By Alex Raskin Sports News Editor For Dailymail.com
17:00 17 Feb 2023, updated 17:03 17 Feb 2023
The face of basketball is aging, although not as quickly as the rest of us.
Still among the world’s most recognizable celebrities, Michael Jordan turns 60 on Friday as the owner of a struggling NBA franchise, the Charlotte Hornets, co-owner of NASCAR’s 23XI Racing, and figurehead of his own wildly popular Nike brand.
But it’s his legacy on the hardwood that has helped to make him a billionaire and the standard by which all other basketball players are judged. A six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, and NCAA champion at North Carolina, Jordan was voted ahead of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the game’s most influential player in a poll of current league stars.
And his influence now extends to philanthropy. In recent years, Jordan built multiple health clinics in his native North Carolina, gave $100million to racial equality and social justice efforts, and just this week he made a $10m gift to the Make-A-Wish Foundation – the largest in the organization’s history.
The remarried grandfather is running out of boxes to check in his illustrious life with two notable exceptions: His fractured relationship with long-time teammate Scottie Pippen, and his ongoing struggles to field a competitive NBA team in Charlotte, neither of which will be an easy fix.
The issues with Pippen began with ESPN’s ‘Last Dance’ docuseries, which aired in 2020 to wild acclaim.
The problem, from Pippen’s point of view, is that Jordan seemed to be credited for the Bulls’ success in the 1990s, while his teammates were seen as minor players.
‘They glorified Michael Jordan while not giving nearly enough praise to me and my proud teammates,’ Pippen, 57, wrote in his memoir, Unguarded, which was released in 2021. ‘Michael deserved a large portion of the blame. The producers had granted him editorial control of the final product. The doc couldn’t have been released otherwise. He was the leading man and the director.’
Further complicating matters is the romantic relationship between Pippen’s ex-wife, 48-year-old Larsa, and Jordan’s 32-year-old son, Marcus.
Pippen and Larsa were married for nearly 20 years and had four children together before divorcing in 2021.
Last week, Larsa referred to Marcus as her ‘forever Valentine’ on Instagram.
As was the case with Jordan’s feud with rival Isiah Thomas during their playing days, or his recent friction with long-time friend Charles Barkley, the Hall of Famer has avoided speaking publicly on the matter.
Jordan and Pippen were seen smiling and hugging at a game as recently as 2016, but it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll rekindle a partnership that resulted in six NBA titles in Chicago.
As an owner in Charlotte, Jordan has struggled to find executives, coaches, and players to complement him as Pippen once did in Chicago.
After a frustrating stint as the Washington Wizards Director of Basketball Operations, and a brief, forgettable comeback with the team, Jordan bought a minority stake of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2006. By 2010, he would purchase the majority stake from media mogul Bob Johnson, and in 2015, he would rename the team the ‘Hornets,’ after the previous NBA franchise that inhabited Charlotte.
But outside of the name change, Jordan’s tenure as Hornets owner has been anything but memorable.
Charlotte has enjoyed just three winning seasons and only two playoff berths since Jordan became majority owner. And while the team boasts a promising young talent in LaMelo Ball, injuries have already ruined the ongoing season for the Hornets, who are just 17-43 entering the All-Star break.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s French teenager Victor Wembanyama, a basketball prodigy who happens to stand anywhere from 7-foot-2 to 7-foot-5, depending on whom you ask.
Given the Hornets’ status as one of the worst teams in the NBA this season, Charlotte could have as high as a 14-percent change of winning the NBA Draft Lottery on May 16 for the right to draft Wembanyama in June.
The 3-point-shooting, shot-blocking Frenchman is generally regarded as the biggest NBA prospect since Kevin Durant, but the odds are still stacked against Charlotte.
And even with Wembanyama, Jordan will still need to address the future of coach Steve Clifford, who is in his second stint with the team, president Mitch Kupchak, as well that of soon-to-be free agent Kelly Oubre Jr.
These struggles represent a dramatic departure for someone who made the business of basketball look so remarkably easy as a player.
Born in Brooklyn in 1963, Jordan’s family soon moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he would grow up with three siblings and parents Deloris and James.
An unheralded high school player until his junior season of high school, Jordan ultimately drew the attention of top college coaches such as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, but decided attend UNC-Chapel Hill in 1981.
It was there that young Mike became Michael.
As basketball fans know, Jordan was not the biggest name on the 1981-82 Tar Heels – a distinction that probably belonged to forwards James Worthy or Sam Perkins.
But in the 1982 title game against Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas, it was Jordan who hit the go-ahead basketball with 15 seconds remaining, instantly transforming himself into a national celebrity.
‘Well, up until that point no one knew who I was,’ Jordan told Good Morning America in 2020. ‘Outside the university, I was just known as Mike Jordan, you know, and when I hit that shot, my whole name became Michael Jordan and I think it resonated with a lot of people outside of UNC and I just started piling on that name… from the successes that I endured throughout the rest of my career. It wasn’t about Mike. It was more about Michael then.’
On the Hoyas’ ensuing possession following Jordan’s go-ahead jumper, Georgetown guard Fred Brown infamously mistook Worthy for a teammate, passed him the ball, and Jordan clinched his first major title.
Two years later, he would win the first of two Olympic golds at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Always star under coach Dean Smith at North Carolina, Jordan’s destiny as one of the game’s all-time greats was predicted by Olympic coach Bobby Knight.
‘In the categories of competitiveness, ability, skill and then athletic ability, he’s the best athlete, he’s one of the best competitors, he’s one of the most skilled players,’ Knight, the legendary Indiana Hoosiers coach, told reporters. ‘And that, to me, makes him the best basketball player that I’ve ever seen play.’
Jordan had yet to play in an NBA game.
That June, the 6-foot-6 Jordan was picked third overall by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Draft.
Although few can criticize the Houston Rockets for picking future Hall of Famer Hakeem (then ‘Akeem’) Olajuwon first overall, it was the Portland Trail Blazers’ selection of enter Sam Bowie with the second pick that remains one of the most infamous decisions in NBA history.
With Olajuwon’s former University of Houston teammate Clyde Drexler already in Portland, the Blazers wanted more size and decided to pass on Jordan, who would go on to defeat them in the 1992 NBA Finals.
Then-Bulls GM Rod Thorn was all too happy to take Jordan, who quickly proved himself to be the biggest star of that year’s draft class.
Over the next decade, Jordan would emerge as the biggest star in sports, earning MVP honors, becoming the face of Nike, and winning three consecutive NBA titles and another Olympic gold as part of the famed ‘Dream Team.’
His win-at-all-costs mentality was crystalized in an anecdote he and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf recounted from his second NBA season, when a 22-year-old Jordan was eager to return from a broken foot in defiance of team doctors.
‘Michael asked, ”Well, if I play, what percentage is that I’m going to get hurt again?” Reinsdorf remembered in ESPN’s The Last Dance. ‘The doctor said 10 percent.’
ESPN’s documentary then cut back to Jordan.
‘And I just lost it,’ Jordan replied. ‘I said, ”Look, it’s 10 percent chance but it’s 90 percent chance that I won’t.”’
Reinsdorf’s Bulls were a budding, young team in 1985-86, but while they were improving after years of struggles, Chicago was still looking up in the standings at the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, and the NBA’s eventual champion Boston Celtics.
With a star of Jordan’s caliber, Reinsdorf didn’t want to risk long-term success on a team that was unlikely to win a title in 1986.
‘I chimed in with the doctor,’ Reinsdorf said. ”What happens if the 10 percent kicks in?” And they said, ”Well then his career would be over.”’
Jordan wasn’t taking that for an answer.
‘Everybody is just thinking about the negative while I think the glass is half full, everybody is thinking it’s half empty,’ said Jordan.
The camera cuts back to Reinsdorf at that point.
‘I said to Michael, ”You are not understanding the risk/reward ratio,”’ Reinsdorf continued. ‘If you had a terrible headache, and I gave you a bottle of pills and nine of the pills would cure you and one of the pills would kill you, would you take a pill?’
Jordan was unmoved.
‘I look at him and I said, ”Depends on how f***ing bad headache is,”’ Jordan shot back.
Jordan did finally return that season, and famously scored 63 points in a double-overtime loss in Game 2 of Chicago’s first-round series with Boston.
Afterwards Celtics star Larry Bird told the Boston Globe that the young phenom was really ‘God disguised as Michael Jordan.’
But for all of his success over his first decade in the NBA, Jordan’s happy life came to an abrupt halt in 1993, when his father James was murdered at a highway rest stop by two teenage car jackers.
Following the revelation that Jordan had lost millions gambling on golf, many presumed his father’s murder to be somehow connected, but nothing was ever proven and James’ murderers pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Jordan would step away from basketball, instead choosing to play minor league baseball with the Chicago White Sox’ Double-A affiliate in Birmingham. Baseball, Jordan’s first love, had once been part of the strong bond between himself and his father, and he spent the 1994 season working himself into a competent outfielder and improving hitter.
But Jordan would return to the NBA in 1995, finishing the season with the Bulls before losing to the Orlando Magic in the playoffs.
To many NBA fans, that would be the last time Jordan would truly be defeated.
With the additions of Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc, the Jordan-led Bulls became one of the greatest team in NBA history, winning a then-record 72 games in 1995-96, and capturing three consecutive league titles before his second retirement in 1998.
As he’s explained, Jordan knew before the 1998 season that it would be his last because management was forcing out his coach and mentor, Phil Jackson, whom he refused to play without. (Jordan ultimately came out of retirement for a second time to reunite with his first NBA coach, Doug Collins, with the Washington Wizards)
‘It basically started when (Bulls general manager) Jerry Krause told Phil he could go 82-0 and would never get the chance to come back,’ Jordan said, referring to the friction between the Bulls coaches and the front office.
‘I married myself to (Phil) obviously and if he wasn’t going to be a coach then obviously I wasn’t going to play. So Phil started off the year by saying this is the last dance and we played it that way.’
Privately, Jordan remains close with his three children from his first marriage to Juanita, whom he divorced in 2006, leading to a record $168 million settlement.
In 2011, he proposed to Cuban-American model Yvette Prieto, whom he married in 2013.
More recently, Jordan became a grandfather after his daughter Jasmine gave birth to a son, Rakeem, who is the son of former Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas.
‘Actually it’s fun because I can actually hold him and play with him and I’m having fun watching him,’ Jordan told NBC in 2019.
In addition to spoiling his own grandson, Jordan is still giving to the Make-A-Wish foundation, which he recently gave $10 million to as part of his 60th birthday celebration.
‘For the past 34 years, it’s been an honor to partner with Make-A-Wish and help bring a smile and happiness to so many kids,’ Jordan said in a news release. ‘Witnessing their strength and resilience during such a tough time in their lives has truly been an inspiration.
‘I can’t think of a better birthday gift than seeing others join me in supporting Make-A-Wish so that every child can experience the magic of having their wish come true.’