by ED JONES
Mentioned in the same
breath as Muhammad Ali
and Babe Ruth, Michael
Jordan is one of America's bestloved
sportsmen - and is possibly its
most talented. Having just turned
forty, this is the time to reflect on
the career of his "airness".
Nineteen years ago, NBA commissioner
David Stern uttered 21 words
that would forever change the game of
basketball. "With the third pick of the
1984 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls pick
Michael Jordan of the University of
North Carolina." Jordan led the Bulls to
six titles, but his worth to the sport
stretched far beyond the "Windy City".
Just a few years before he entered the
NBA, the league was on its knees. The
emergence of Larry Bird and Magic
Johnson helped the NBA back onto its
feet, but it was Jordan who allowed it
to take off. With his gravity-defying
game, Jordan transformed the sport
into one played "above the rim."
The Bulls soon became the hottest
ticket in the NBA, beginning a run of
more than 500 consecutive sell-outs.
Jordan was much more than a unique
player " he was also a marketing
dream. Possessing intelligence and
good looks, and coming from a hardworking
Jordan was the perfect role model for
the kids of America. As the Gatorade
slogan famously said, everyone wanted
to "be like Mike".
Nike signed him to a five-year deal
worth $2.5m - the biggest ever for a
basketball star. In their first year of
sales, Nike Air Jordan shoes grossed
Jordan was soon advertising everything
from aftershave to underwear. By
the time he retired for a second time in
1998, Fortune magazine estimated
Jordan's worth to the US economy as
$10 billion. Fans at games held aloft
banners proclaiming "Michael for
President". He even got a glowing reference
from Margaret Thatcher -
"Michael Jordan has already mastered
the skill most needed for political success
- how to stay afloat without visible
means of support."
Despite his God-like status in
America, it was away from home that
the Jordan effect was best seen.
Basketball became second only to football
in world popularity, helped by MJ's
role in the 1992 Olympics. In a "Dream
Team" of All-Stars, Jordan shone the
His image has been a catalyst for
the surge of international players in the
NBA. When Jordan joined the league
there were only a handful of non-
Americans - this season there are 66
foreign players from 34 different countries.
The NBA's newest phenomenon,
China's Yao Ming, is one of a factoryline
of players attracted to the game by
"His Airness". "Michael Jordan is just
an incredible player," said Ming. "I
could talk all day about his global
impact and still wouldn't be finished."
Even at forty, Jordan remains the
number one draw in basketball. His
Washington Wizards play to sell-out
stadiums wherever they go and boast
the highest home attendance in the
league. How will the NBA survive without
its most famous son?