Few athletes in the history of professional sports can match the extraordinary success enjoyed by Michael Jordan. After entering the NBA in 1984 as a gangly rookie with superhuman leaping ability, Jordan became an unstoppable scoring machine and multi-time champion, as well as a marketing icon who palled around with Bugs Bunny and convinced millions of kids to “be like Mike.” His legend still looming large almost two decades after he last laced up his Nikes in an NBA game, here are seven facts about the life of this iconic athlete:
1. He was technically never cut from his high school basketball team
The story of Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team has long been part of his personal narrative, but like a teenaged Jordan dangling from his chin-up bar to grow taller, the truth has been somewhat stretched. Jordan was never actually “cut” from the team – he tried out for the Laney High School (N.C.) varsity as a sophomore, and wound up on the junior varsity instead. And a big reason for that was that Laney was in dire need of taller players, so they passed on the 5’10” Jordan in favor of his 6’7″ friend Leroy Smith. What is true is that Jordan used this perceived slight as motivation to work his butt off to improve, which led to impressive results when a growth spurt shot him up to 6’3″ as a junior.
2. His partnership with Nike almost never happened
Jordan’s longtime professional association with Nike nearly didn’t come to fruition. He initially wanted to wear Adidas after entering the NBA, and was also heavily pursued to endorse a much smaller brand called Spot-Bilt. But Nike threw out the full-court press to sign the Chicago Bulls rookie, offering a then-outrageous deal of $500 grand per year for five years and the chance to tailor a sneaker to his liking. Jordan still wanted to go with his original choice and went back to Adidas one more time, but the company was in no position to match the ransom offered by Nike. Thus was born a collaboration made in marketing heaven; Nike launched the Air Jordans in May 1985, and by the end of the year the line had generated more than $100 million in revenue.
In 1985, Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan sneaker launched a global trend in creatively constructed athletic shoes and made Nike more than $100 million in revenue by the end of the year.
3. He earned his college degree in cultural geography
Although he left the University of North Carolina a year early to pursue his pro career, Jordan received his degree in cultural geography in 1986. So what exactly does one do in that field, anyway? As he explained in a Q & A session at his basketball camp many years later, cultural geography is an introduction to meteorology. Which means that if Jordan’s preferred career choice of dunking over seven-footers didn’t pan out, then his backup plan was to become a weatherman. Gives a whole new meaning to the name “Air Jordan,” doesn’t it?
4. He is an avid golfer
Jordan’s passion for golf began in the summer of 1984, when he first ventured to a course with a group that included future golf pro Davis Love III. He parred one of the holes that day, an experience that led this supremely confident athlete to believe he could par all 18 with a little more practice. The quest for perfection led to his squeezing in as many rounds as possible in his downtime, including a notorious snubbing of President George H.W. Bush’s invitation to the White House with the rest of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls in 1991. He went on to hold the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational Pro-Am Golf Tournament in Las Vegas from 2001 to 2014.
5. Jordan’s decision to switch to baseball was inspired by his father
The idea behind Jordan’s surprising decision to leave basketball for a baseball career in 1993 had taken root a few years earlier. His dad, James, had always loved baseball, and with Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders having some success as two-sport athletes, James suggested his son could do the same. As such, when James was killed in a carjacking incident in July 1993, Jordan sought to honor his dad’s wishes by picking up a glove. While he famously struggled in his lone season of minor league baseball, some were impressed by how well he adjusted to a game he hadn’t played since high school. Terry Francona, his manager that year, has said he believes Jordan could have made the big leagues had he kept at it.
6. Gambling is one of his hobbies
Another of Jordan’s well-known hobbies is his proclivity for gambling. Reports abound of how he goaded teammates into betting on almost every activity, from golf to card games to rock-scissor-paper throwdowns, but his desire to constantly up the stakes occasionally left him on shaky ground. In 1992, Jordan was subpoenaed to testify about a $57,000 check he gave to a suspected drug dealer after a weekend of poker and golf. The following year, he was the subject of a book by businessman Richard Esquinas titled Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction. . .My Cry for Help! Jordan never drew any gambling-related punishment, but for years a rumor persisted that his year off to play baseball was the result of a secret suspension imposed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
7. He has made more than $1 billion through his Nike partnership
For all he accomplished in pro basketball, including six championships, five MVP awards and 10 scoring titles, Jordan was the league’s highest paid player in just two of his 15 NBA seasons. Fortunately, endorsement deals with brands like Coca-Cola, Gatorade and Hanes kept him from having to scrounge through the cushions for loose change. His aforementioned relationship with Nike has proven the most profitable — in 2020, it was revealed that Jordan has made more than one billion dollars from Nike. He also benefitted from the appreciation of NBA franchises after purchasing a majority share of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) in 2010. Long considered basketball royalty, Jordan now unquestionably gets paid like a king after cracking Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires in 2015.