HOUSTON — When Michael Jordan rejoined the Chicago Bulls in 1995 following his first retirement, Ron Harper was in his second season with
the team. Still, that didn’t stop Jordan from singling him out upon his return to offer what Harper — who was coming off a tumultuous first year in Chicago — described as some much-needed counsel.
“He came to me and he said, ‘We work hard here every day,’” Harper, who retired in 2001, said before Sunday night’s All-Star Game in the Toyota Center. “He said, ‘We don’t take days off. We practice hard. We play hard. We work hard.’ It was amazing to see how great he was. It was an amazing run.”
For Harper, who had played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers prior to joining the Bulls, Jordan’s reuniting with the team essentially gave way to him resurrecting his NBA career. All he did over the final seven years of his career was win five world titles, including three as a member of the Bulls.
Jordan who, during the 1980s and 1990s, disseminated the NBA globally with his electrifying leaping, scoring, and dunking ability, turned 50 on Sunday, another majestic milestone for the Hall of Famer and six-time world champion that attracted national headlines and was commemorated by many throughout the league, most notably current and former players who were on hand here for the All-Star festivities.
From the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony on Thursday in the Hilton Hotel in downtown Houston, where the 12 finalists for the Class of 2013 inductees were announced, to after the West squad’s 143-138 win over the East All-Stars, Jordan’s legacy and awe-inspiring impact on the basketball world were reminisced by those who were mesmerized by his astounding achievements and contributions during his illustrious career.
“He’s one of the ones who changed the game with Earving “Magic’ Johnson and Larry Bird,” Harper said of Jordan, now the majority owner and chairman of the Charlotte Bobcats. “When he came into the league, he took the league to new heights because he wasn’t a guy who was just another player. He was an extremely good basketball player. He worked extremely hard and he showed me what it’s like to be a real pro. It was a great experience playing alongside him.”
Jordan twice came out of retirement in 1998 and 2001, but not before manufacturing a career that prompted several of his peers and media pundits to label him “the greatest basketball player of all time.” Born in Brooklyn, N. Y. in 1963, Jordan was once told he was too short to play basketball as a slim, 5-foot-11 sophomore at Laney High in Wilmington, N. C. and eventually was cut from the team.
That Jordan was passed over by his high school coach only fueled his desire to master his mechanics. Having witnessed his height increase by four inches the following year, Jordan consequently made the varsity squad as a junior only to emerge as an instant star and arguably the team’s most prolific scorer.
From there, it was on to Chapel Hill, N. C., where he spent three seasons at the University of North Carolina, a collegiate campaign that was highlighted by Jordan making the game-winning shot, a baseline jumper from the left side against Patrick Ewing and mighty Georgetown, a perfectly executed play that, as Jordan has acknowledged time and again, was a pivotal turning point in his well-documented basketball career.
Selected with the third overall pick in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft, Jordan wasted little time making his presence felt as a rookie, averaging better than 28 points per game while shooting an astounding 51 percent from the field. Even before the season’s halfway point, he had become a fan favorite in opposing arenas, a trend that ultimately led to him controversially being voted as a starter for the 1985 All-Star Game. His first year in the league would end with him walking away with Rookie of the Year honors.
“I came (in the NBA) before (Jordan), so I’m one of the older guys,” said Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who played 15 NBA seasons between 1982 and 1999. “He pushed me and I pushed him. We didn’t talk much. We just played. As great players, you don’t talk because they’re going to bring it to you anyway.”
Before Jordan, a five-time NBA MVP, reached the pinnacle of his career, the Detroit Pistons proved to be the Bulls’ Achilles Heel, having eliminated Chicago from the postseason three consecutive seasons between 1987 and 1990. However, in the following year, under the guidance of then-second-year coach Phil Jackson, the Bulls swept the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals and eventually won the first of three consecutive world championships.
After a two-year hiatus from basketball, the six-time NBA Finals MVP returned to the Bulls in 1995, playing four more seasons in Chicago, a run that brought the franchise three more NBA titles. Following a second retirement that lasted approximately three years, Jordan made one last comeback, this time with the Washington Wizards before calling it a career for good after an April 16, 2003 loss at Philadelphia.
Since his retirement, there have been ongoing debates as to whether No. 23 should be retired by every NBA team in honor of Jordan’s contributions to the game. LeBron James, who made headlines days leading to the All-Star Game in Houston when Jordan said Lakers star Kobe Bryant is a more successful player than the Miami Heat star, is among the current players who believes players who wear No. 23 should discontinue occupying the number.
Following a November 13, 2009 win against the Heat, James, who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers at the time, said he would switch from
wearing No. 23 to No. 6 after the season out of respect for Jordan and that other players should follow suit.
“I feel like no NBA player should wear 23,” James, a three-time league MVP, said after that game. “I’m starting a petition, and I’ve got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it.”
Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, who has met Jordan on several occasions, agreed with James that players should no longer wear No. 23.
“Most definitely,” Randolph, a two-time All-Star, said during Friday’s Media Day session. “That shouldn’t even be a question. That’s not even a question to me. He paved the way for us, the things he did and stuff, what he brought to this game.”
Then, of course, there are some who believe that No. 23 shouldn’t be retired by every team, most notably Wilkins and former NBA great Gary Payton. Payton, who played for five different teams during his 17-year NBA career, was a member of the Seattle SuperSonics team that lost in the six games in the NBA finals to Jordan and the Bulls in 1996.
“I don’t think so,” Payton said. “He didn’t play for a lot of those teams. But if they do, he deserves it. They consider him to be the best basketball player of all time, which has been true.”
Scottie Pippen, who was a member of the Bulls’ six championship teams, turned down interview requests by MemphiSport, but tweeted Sunday morning, “Happy 50th birthday MJ — my friend, winner, ultimate competitor and the greatest.”
Said Wilkins when asked if the NBA should retire No. 23 in honor of Jordan: “No, because he played with the Bulls most of his career. If another team like Washington, for example, wants to retire his jersey because he played there, then that would be a great thing. But he’s synonymous with the Chicago Bulls. That stands in a place by itself. I don’t think they should retire No. 23 across the board.
“It would be an interesting argument. I mean, he’s the brand of basketball, let just be honest, no matter what anybody else try to say.”