Michael Jordan determinedly emerging from the vice-like defense of the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons is the perfect photo to recapture the essence of his career. Emerging from the fiery trial of battling Detroit, Jordan captured six NBA titles. Before that emergence he was simply another in a long wave of surefire talents, but not necessarily among the handful of all-time legends.
From the vantage point of 2013 that seems absurd Jordan never was considered among the handful of all-time legends, but in 1990, Jordan’s career was incomplete and his true status unknown. In his first six seasons, Jordan had won four scoring titles, an MVP award, and a Defensive Player of the Year award. The Bulls as a team, though, had suffered three losing seasons and only one campaign over 50 wins.
But in 1990 they had pushed the Detroit Pistons to a decisive 7th game. In that do-or-die contest, Jordan rose to the occasion with 31 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds. But the Bulls were demolished by 19 points. That defeat marked the third straight year Chicago lost to Detroit. And Jordan’s 9 assists in that game were stunning given that his teammates shot a woeful 15-63.
And, yet, from the 2013 vantage point, this Herculean effort for naught is generally forgotten. Torching Portland, deceiving Phoenix, flummoxing Utah, searing Seattle, and steamrolling Los Angeles are what we now remember. What made this possible was Jordan’s own maturation from a man throwing down 37 points a game to a more measured offensive approach that buttressed his teammates. And teammates that were capable of reciprocating the effort. Without the talents of Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, and others, Jordan could have been a frightening force but not the generation defining player he became.
It’s not just that Jordan ultimately won the number of championships, MVPs, and scoring titles he did. It’s how he did them. His gargantuan hands made him one of the strongest defenders and finishers at the rim basketball has ever seen. His agility, footwork, and flair permanently branded a bevvy of highlight plays into our collective memory and led players to proudly brag they’d never been humiliated by Jordan.
Unfairly, numerous NBA legends are labeled as failures for their inability to capture a title. Michael Jordan’s championship run of the 1990s safely rescued him from that ignominy. However, it’s not that far-fetched that year-after-year he could have had efforts like Game 7 in 1990 that made him personally look great for the moment, but sully his overall career. It takes not just the individual talent, but the team concept to fully unfurl and let fly the reign of Air Jordan.
1985 – 1993
1995 – 1998
2002 – 2003
6x Champion (1991-’93, 1996-’98)
6x Finals MVP (1991-’93, 1996-’98)
5x MVP (1988, 1991-’92, 1996, 1998)
Defensive Player of the Year (1988)
3x All-Star Game MVP (1988, 1996, 1998)
Rookie of the Year (1985)
10x All-NBA 1st Team (1987-’93, 1996-’98)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1985)
9x All-Defensive 1st Team (1988-’93, 1996-’98)
14x All-Star (1985-’93, 1996-’98, 2002-’03)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1985)
NBA – 1072 Games
30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 49.7% FG, 32.7% 3PT, 83.5% FT
10x PPG Leader (1987-’93, 1996-’98), 3x SPG Leader (1988, 1990, 1993)
3rd All-Time Points, 3rd All-Time Steals, 4th All-Time FGs Made
5th All-Time FTs Made 22nd All-Time Minutes Played, 37th All-Time Assists
1st All-Time PPG, 4th All-Time in SPG, 15th All-Time MPG