Michael Jordan at 59: The man who changed what it meant to be an athlete | Chicago Bulls | NBA

In the summer of 1998, Michael Jordan won his last NBA championship with the Bulls. Six months later, he left the team altogether. This famous Game Six turned out to be their last match with them. Having already left them five years earlier for a brief exodus from baseball, to paraphrase Donna Summer, this time Chicago knew it was real. On his 59th birthday, we reflect on the career of Jordan, the man who went from basketball star to cultural sensation and changed what it meant to be an athlete.

It has now been 24 years since MJ last drew Bulls blood, in another championship-winning game; last time to see the transcendent triptych – Jordan, Bulls, ring – for which he, and indeed they, will be forever synonymous.

To put those years that have since passed into perspective, if you retraced the same amount of time from that date, you’d enter a world that still hadn’t heard of Star Wars, apple seeds didn’t do that germinate, The Supremes were pretty much together, and Charlie Chaplin was still alive.

Otherwise, how could Jordan consciously part ways with the Bulls? In the same way that the first marriage ended in 1993, of course, with winning a third consecutive league title to reward the franchise with a “three rounds”, the sixth time in eight years they had been declared the best in basketball, those two years lost when His Airness decided to trade hoops for home runs.

When he came back to them in 1995, it wasn’t another callback, it was another Cash at Quentin, Queen at Live Aid. Although they ultimately lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Orlando Magic in the months following his return, three more titles with head coach Phil Jackson came in three successive seasons, taking the scalp of the Seattle SuperSonics and, back to back, Karl Malone’s Utah Jazz.

But when Jordan left the game in 1999 – regardless of the short stint with the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s – it wasn’t the rings that really mattered, it was the overall impact on the sport, over Chicago, America and even the world. , who lasted.

In the ten years prior to his arrival, the Bulls had only made the playoffs twice and their history had yet to be graced with a single championship. Indeed, the last time a Windy City-based team was able to make it to a Finals was in the final years of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) before it merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) to create the National Basketball Association (NBA) that we all know and love today. In 1947, the now defunct Stags were beaten 4-1 by the Philadelphia Warriors. Chicago didn’t know it at the time, but there would now be a four-and-a-half-decade wait for another appearance.

Between 1991 and 1998, Jordan, Jackson and the Bulls won an astonishing six NBA titles in eight years, something that hasn’t been replicated in the modern era. You have to go back to Bill Russell, Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics. In the two decades since his second start, the Bulls moved closer to another championship when they reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 under MVP Derrick Rose and coach Tom Thibodeaueven. losing 4-1 to the Miami Heat.

As a 21-year-old All-America college basketball star, NCAA champion, Jordan became the highest-paid player in Chicago Bulls history when he was the third draft pick in 1984. In a few years, he was attracting more than 400,000 new fans in Chicago. Stadium every season. The venue’s replacement, the United Center, opened in 1994, is nicknamed “The House that Jordan Built”. In the early 1990s, the Jordan brand was said to be worth $1 billion to the region’s economy. The first “three towers” alone would have generated $280 million for the region.

In 1984, the Bulls franchise was valued at $18.7 million. The following year, in which Jordan won Rookie of the Year, he was $105 million. A Chicago Grandstand article, written the day after that three-time Finals success in 1993, estimated that Jordan’s sheer power directly over the franchise and the city meant the Bulls themselves were worth $1 billion.

Today, he is worth $3 billion.

The article calculated that if Bulls fans had raised the initial $4.5 million of that first five-year contract handed to youngster Jordan themselves, those fans would have envisioned a return on investment of over 22,000%. less than a decade later.

When dynasties were established, we often rely on hearsay, respect passed down from generation to generation, well-written biographical accounts and documentation. Jordan is a clear example of a visibly traceable story. We heard that Juan Manuel Fangio was the greatest racing driver of all time. We have heard that Alfredo Di Stéfano was the greatest footballer of the 20th century in European competition. We heard that Babe Ruth pointed out where he was going to knock it out of the park.

But Jordan was visible even before he turned pro, and once he emerged in the NBA, he was literally followed every step of the way and became a global phenomenon, a cultural juggernaut like none before or even after. .

Imagine, just imagine, if there had been a career-limiting college injury that derailed too many potential superstars to mention.

Jordan wore Converse when he played for the Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina, wanted to go to Adidas when he turned pro, but eventually signed a five-year contract with a base salary of $500,000 a year, with Nike (an amount that was triple any other NBA sneaker offering). By the mid-1980s, Nike was a relative minnow in the market – Adidas was 50% bigger in terms of revenue and Converse was the brand of choice for the NBA’s hottest stars, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Julius. Erving.

The fact that Jordan’s first shoe with Nike was banned by the NBA for not meeting league color standards only served to provide unprecedented exposure and rattle the machine. The first Air Jordan sneaker hit stores the following year and saw over $100 million in sales in its first 12 months.

In the 1990s and into the new millennium, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic, are some of the galacticos who were added to the unparalleled Nike lookout that had been erected by Jordan. In 2019, Forbes reported that Nike’s share of the performance basketball market, primarily driven by the Jordan brand, was 86%. He had an even bigger part of the basketball lifestyle, with a frankly astonishing 96%. 77% of NBA players wore either Nike or Jordan shoes during the 2019-20 season, with the top nine models all being made by Nike. Jordan himself earned around $130 million from Nike, four times more than LeBron James, the highest-paid active player.

In 2020, the nearly four-decade partnership with Nike is estimated to have earned Michael Jordan $1.3 billion.

Nike’s Jordan brand is worth over $10 billion.

This final, now emblematic of the sixth match of June 14, 1998. There were 5.2 seconds left on the board on the left. The Bulls trail the Jazz 85-86. 20 feet. Two points. Michael Jordan’s last winner for Chicago. 87–86. This sixth championship. That second hat-trick.

Jordan had scored 45 points in the entire game. The perfect player had literally designed the perfect ending to the perfect story.

Michael Jordan was a monster, an anomaly, but fundamentally, irreversibly changed what it was like to be an athlete, forever blurring the lines between sport and culture. There have certainly been heirs to His Airness, but the throne remains occupied.

And of course, arguably most importantly, if it hadn’t been for a GM, we could be talking about Shaquille O’Neal for being the one Bugs Bunny sucked down that golf hole.

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