Few athletes have come close to the success of Michael Jordan. He was cut from his high school basketball team before winning a basketball scholarship to North Carolina University. During his career as a pro basketball player, Jordan won six championships and set multiple records. He became one of the highest-scoring basketball players in NBA history.
Nevertheless, Jordan’s success was about more than just raw talent. He worked hard and had an inner drive to succeed, and he also had supportive parents who encouraged him every step of the way. He’s a prominent fixture on the top 25 sports celebrities who redefined athletic endorsements. Keep reading to learn more about Jordan’s view of success and how he got there.
25. Selfish To Succeed?
Jordan once said, “To be successful, you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don’t isolate.” Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born on February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, James and Deloris, worked as a mechanic and bank teller, respectively; they had four other children.
James and Deloris wanted to provide a good childhood with plenty of opportunities for each of their five children. They did not think that the urban jungle of Brooklyn would allow their children to thrive. Shortly after Jordan was born, they decided to leave the big city in favor of a quieter, more stable life.
Despite his success, Jordan focused on the failures that led to it. He said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Jordan grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and developed a love of sports at an early age. Some of his fondest memories were of his father. His father was a baseball enthusiast and baseball, not basketball, became Michael’s first love in sports.
Jordan never lost his love of baseball. In 1994, he retired from the Chicago Bulls to play a stint for the minor league baseball team, the Birmingham Barons. The one season that he played baseball was a disaster. Many still wonder why he left basketball at the height of his career. He never forgot how much he and his father had bonded playing catch in the front yard. His father had recently been murdered, and he was left reeling and unsure of what he should do.
Another quote of Jordan’s was, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” Young Michael was innately competitive and always wanted to win every single game that he played. Furthermore, he learned to play many different sports, developing a love of basketball later on because his older brother, Larry, played it. Basketball came to dominate his life, but he did not always make the cut. As a sophomore in high school, he tried out for the school’s varsity team but was too small.
However, Jordan never gave up his love of the game and desire to win, so he spent the whole summer practicing. He also hit a growth spurt and grew four full inches, and the next year, he averaged 25 points per game on the varsity team.
Jordan was always a proponent of making his success happen, saying, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” As a senior in high school, Jordan made the McDonald’s All-American Team before winning a North Carolina University scholarship. He was the ACC Freshman of the Year for his team, the Tarheels, and helped carry them to the 1982 NCAA Championship. Jordan made the winning shot.
In addition to playing basketball, Michael studied geography. He ultimately left college early to play for the NBA, but he later returned to finish his geography degree. Even though MJ never used the geography degree, completing it follows his value of never giving up. He also set an example for kids to set their sights on a college education, not just sports.
Jordan focuses on fundamentals saying, “The minute you get away from fundamentals – whether it’s proper technique, work ethic or mental preparation – the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.” During the summer of 1984, Michael played for the All-Star team at the Olympics, which was held in Los Angeles, California. His team won the gold medal by winning every single game.
Some people would let such levels of success cause their egos to soar, and in turn, they would lose sight of the game. Nevertheless, Jordan was motivated by his love of the game and an insatiable desire to win, so no matter how good he got, he always wanted to get better. There was no room for boasting, just enough time to savor a victory before preparing for the next one.
Jordan also opened up about his motivation, proclaiming, “Every time I feel tired while I am exercising and training, I close my eyes to see that picture, to see that list with my name. That usually motivates me to work again.” During the NBA draft for the 1984 season, Michael, still in college, was drafted by the Chicago Bulls as its third pick. In his first season, he went on to the NBA All-Star Game and became the league’s Rookie of the Year.
For Michael, though, he knew that success was about the values that his parents had instilled in him, not about winning every game that he played. Of course, he wanted to win, and he practiced hard to win, but he knew that raw skill and talent were not enough. He had to hone his skills continually, never stop working, and make sure that he was always playing as part of the team.
Jordan never shied from taking the big shot, saying, “I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot… When you think about the consequences, you will always think of the negative result.” He won five MVP awards for regular seasons throughout Michael’s basketball career. He also won six MVP awards for the NBA finals, six NBA championships, and three All-Star game MVP awards. He is seen by many as the greatest basketball player of all time.
Beyond his impressive awards and accolades, what stands out about Michael is his ability to seemingly fly through the air. His lightness on the basketball court earned him the nicknames “His Airness” and “Air Jordan,” which became the name of his long-running basketball shoes with Nike.
Jordan also tuned out the noise with his focus, saying, “It’s heavy-duty to try to do everything and please everybody. My job was to go out there and play the game of basketball as best I can. People may not agree with that. I can’t live with what everyone’s impression of what I should or what I shouldn’t do.” Not everyone was thrilled with Michael’s rise to the top of the NBA. Some stories suggest that during his rookie season, when he played at his first All-Star game, several veteran players decided to sabotage him.
Maybe the freeze-out was staged, maybe not. There were several times that Jordan was wide open, but the ball was not passed to him. Still, Jordan and those allegedly involved in the freeze-out, including Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, dispute that there was no such attempt to embarrass him. However, there were complaints that Michael was acting far too cocky. Some have suggested that if a freeze-out did happen, the goal was not to embarrass him. Instead, it was to take his attitude down a notch.
Jordan refused to take shortcuts, saying, “Be true to the game because the game will be true to you. If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you. If you put forth the effort, good things will be bestowed upon you. That’s truly about the game, and in some ways, that’s about life too.” During Jordan’s second season with the NBA, he hit another setback that humbled him. He broke his foot and became sidelined for almost the entire season.
Some consider the Boston Celtics of that season to be the most outstanding team in NBA history. Furthermore, in the match between the Celtics and the Bulls, Michael set a still-unbroken record of scoring 63 points. By the time the 1986-1987 season came around, he was one of the greatest scorers in NBA history. He became the second player in history to score 3000 points in a single season, and he was the first player to block 100 shots and steal the ball 200 times in one season.
Jordan also has a unique view on keeping focus. “I would tell players to relax and never think about what’s at stake,” he said. “Just think about the basketball game. If you start to think about who is going to win the championship, you’ve lost your focus.” During the 1980s, Michael’s star rose to that of Magic Johnson, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic was allegedly part of the freeze-out during the All-Star game, though he insisted that he had had several conversations with Jordan and found him friendly.
During Jordan’s record-setting 1986-1987 season, the NBA named Magic, not Michael, the league’s MVP. Whether or not Michael felt that he should have been MVP, he never lost sight of his love for the game, never stopped practicing, and never stopped trying his best.
Not surprisingly, Jordan focused on technique, saying, “You can practice shooting 8 hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down, and the level of everything you do will rise.” The following season, 1987-1988, the NBA named him MVP. The season was his second to be the lead scorer for the league.
More importantly, he showed himself to be a team player rather than an individual superstar, and the Chicago Bulls defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers during the playoffs to make it out of the first round. The Bulls finished the season with 50 wins and 32 losses, an impressive turnaround when Jordan was sidelined. He had become the team’s star player, but he emphasized the team more than his own abilities.
Jordan also carried a strong perspective on the swings of the game, stating, “The game has its ups and downs, but you can never lose focus of your individual goals, and you can’t let yourself be beat because of lack of effort.” Five years into Jordan’s career with the Bulls, the team was becoming an NBA powerhouse. Along with players like Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen, Jordan helped lead the team to a 55-27 winning season.
Jordan was still leading the NBA average for scoring points, now averaging 33.6 points per game and making well over half of his shots. He scored fewer points per game, but his overall average was going up as his teammates took more shots. After all, one superstar does not make a team. Teamwork makes a team.
Jordan was also unwilling to accept others’ expectations, saying, “If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.” The next season, from 1990-1991, Michael won his second MVP award from the NBA. For the first time in 16 years, the Bulls won first place in their division, having won 61 games during the regular season. Moreover, new stars on the team, including Scottie Pippen, showed that Jordan was helping more players to shine.
The Pistons had a history of beating the Bulls during the NBA playoffs at the Eastern Conference Finals, but during this season, the Bulls defeated the Pistons in all four games. For the first time, they went on to the NBA Finals, where they played against Los Angels Lakers. The Bulls won against the Lakers, with Jordan making 56 percent of his shots. He was credited with carrying his team to victory and wept tears of joy.
Jordan didn’t believe there is one greatest player ever, stating, “There is no such thing as a perfect basketball player, and I don’t believe there is only one greatest player either.” The Bulls had become a force within the NBA and didn’t slow down. The team increased its margin of victory in the following season by winning 67 games to only 15 losses, and Jordan became the MVP for the league again. In the NBA finals, Jordan was once again named MVP.
The next season, he averaged 41 points per game and was the first player in the NBA’s history to win MVP in the NBA Finals for three years in a row. Michael was at the top of his game, but he soon faced immense personal trials and tragedies.
Jordan clearly had incredibly high standards for himself, claiming, “You have competition every day because you set such high standards for yourself that you have to go out every day and live up to that.” In 1993, while the Bulls were competing in the playoffs, some people spotted Michael gambling in the casinos of Atlantic City. He had recently admitted to having gambling debts that he needed to cover, some of which he had racked up while betting other people on the golf course.
Over a decade later, in 2005, Jordan admitted in a 60 Minutes interview he had made some poor choices by jeopardizing his family’s well-being and his own livelihood with impulsive behavior. Nevertheless, the greatest tragedy was not his gambling but the murder of his father. During the summer of 1993, two teenagers murdered James Jordan at a highway rest stop near Lumberton, North Carolina.
Jordan wanted to live his own life, saying, “I want to wake up every day and do whatever comes in my mind, and not feel pressure or obligations to do anything else in my life.” Jordan had always treasured his strong relationship with his father, and the murder devastated him. His father would stick out his tongue when he was absorbed in his work. Michael made that move his signature by sticking out his tongue while in the air.
In October 1993, a month after his father’s body was found, he announced that he was retiring from the NBA. Some expected that he would take a year off to grieve the loss of his father and figure out how to move on with his life from there. Others thought he might take a job using his college degree in geography. He moved to play professional baseball, at least in part in memory of his father. However, his short stint was a failure with a batting average of just .202. He soon returned to basketball, and he also memorialized his father by opening a Boys and Girls Club in Chicago dedicated to James Jordan.
Jordan cited some wise words from his father: “My father used to say that it’s never too late to do anything you wanted to do. And he said you never know what you can accomplish until you try.” By the 1994-1995 season, with Michael playing professional baseball in the minor leagues, the Bulls deteriorated. The team lost in the second round of the playoffs. In March 1995, he announced that he would be leaving baseball and returning to the NBA. The sports world cheered, especially the Bulls.
Michael was back on the court the very next day. He scored the highest television rating of any basketball game in two decades. Even though he had been gone for a year and a half, he continued to play well. Furthermore, he took his team back to being a powerhouse. MJ was averaging 31 points per game.
Jordan focused on motivating and inspiring others as well, saying, “I hope the millions of people I’ve touched have the optimism and desire to share their goals and hard work and perseverance with a positive attitude.” Brand endorsements fueled Michael’s popularity off the court. Jordan set the standard for athlete celebrities when he signed with Hanes. He also signed contracts with Gatorade. Most famously, though, he signed on with Nike and promoted the Air Jordan basketball shoes.
If anyone is wondering whether celebrity endorsements are beneficial for a company, Jordan’s contract with Nike proves they do. During the 1980s, the athletic shoe market was dominated by Adidas and Converse, not Nike like it is today. Michael’s Air Jordans helped turn Nike into the global company that it is today. Nike repaid the favor by giving Michael a handsome endorsement salary. As of 2020, he has made over a billion dollars just from Nike.
“How many times have your parents told you not to do things, and the next thing you know, you go do it? And you realized you shouldn’t have done it,” was a stance Jordan once took. After coming back to the game in 1995, Michael was determined to show that he was a real comeback kid. His aggressive training for the upcoming season mirrored how he trained to be on his high school varsity basketball team.
In the NBA Finals of that year, Michael broke Magic Johnson’s record by being named Finals MVP four times. When the Bulls won the championship, Michael became overly emotional and cried on the locker room floor. The win was not his first, but it was the first since his father’s murder.
Jordan was also thankful for the huge opportunities the game lent him. He said, “In college, I never realized the opportunities available to a pro athlete. I’ve been given the chance to meet all kinds of people, to travel and expand my financial capabilities, to get ideas and learn about life, to create a world apart from basketball.” In 1996, following the Bulls’ win at the NBA Finals, Michael starred in the animated Looney Toons movie Space Jam.
Underwhelmed by the small size of the aliens, the toons challenge them to a game of basketball. The aliens then grow in size to become the Monstars; the toons know that there is only one person who can help them win the game: Jordan. Jordan joins “the toon squad” to teach them how to play basketball. More importantly, he teaches them how to work together as a team and play with heart. The movie featured several other basketball stars and remains popular to this day.
Jordan is an avid golfer, stating his love for the game with, “For a competitive junkie like me, golf is a great solution because it smacks you in the face every time you think you’ve accomplished something. That, to me, has taken over a lot of the energy and competitiveness for basketball.” Michael retired for the second time in 1999. It was mainly due to changes within the league and the contract of the Bulls’ coach. However, he had not left basketball for good. In 2000, he was president and part-owner of the Washington Wizards.
Michael’s skills as an executive drew less than enthusiastic reviews. He got rid of some of the more unpopular players he thought were getting paid too much. Furthermore, MJ also drafted players who did not perform as well as expected. However, Michael also did what he does best, which is play the game. He held training camps for select NBA players and hired his former head coach, Doug Collins, to be the coach of the Washington Wizards.
Jordan opened up about his return to basketball with the Washington Wizards. He said, “My challenge when I came back was to face the young talent, to dissect their games, and show them maybe that they needed to learn more about the game than just the money aspect.” Michael did return and began playing for the Washington Wizards in September 2001. Furthermore, at this time, MJ announced that he would donate his entire salary to September 11 relief efforts.
However, he scored an average of fewer than 23 points per game and was plagued with injuries. During his first season, he played only 60 games due to torn cartilage in his knee. He played his final NBA All-Star game in 2003. During the game, he broke the record that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had set as the leading scorer in the history of the All-Stars.
Jordan also made it clear he didn’t want to be just a player known for scoring, saying, “I want to be perceived as a guy who played his best in all facets, not just scoring. A guy who loves challenges.” There was little surprise that the 2002-2003 season would be Michael’s last. In his fourth decade of life, he had sustained too many injuries. Therefore, he could not return to his former glory on the court. The NBA spent the season paying tribute to him until the last game he played at Chicago’s United Center.
Michael’s final NBA game was in Philadelphia on April 16, 2003. He only scored 13 points and spent much of his time on the bench, but the crowd kept shouting, “We want Mike!” At the end of the game, he received a standing ovation for three minutes straight.
Jordan also gave credit to others, saying, “I built my talents on the shoulders of someone else’s talent.” Michael’s personal life had its ups and downs but was not more tumultuous than other superstar celebrities. He admitted to some gambling problems, but they did not destroy his life the way that gambling has destroyed others.
In September 1989, he married Juanita Vanoy, and they had three children. Nevertheless, the marriage was not always pleasant, and 13 years later, in 2002, they filed for divorce. They soon reconciled with each other but officially divorced in 2006. Michael later married his girlfriend, Yvette Prieto, in December 2011. They had two children together, identical twin daughters, and Michael soon became a grandfather from his other daughter.
Jordan acknowledged that things often don’t go your way, but you can’t let that change your effort. “Sometimes, things may not go your way, but the effort should be there every single night.” Jordan’s legacy is one of excellence. He had raw talent as a kid, but he had to develop that talent into the skills that would take him to the NBA. His incredible height did not hurt, but his prowess in the basketball court did not come naturally. He had to earn it through hours and hours of practice.
Perhaps most importantly, Michael lived out the values he learned from his parents, especially his father. He wanted to honor his father, especially after the brutal murder in 1993. Beyond his basketball career, he set an example for boys and girls. MJ helped them find success through his charitable giving and encouraging youth to attend college.