke through the NBA's glass ceiling

The crowd roared as Michael Jordan walked onto the court during Sunday’s All-Star Game. Jordan had made this stroll 14 times as a player, but this time, he wasn’t wearing a jersey. Instead, he was dressed in a black blazer, gray jeans and a giant watch that sparkled with the power of the sun.

The announcer’s growly voice blared from the Spectrum Center speakers.

“From North Carolina, the 6-6 guard and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets, Michaelllllll Jordannnn.”

Jordan was ceremoniously handing the All-Star Game ball to Michael Reinsdorf, the president of Jordan’s former team, the Chicago Bulls, and the son of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The city of Chicago will be hosting the 2020 All-Star Game.

Looking on from the sidelines during the timeout, LeBron James and 25 other uniformed All-Stars watched the two shake hands. It was a symbolic gesture with historical weight. In 2010, Jordan became the first former NBA player to become a majority owner of a franchise. He is currently the only African-American majority owner in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB. 

These handshakes are almost always done with white hands.

That fact wasn’t lost on the All-Stars that surrounded Jordan on Sunday, the majority of whom were black. Jordan broke through a wall, opening a door that many of those same players hope to one day walk through.

Only days before he stood in front of Jordan in Charlotte, James, the most prominent All-Star of them all, announced to the world his intention to follow in Jordan’s footsteps.

Last week, through The Athletic, James boldly declared that he was going to own an NBA team one day, just like Jordan.

“Ain’t no maybe about it,” James told The Athletic. “I’m going to do that s***.”

That’s always been the plan.

“That’s what he’s gonna do,” Dwyane Wade said of James this past weekend. “He’s going to own a team. He’s been talking about this since we were rookies. I think all of us want to be a part of ownership,” Wade said. “It’s a goal of mine, it’s a goal of (Chris Paul), (Carmelo Anthony) and our whole crew.”

Jordan’s power has gone all the way to the top. And today’s players are flexing their muscle.

* * *

Kevin Durant grew up outside Washington, D.C., in Prince George’s County, MD, and was four days away from his 13th birthday when, on Sept. 25, 2001, Jordan announced he would return to play for the local Washington Wizards. Six years later, by the time Durant was drafted No. 2 overall in 2007, Jordan had purchased a minority stake in the then-Charlotte Bobcats, the first stepping stone to buying the team outright in 2010.

As a kid in PGC, Durant never even considered that he could one day be an owner of any NBA team. But Jordan changed all that. Nowadays, Durant is thinking bigger. While Jordan played host at All-Star Weekend, Durant was asked whether he ever dreamed he could possibly own a franchise.

“I never thought about it as a kid,” Durant said. “You don’t even think about the business until halfway in [after] you accomplish everything you want as a player. Only thing I [previously] thought about is stepping into this oasis, this freedom as a man, to just do everything I wanted every day -- play basketball, play video games, watch TV, eat junk food. I’ve been doing that for the last 12 years.

“Now, I’ve started to think about what’s next.”

Durant, who is almost four years younger than James, followed a similar path to James off the court. James built a business empire through agent Rich Paul, manager Maverick Carter and others in his inner circle. So far, James has opened a public school in his hometown of Akron, launched an athlete-owned media company in Uninterrupted, and had at least some role in founding a sports agency, Klutch Sports Management, with his longtime friend Paul. There’s also SpringHill Entertainment, a production company started by James and Carter, which produced James-centric shows on HBO and ESPN and will shepherd James’ starring turn in Space Jam 2 in the role once held by Jordan.

Last week, Durant debuted his own show, “The Boardroom” on ESPN+, in which he and his business partner Rich Kleiman will have starring roles alongside ESPN analyst and former No. 2 overall pick Jay Williams. The original series, in a similar vein as James’ “The Shop,” will feature in-depth discussions from icons inside and outside basketball about the sports business. It’s just one of several projects hosted within Thirty Five Ventures, a company Durant co-owns with Kleiman. Durant has also pledged a $10 million donation to open The Durant Center, a new facility seeking to increase the number of low-income and first-generation college students in the Prince George’s County public school system.

Durant, like James, also has interest in adding an NBA team -- or a slice of one -- to his investment portfolio. The Golden State Warriors forward is just 30 years old and has made $160 million in salary. He knows it’s going to take a lot more than that to get into the ownership business.

“If I make enough money, I would for sure think about it,” Durant said. “I would love to. It’s much easier said than done.”

In 2010, Jordan successfully made a $275 million bid, plopping down $30 million in upfront cash, according to the Charlotte Observer, to purchase the team from Bob Johnson, the co-founder of BET and the first African-American majority club owner of a major American sports league. Jordan’s investment was a shrewd business move. This month, Forbes valued the Charlotte franchise at $1.25 billion. 

The money is one thing, but Durant stressed how significant it is that Jordan, as an African-American, was able to smash through that glass ceiling that, for so long, had been colored white.

“I don’t want to understate that when it comes to Michael Jordan, it’s so hard to break into that club of being an owner,” Durant said. “Because that’s what it is -- it’s a boy’s club. It’s a bunch of friends that make those deals together. So when you see a black man from North Carolina, that started off as a basketball player, rise up and own a basketball team, it’s very inspiring.”

Count Portland Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard among those who drew inspiration from Jordan and his business pursuits that empowered him to own a team.

“I think he’s definitely opened the doors for it, just letting you know it’s possible,” Lillard said. “For him, the great Michael Jordan as a player, but on the business side he was the first guy to really, really, really do it. Especially as an African-American man. For him to do that, now you see so many guys try to establish that business away from basketball.”

* * *

For so long, the business of basketball has been disproportionately white. In 2015, Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, found that the NBA was a leader in the sports industry for racial and gender hiring practices, receiving top scores in men’s pro sports. 

However, a survey of the league’s org charts showed that, despite those strong marks, the higher and higher one looks, the fewer and fewer African-Americans appeared. According to the UCF study, 74.4 percent of all NBA players identified themselves as African-Americans or black compared to just 33.3 percent of their head coaches, 19.4 percent of GMs and 3.3 percent of owners (with Jordan the sole majority owner). In 2019, after Tyronn Lue was fired by Cleveland earlier this season, the coaching percentage fell to 23.3 percent, or seven of the 30 jobs. For any player looking at positions of power in their sport, that’s not an encouraging sign.

Just last week, James spoke out against what he sees as racial bias against his African-American representatives. 

Following a trip to take in a Duke-Virginia game, James and Paul were chided for what many  saw as a “recruiting trip” of projected 2019 No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson.

In talking to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, James fired back.

“A recruiting trip? I didn't talk to anybody,” James said. "They're only saying that because it's Rich … Now, Rich is a threat to everybody, and they look at it and they want to keep trying to jab my agent and jab my friend. And what is he doing that's wrong? They don't say that about no other agent when other guys go see [players]. They don't say that about no other agent, but my guy because he's a threat.”

James went on.

"And he's African-American, too. Throw that in there.”

* * *

Not every star sees themselves as a future NBA owner. Kemba Walker, who plays for Jordan’s Hornets, wasn’t about that life, telling NBC Sports, “no sir, just not my thing.” After praising Jordan’s business efforts, Lillard just shook his head when asked if he’d like to be an owner or run an NBA team. Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson said owning a team “would be fun, but it takes a lot of capital to do that. I’ll just stick to owning a fantasy team one day.”

But just about every player that spoke with NBC Sports praised James and Jordan for empowering the younger generation to think big. James and Jordan have not just asserted their own power, but have also elevated people of color to powerful positions. In 2006, Jordan hired Charlotte Hornets (then-Bobcats) president of business operations Fred Whitfield as the NBA’s only African-American chief operating officer. Whitfield has worked closely with Jordan for decades, initially as an attorney under Jordan’s longtime agent David Falk. (On Saturday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver name-checked Whitfield during his opening remarks at his annual All-Star press conference).

In 2012, while with the Miami Heat, James hired Paul, who had been working under Leon Rose at CAA, to be his agent. Paul left CAA to start up Klutch Sports and in short time has become one of the league’s top power brokers.

Since leaving CAA, Paul has added stars such as Davis, John Wall and Ben Simmons to his clientele. According to HoopsHype tracking, Paul currently represents 16 players with total salaries amounting to $194 million, the fifth-highest total among all agents.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, just 22 years old and a participant in the All-Star 3-point shootout for a second time, admired James and Jordan’s business acumen but also noted their support staffs.

“They’re opening doors,” said Booker, who is not one of Paul’s clients. “It’s never enough for those type of guys, and I’d like to think of myself the same. Expanding their business, expanding their life. And they put the right people around them in the right positions to take care of them. Big shout out to them for changing the game and being an inspiration to us, the younger generation.”

* * *

It’s not hard to envision how a franchise owned by James might look. Could there one day be a Banana Boat Inc., investment group featuring James, Wade, Paul and Anthony? Wade hinted at it over the All-Star Weekend, and others in the league are connecting the dots.

Just as Jordan anointed his longtime associate Whitfield to be the Hornets president, some in league circles foresee a possible two-pronged brain trust featuring Carter at the head of business operations and Paul spearheading the basketball side. 

Paul is following a similar path as the current general managers for both James and Durant’s teams. Before taking over as the Lakers’ general manager, Rob Pelinka was a high-powered agent for over a decade, representing names like Kobe Bryant, James Harden and for a short time, Durant. Warriors GM Bob Myers did the same, spending 14 years as a big-time agent with SFX Sports and Wasserman. 

Both Pelinka and Myers played college hoops and earned a law degree before entering the agent business. Paul did neither but has amassed an impressive client list and is flexing comparable power just the same. 

Not everyone likes it, especially those in top managerial levels. Pelicans owner Gayle Benson fired the team’s general manager the morning after Paul walked out mid-game with Anthony Davis on national television, reportedly vowing to “take back control from outside forces,” according to ESPN. As the president of the Knicks, Phil Jackson once referred to James’ business partners as a “posse,” a term that James and Carter interpreted as offensive racially-coded language meant to minimize their business credibility.

"We see the success that we have, but then there is always someone that lets you know still how far we still have to go as African-Americans," James said following Jackson’s comments.

The All-Star Weekend was a homecoming for the Curry family, but it also represented something more than that. With Jordan owning a franchise and LeBron making noise about doing the same, it was a statement that black athletes are wielding more power within the game than ever before and opening doors for others to follow. Perhaps one day we’ll see James shake hands with Jordan at halfcourt of an All-Star game -- not as players, but owners.

NBA playoffs need a draft and here's how it would look

NBC Sports

NBA playoffs need a draft and here's how it would look

As the NBA finalizes its plans to restart in Orlando, it should pay close attention to what’s happening in Germany. 

On May 16, the Bundesliga became the first major soccer league to resume its season following the coronavirus shutdown and, to this point, the restart has gone off largely without a hitch. Unlike the NBA, where the focus has been resuming the season in a one-site campus, the Bundesliga is instead allowing teams to travel within German borders and play out its schedule in the teams’ respective home stadiums. What the two leagues have in common, however, is the absence of fans in attendance. 

And the results are fascinating.

Since the coronavirus shutdown, with no fans in attendance, home teams have won just 29.4 percent of their decided matches (not including those that ended in a draw). 

Before the coronavirus shutdown, with fans in attendance, home teams won 66.4 percent of their decided matches this season (not including those that ended in a draw).

That’s right. Home teams in Germany’s top soccer league have won just five of their 27 matches, with 10 matches ending in a draw and 12 outright defeats.

On Tuesday, Borussia Dortmund faced off against Bayern Munich at Westfalenstadion. The monstrous stadium holds 81,365 people, making it Germany’s largest stadium and the seventh-largest in all of Europe. On Tuesday, the stands were empty. Borussia Dortmund lost 1-0.

So far, home-field advantage has been decimated, even when you account for team superiority. According to Bundesliga bet tracking, road favorites are 7-0-2 (win-loss-draw) since play resumed while home favorites are a measly 5-5-8, using gambling data. Without fans rooting them on, the home underdog has yet to punch above its weight and pull off an upset.

This has important ramifications for the NBA, which is currently discussing different scenarios and playoff structures if and when the season resumes, but one constant has emerged: no fans. According to league sources, the NBA has not decided on a playoff format or given any indication to teams as to which direction it is leaning toward, but it’s clear that fans will not be allowed to attend.

This has important ramifications for the NBA, which is currently discussing different scenarios and playoff structures if and when the season resumes. According to league sources, the NBA has not decided on a playoff format or given any indication to teams as to which direction it is leaning toward.

There are many options on the table, including the traditional 16-team format divided into two conferences, a conference-free 1-thru-16 seeded tournament and an expansion involving 20, 24 or as many all 30 teams in some fashion. In conversations with several team execs, there’s an expectation that widening the playoff field would be partially motivated to include the starpower of Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans, who are currently the West’s 10th seed, and Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, currently slotted 9th out West.

But when the NBA decides the playoff structure, it should seriously consider replenishing home-court advantage in some way.

In normal playoff circumstances, the higher-seeded team receives three perks: playing a worse (lower-seeded) team, playing on its home court first and enjoying Game 7 on the same home court. In a closed campus situation, the higher-seeded team won’t enjoy those last two perks, most notably that Game 7 factor. 

It’s been said that the two best words in all of sports is “Game 7,” but road teams aren’t trying to hear that. In 135 Game 7s in NBA playoff history, the home team has gone 106-29, for a win percentage of a whopping 78.5 percent. That’s a boost beyond the playoff norm; last postseason, the home team went 46-36, winning 56.1 percent of its games, a far cry from the observed Game 7 edge.

If teams convene in Orlando without fans in attendance, the higher-seeded team will lose one of its hard-earned benefits. That’s a problem.

Here’s a solution:

Reseed teams 1-through-16 (or 20 or 24) and let the higher-seeded teams (Nos. 1 through 8) choose their opponents in every round. 

The No. 1 seed would choose its opponent from a pool of the bottom half of the playoff field (eight teams in a 16-team playoff or 10 if the league decides to expand to 20 teams). The No. 2 seed would choose from the remaining teams and so on. You could broadcast the selections -- call it Selection Saturday if the NCAA doesn’t have rights to that as well -- in real-time, just like the NBA did for the All-Star draft.

“I absolutely love the idea,” said one Western Conference GM. “I love it now and I loved it then in the G League.”

For years, the NBA has long been intrigued by the choose-your-opponent idea. Beginning in the 2008-09 season, the G League (then called the NBA D-League) decided to spice things up for their eight-team playoff by letting the top three seeds choose their opponent from the bottom four seeds (the No. 4 team would face the lone remaining team). 

The experimental tweak actually stuck. For the next six postseasons, top seeds chose its first-round opponent based on matchups with unforeseen roster changes providing a key variable. In a minor-league system, NBA call-ups dramatically shifted the competitive landscape. A fifth-seeded team, for example, may have just lost its best player to the NBA, making it a more favorable draw than a fully-stacked eighth seed. 

Naysayers might argue that teams would be risk-averse cowards and wouldn’t choose anything but the lowest-seeded team possible. Why give any opponent even more bulletin board material? Why give them a chip on their shoulder?

Gamesmanship is part of the league’s DNA. This is a league that sees its playoff teams dress in funereal black for closeout games and taunt their Finals opponents for being sick. So it may not be a surprise that, more often than not, G League teams used their agency and picked a non-default opponent. 

Surprisingly, in six G League postseasons, the No. 1 seed didn’t choose the No. 8 seed four times, opting instead to play the No. 7 seed (three instances) and No. 6 seed (once). Among No. 1 seeds, picking a higher-seed backfired only once in 2012-13 when the No. 6 Austin Spurs swept the top-seeded Bakersfield Jam 2-0 in a three-game series. (The 2012-13 Spurs coach? Current Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins). 

Overall, among the 12 picks that weren’t the lowest-seed possible, only three backfired in upsets (25 percent upset rate). Of the six picks that chose the lowest-seed possible, two upsets occurred (33 percent upset rate). Choosing a higher-seeded opponent than the default option actually yielded fewer upsets. In other words, the chip-on-your-shoulder motivator actually didn’t result in more upsets.

The G League doesn’t operate this way anymore. Once the league moved into two conferences in 2014-15, they ditched the playoff format to more closely align the NBA’s two-conference playoff system. 

But it’s time to bring the idea back, in the big leagues. 

To be clear, this is not a shameless play for ratings and eyeballs. This is also a play for fairness. 

The league is sailing into uncharted waters here. The conditions in which teams played 65-ish games in the regular season will be vastly different than the environment in which they’re about to decide a champion. Several teams I’ve spoken to have mentally treated it as a separate season because the closed-campus circumstances promise to be so alien. 

The three-month shutdown will surely hit teams very differently. Will certain teams suffer unfortunate injuries in training camp or in the games leading up to the postseason? Will younger rosters be better off with fresher legs? Will veteran teams with playoff pedigree have an advantage? Will certain teams not have their head coach joining them in the playoffs because of coronavirus-related safety concerns? 

The coronavirus will have impacted teams in uneven ways. Will teams that were able to train in their practice facility early have an edge over teams that were forced to stay closed because of their market’s public health situation? Portland opened its complex on May 8, while Boston, Dallas and six other teams are still shut down as of May 28.

(Speaking of geographics, this shouldn’t be seen as a pandemic-only gimmick. If the league is worried about long-distance travel in strict 1-through-16 matchups down the line, letting travel-conscious teams pick opponents could naturally prune that problem away.) 

With so many uncertainties that will undoubtedly fog up the situation, the NBA should let top teams navigate the gray area on their own terms, just like the G League. At the very least, give them the choice -- anything to replenish some of that lost home-court edge, and sprinkle in some drama along the way.

* * * 

So what might a Selection Saturday look like for the NBA?

Here’s how I’d pick the matchups starting with the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks. Now, keep in mind, this is using current playoff teams if the season ended today. If the season resumed with regular-season games or restarted with group play, the playoff picture might look different. New Orleans could make a run. So could the Blazers. But for now, in this exercise, they’re out.

With the No. 1 overall selection, the Milwaukee Bucks select … the Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are in a bad spot. Kyrie Irving (shoulder surgery) and Kevin Durant (Achilles surgery) are expected to be sidelined. Former head coach Kenny Atkinson was fired two games before the shutdown and replaced by assistant coach Jacque Vaughn. The Nets weren’t allowed to open their practice facility until late May. 

This team might have a classic “Nobody Believes In Us” card (shouts to Bill Simmons). But there’s a reason no one believes in them. In these two teams’ lone meeting in late January, the Bucks won by 20. And that was in Brooklyn. With Irving. And only 25 minutes of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The juiciest part: Atkinson was Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer’s top assistant at their previous stop in Atlanta. Hire him, Bud. And have him announce the selection. 

No. 2. Los Angeles Lakers
Opponent: Orlando Magic

Remember, there are no fans in this hypothetical, so the only home cooking the Magic might enjoy is they won’t need to travel to the location. Even still, the Lakers would be wise to pick the team with the worst record in the playoff field. Yes, the Lakers lost their last meeting against the Magic, but Anthony Davis didn’t play and the Magic nearly blew a 21-point lead, hanging on to win by just one point. 

Interesting note: Davis has struggled against Nikola Vucevic in his career, winning just four of his 11 career matchups against the Orlando big man in his career. However, all of those games came when Davis was a member of the Pelicans. If the Magic get lockdown defender Jonathan Isaac back from a knee injury, I might think about going in a different direction, but in the end, 30-34 is 30-34.

No. 3 Toronto Raptors
Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies

The Marc Gasol Bowl. Or is it the Jonas Valanciunas revenge series? Either way, this matchup would be juicy. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and the young Grizz stunned the NBA this season en route to the No. 8 seed in the West, but the Raptors would have plenty of reason to choose Memphis beyond its lack of experience.

The Grizzlies’ 32-33 record is a tad inflated for a couple reasons. Their minus-0.6 net-rating is more reflective of a 30-35 team. Secondly, they had the most difficult remaining schedule in the entire NBA before the final 17 games were wiped out. The one team the Grizzlies didn’t face this season: the Raptors. Gasol’s long-awaited return to Memphis was supposed to happen Mar. 28, but the shutdown nixed that. Gasol hasn’t faced his former team since being traded in Feb. 2019. What better time than now?

No. 4 L.A. Clippers
Opponent: Indiana Pacers

There will be no fans to motivate Paul George with loud boos this time around. After George tallied 36 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a 11-point Clippers win in a bitter Indiana arena back in December, maybe that’s a good thing for the Pacers. The Clippers won that game handily despite not having Kawhi Leonard, who was resting on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Pacers will be short-handed as it is. About three weeks before the shutdown, Jeremy Lamb, one of the Pacers’ top scorers, went down with a brutal knee injury (torn ACL and lateral meniscus and fractured knee). It remains to be seen how Victor Oladipo will look after the long layoff, but the Clippers’ depth -- bolstered further with the additions of Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris before the shutdown -- should overwhelm the Pacers, who were swept last season by Boston in the first round. 

No. 5 Boston Celtics
Opponent: Dallas Mavericks

The Celtics should be the loudest proponent of the pick-your-opponent format. If the league sticks with the traditional conference split for the playoffs, the third-seeded Celtics would, as of now, face the sixth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. In a 1-through-16 format, as of now, the fifth-seeded Celtics would face ... the 12th-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. For a Celtics team that has lost three of the four games against Philly this season, that’d be a rough draw. 

The Mavericks figure to be an easier foe than the Sixers. The Celtics have won both matchups against Dallas this season, but Luka Doncic only played in one of those tilts. Kristaps Porzingis, who was still taking occasional games off to manage his injury recovery from a torn ACL, is one of those players I worry about when it comes to the long layoff and accelerated training camp. In the end, as long as the Celtics don’t draw Philly, it should be seen as a win.

No. 6 Denver Nuggets
Opponent: Oklahoma City Thunder

I’m a little surprised Chris Paul’s new squad lasted this long in my draft, but they finally go off the board here. I don’t think the Nuggets are feeling great about any of the teams left -- Houston, OKC or Philly -- but the Thunder probably give them their best chance to prevail.

In two matchups this season, the Nuggets split the series 1-1 with their divisional rivals. So much of the Thunder’s success hinges on a 35-year-old Paul staying healthy in these unusual circumstances. With him on the floor the Thunder are plus-295 this season; with Paul on the bench, they are minus-138, per To me, this late in the draft, it’s all about picking your poison and the Thunder feel like the least dangerous choice of the bunch.

No. 7 Utah Jazz 
Opponent: Philadelphia 76ers

The Jazz better hope that there aren’t any regular-season games in Orlando, because I could easily see them losing a few games and being one of the first teams picked in this type of draft. Utah’s sharpshooter, Bojan Bogdanavich, is out after undergoing wrist surgery and who knows where the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell feud ends up.

Philly is one of the few matchups where I feel Rudy Gobert could excel. Houston’s new five-out system would threaten Gobert’s ability to stay on the floor, despite his Defensive Player of the Year chops. Here are Gobert’s plus-minus numbers in his most recent games against Houston: minus-12, minus-6, minus-15, minus-15, plus-2, plus-6, minus-20, minus-23 and minus-15. Anything but Houston. 

No. 8 Miami Heat
Opponent: Houston Rockets

The Heat land the Rockets in a straight 1-through-16 format and they land them again here. The Rockets stumbled before the season shut down, losing three of their final four games, but I still wouldn’t want anything to do with the Rockets’ new look, especially if James Harden looks this fit when play resumes. 

If regular-season games are played, the 41-24 Heat could fall into the bottom half of the board and would be ripe for the picking given the way their defense fell apart in February. Only 2.5 games separate the Jazz, Heat, Pacers, Sixers, Thunder, Rockets and Mavericks in the standings, so this pack of teams could be shuffled dramatically if there’s some sort of lead-up into the postseason. 

Follow Tom Haberstroh on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh), and bookmark for my latest stories and videos and subscribe to the Habershow podcast.

Iconic Michael Jordan weightlifting photo detailed by photographer Andrew Bernstein

Getty Images

Iconic Michael Jordan weightlifting photo detailed by photographer Andrew Bernstein

Michael Jordan, in a crisp white Air Jordan tank, shoulder presses 65-pound dumbbells. 

Behind him is longtime trainer Tim Grover. Over his right shoulder stand former NBC reporter Ahmad Rashad and Hall of Fame sportswriter Jack McCallum. 

It is an iconic photograph captured nearly 30 years ago by Hall of Fame photographer Andy Bernstein. 

“Man, Michael is ripped in this picture,” Bernstein said. “Look at those biceps! Tim was doing his job.”

Bernstein explained how he gained access to photograph moments like this on The Habershow podcast with NBC Sports national NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh.

“A lot of this has to do with trust that I’ve earned, especially with Tim,” Bernstein said. “The trainer rules the room.”

Listen to The Habershow here:

Bernstein, who is on Instagram as adbphotoinc, explained why the image remains popular nearly 30 years later. 

“There aren’t really any other still photos that exist of Michael lifting like this,” Bernstein said. “I had the same experience with Kobe too because he was also very private with his weight lifting regimen.”

Here are the timestamps for Haberstroh’s interview with Bernstein:

4:20 -- Hazards of champagne celebrations

13:50 -- Michael Jordan the Piano Man

29:00 -- The famous MJ lifting photo

34:28 -- Kobe memories

46:40 -- LeBron’s scissor-kick dunk photo

1:02:07 -- Why Phil Jackson hated strobe lighting

For more on Jordan, listen and subscribe to the trailer of Sports Uncovered: