Air supreme

"That was God disguised as Michael Jordan."
-- Larry Bird, after Michael Jordan set the NBA playoff record for most points in a game with 63 in a double-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics, 135-131.

Mike is better than the rest.

Michael Jordan, who dominated the NBA and won six championships, has been named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-member panel. Babe Ruth, who revolutionized baseball in the 1920s, finished second in the voting.

 Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan was in a class by himself in the NBA.

Playing 11 full seasons in the NBA, Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times, and in 1986-87 became the only player besides Wilt Chamberlain to score more than 3,000 points in a season, getting 3,041. His 31.5 scoring average is the highest in NBA history and with 29,277 points he's fourth all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain and Karl Malone.

"Jordan said, 'A lot of times I'll dream I'm a bad alcoholic and I can't stop drinking and embarrassing myself. And I'm going to lose everything. I wake up from that dream in a sweat.' He knows that one slip up, one mistake, can throw it all away. And I think he lived in terror of that for a very long time," says author Bob Greene about Michael Jordan on ESPN's SportsCentury show.

Signature game
June 11, 1997 -- It was the worst of days, it was best of nights for Jordan.

On the day of Game 5, with the NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz tied at two games apiece, Jordan was not throwing up jumpers, but throwing up. A slight case of food poisoning compounded by flu-like symptoms had him rushing to only one place - the bathroom in his Salt Lake City hotel.

At game time, Jordan's eyes were glazed, his forehead was burning and he was dehydrated. "I didn't even think he would be able to put his uniform on," teammate Scottie Pippen said.

Once Superman put on his cape, neither the viral illness nor the Jazz could stop him. At the end, when he was most tired and looking like death, he stuck a dagger into the Jazz's championship hopes.

With the Bulls trailing 85-84 with 47 seconds left, Jordan made a game-tying free throw and then swooped in for the rebound after missing the second foul shot. With 25 seconds remaining, he nailed the winning shot, a three-pointer to give the Bulls the lead for good in their riveting 90-88 victory.

Shooting 13-of-27 from the field, Jordan finished with 38 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, in 44 minutes. He also had seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

As it turned out, a sick Jordan is still Jordan - the best there ever was with a basketball in his hands.

Odds and ends

  • Away from the basketball court, Jordan says he was the laziest of the five children in his family.

  • Jordan's paternal grandfather was a tobacco sharecropper in North Carolina.

  • Jordan's signature - the tongue protruding from his mouth - came as a result of watching his father making the same gesture while working on the family car.

  • As a 12-year-old Little League pitcher in Wilmington, N.C., Jordan threw several no-hitters and was one game shy of leading his team to the Little League World Series. The right-hander fired a two-hitter but lost, 1-0, in the Eastern Regional final.

  • In Jordan's two varsity seasons at Laney High School, his teams went 13-10 and 19-4. An upset in the regional tournament ended Jordan's senior year.

  • In the 1981-82 North Carolina media guide, Jordan was introduced as "Mike Jordan." His post-school ambition was to play professional basketball; he most admired Magic Johnson and former Tar Heel Walter Davis; and, already enamored with flying, the movies he most enjoyed included "Superman" and "Superman II."

  • How's this for roommates? While attending North Carolina, Jordan at one time lived with three other future pro athletes, NBA center Brad Daugherty, shortstop Walt Weiss and golfer Davis Love III.

  • In his three seasons as a Tar Heel, Jordan averaged 17.7 points.

  • Though leaving early, Jordan would return to North Carolina and earn a B.A. in geography.

  • The average American male's percentage of body fat is 15-20%. The average professional athlete's is 7-8%. Jordan's body fat was measured at 4%.

  • On April 20, 1986 Jordan set the NBA playoff record for most points in a game with 63 in a double-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics, 135-131. After the game, Larry Bird said, "That was God disguised as Michael Jordan."

  • For three straight seasons (1986-87 through 1987-89), Jordan led the NBA in minutes played.

  • Before Jordan signed with Nike, he actually preferred Adidas. Nike persuaded him to change his allegiance to the tune of roughly $1 million annually for five years.

  • When Nike was originally courting Jordan, company executives showed him a sketch of red sneakers. Michael responded, "I can't wear that shoe. Those are the devil's colors."

  • In the first year alone Nike's Air Jordans grossed an astronomical $130 million.

  • During the gold medal presentation at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Jordan draped an American flag over the Reebok logo on his uniform to avoid controversy with his sponsor Nike.

  • Through 1998, it has been estimated that Jordan has made close to $130 million from Nike.

  • In 1991 a portion of Interstate 40 that runs to Wilmington was named for Jordan.

  • When Jordan was asked about the different styles between his college coach, Dean Smith, and his 1984 Olympics coach, Bobby Knight, he said that Coach Smith employed the four-corner offense and Coach Knight employed four-letter words.

  • Jordan holds the NBA Finals record for most points-per-game in a series, averaging 41 against the Phoenix Suns in 1993.

  • When Chicago assistant coach Tex Winter told Jordan, "There's no 'I' in the word team," the Bulls star shot back, "There is in the word win."

  • Jordan recorded the only triple-double in an All-Star Game when he scored 14 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and had 11 assists in 1997.

  • While playing in a NBA European preseason tournament in the fall of 1997, Jordan played against French players who had inked the number "23" on their sneakers to remember the moment.

  • At the same tournament and even after Jordan had confused the Louvre with the luge at a press conference, the "France-Soir" wrote, "Michael Jordan is in Paris. That's better than the Pope. It's God in person."

  • Jordan could not only score, he could also keep others from scoring. He was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1988 and was selected to the All-Defensive First Team nine times. He shares the career record for leading the league in steals three times.

  • A June 1998 "Fortune" cover story "The Jordan Effect" said that since joining the NBA in 1984, Jordan has helped generate $10 billion in revenue for the game of basketball, its broadcasting and various corporate ventures.

  • Jordan has appeared on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" 47 times, more than any other athlete. One belittling cover came when he was playing minor league baseball with the Birmingham Barons and the caption read, "Bag It, Michael." Jordan stopped talking to the magazine after that.

  • In the summer of 1998, a two-page brochure was prepared for Jordan's fantasy basketball camp. A photo on the left page showed a young, sleek North Carolina freshman nailing the winning basket against Georgetown in 1982. On the right, a photo portrayed an older, muscular Jordan knocking down the winning basket against Utah in 1998. The caption under the left read "Some Things" and under the right "Never Change."

    -- Fred Kiger

  • SportsCentury earns Peabody award

    SportsCentury: The Book

    SportsCentury: Greatest coaches, games

    SportsCentury No. 1: Michael Jordan

    No. 2: Babe Ruth

    No. 3: Muhammad Ali

    No. 4: Jim Brown

    No. 5: Wayne Gretzky

    No. 6: Jesse Owens

    No. 7: Jim Thorpe

    No. 8: Willie Mays

    No. 9: Jack Nicklaus

    No. 10: Babe Didrikson

    No. 11: Joe Louis

    No. 12: Carl Lewis

    No. 13: Wilt Chamberlain

    No. 14: Hank Aaron

    No. 15: Jackie Robinson

    No. 16: Ted Williams

    No. 17: Magic Johnson

    No. 18: Bill Russell

    No. 19: Martina Navratilova

    No. 20: Ty Cobb

    No. 21: Gordie Howe

    No. 22: Joe DiMaggio

    No 23: Jackie Joyner-Kersee

    No. 24: Sugar Ray Robinson

    No. 25: Joe Montana

    No. 26: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

    No. 27: Jerry Rice

    No. 28: Red Grange

    No. 29: Arnold Palmer

    No. 30: Larry Bird

    No. 31: Bobby Orr

    No. 32: Johnny Unitas

    No. 33: Mark Spitz

    No. 34: Lou Gehrig

    No. 35: Secretariat

    No. 36: Oscar Robertson

    No. 37: Mickey Mantle

    No. 38 Ben Hogan

    No. 39: Walter Payton

    No. 40: Lawrence Taylor

    No. 41: Wilma Rudolph

    No. 42: Sandy Koufax

    No. 43: Julius Erving

    No. 44: Bobby Jones

    No. 45: Bill Tilden

    No. 46: Eric Heiden

    No. 47: Edwin Moses

    No. 48: Pete Sampras

    No. 49: O.J. Simpson

    No. 50: Chris Evert

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