For those of a certain age, Michael Jordan is an icon, a marvel who dominated headlines in the 1980s and 1990s. MJ, who last played in the NBA in 2003, will be subject of ESPN's "The Last Dance" documentary series starting Sunday, April 19 (9 p.m. ET). Here are 23 iconic moments -- on and off the court -- from the career of basketball's most famous No. 23:
The man himself says that the shot was a turning point for his basketball career, so who are we to argue? Jordan's wing jumper with 15 seconds left propelled North Carolina to a 63-62 win in the 1982 national title game against Georgetown. It launched Jordan into the national consciousness.
The 1988 All-Star Slam Dunk Contest was held in Chicago, so things were already working against Dominique Wilkins, the "Human Highlight Reel." Wilkins and Jordan squared off in the final. Needing a score of 48 or better to win, MJ pulled off a double-clutch dunk from the foul line, earning a 50 from the judges and the victory.
Perhaps the earliest sign that Jordan would become an NBA legend came in a playoff defeat on April 20, 1986. Having missed most of the season with a broken foot, Jordan scored an NBA playoff-record 63 points against an all-time great Boston Celtics team. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan,” Celtics star Larry Bird said of MJ afterward.
Jordan's earliest playoff buzzer-beater remains one of his most famous. On May 7, 1989,.Cleveland fans barely had time to celebrate Craig Ehlo's go-ahead layup before Jordan ripped their hearts out with a double-clutch jumper at the horn and a celebration for the ages.
Dunking is extremely cool. Dunking over someone who is specifically trying to stop you from dunking? Even cooler. Doing all that after executing an incredible reverse spin move on the baseline, seemingly defying the law of physics in the process, and against your hated rival in its building? Yeah, what Michael Jordan did to Patrick Ewing and the Knicks in the first round of the 1991 playoffs was an all-time great dunk.
Chicago earned its first title in the Jordan era in 1991, beating the Lakers in five games in the NBA Finals. Jordan's most famous play from that series, and perhaps the most famous play of his career, came when he went up for a dunk (tongue out, of course), saw Sam Perkins' hand coming up for a possible block, then switched hands in mid-air and laid the ball in left-handed — on the other side of the hoop.
One thing Jordan never did particularly well was shoot three-pointers. He never needed to, really, and the NBA during his era did not resemble today's long-distance game. Still, he found a way to make the three-ball part of a memorable night on June 3, 1992. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Portland, Jordan scored a Finals-record 35 first-half points, including six threes. After the sixth one went in, Jordan looked at the courtside media contingent and simply shrugged, as if to say, "I can't believe it, either."
For an iconic 1988 ad, MJ teamed with Spike Lee, who, fully into his Mars Blackmon character, aimed to figure out if Jordan's greatness was because of his footwear. It wasn't, of course, but that didn't stop Air Jordans from flying off the shelves at an incredible rate.
His Airness' Gatorade "Be Like Mike" ad, which aired in 1992, also was a winner. A Jordan-themed riff on Disney's famous "I Wanna Be Like You" song from "The Jungle Book," the ad and accompanying song were a smashing success for Gatorade.
Another entry on the long list of memorable Jordan commercials was his 1993 spot for McDonald's with adversary Larry Bird. Jordan and Bird played a high-stakes game that wasn't even H-O-R-S-E; it was simply "first man to miss." The prize? The winner got to eat Jordan's McDonald's lunch while the loser had to watch. The two came up with increasingly farcical shot conditions, eventually ending on top of a skyscraper. So who won? That was left to the imagination.
Jordan's transition to baseball in 1994 after his first retirement was predictably bumpy. His fellow Birmingham Barons said he went above and beyond as a teammate, but he didn't have much success. But in a memorable moment on July 30, 1994, against the Carolina Mudcats' Kevin Rychel, Jordan homered to deep to left-center field -- one of three home runs he would hit with the Barons.
With a strike clouding Major League Baseball's immediate future and rumors swirling that he might indeed return to basketball, Jordan announced his NBA return with a two-word news release on March 18, 1995.
It might be the best news release of all time.
Jordan's celebrity and marketability were such that he even made his way to Hollywood, starring in the movie "Space Jam" in 1996. It was mix of live action and animation that pitted Jordan and a team of Looney Tunes against a "Monstars" team that aimed to beat the Tunes after stealing the abilities of other famous NBA stars. Unsurprisingly, Jordan carried the Looney Tunes to victory on the strength of a physics-defying dunk from halfcourt.
At the 1997 All-Star Game, 7-foot-2 center Dikembe Mutombo of the Hawks reminded Jordan that MJ had never dunked on him. Jordan promised to get him. Later in the season, he flushed one over Mutombo, topping it off with Dikembe's signature finger wag afterward.
Jordan loved torturing the Jazz. In Game 1 of the 1997 FInals, he beat Utah with a buzzer-beater to give the Bulls an 84-82 win. In setting up the winner, he worked over Bryon Russell. For Russell, it was only a taste of what was to come a year later.
Was it the flu? Was it a hangover? Was it a stomach virus? The consensus was three, but whatever the cause, Jordan was a wreck heading into a pivotal Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals with the series tied 2-2. Jordan could barely walk at times but still managed to torture the Jazz for 38 points, including a game-deciding three with less than 30 seconds left. This game might have been Jordan's signature performance.
Poor Bryon Russell. He was a solid player at both ends of the court, much like Cleveland's Craig Ehlo, but like Ehlo, he'll only be remembered as the victim of an iconic Jordan jumper. After stealing the ball from Karl Malone in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Jordan dribbled down the court, shook loose from Russell, and buried an elbow jumper (complete with a held follow-through) to give the Bulls their sixth title in eight seasons.
Playing for Washington, Jordan -- less than two years shy of his 40th birthday -- tore up the Charlotte Hornets for 51 points on 21-of-38 shooting. It was the most points he scored in a game during his two-year stint with the Wizards.
April 16, 2003. Philadelphia. Jordan's final game. After exiting earlier in the second half, the Philly crowd chanted for Jordan to return. MJ checked in with just over two minutes to play. He was fouled, sank two free throws, then walked off the floor for the final time. Fans, players, coaches and officials gave him a lengthy standing ovation.
We saw the real Jordan, good and bad, at his Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech on Sept. 11, 2009. He meandered from funny, to petty, to at times awkwardly cruel. It wasn't all that well-received by many in the media, but it was very much an authentic peek at the man behind the brand.
Speaking at halftime of a Duke-North Carolina game in 2017, Jordan fired up the team and the crowd — after it was announced that UNC would wear Jordan Brand uniforms — with some strange words of encouragement. Speaking to the team, Jordan said, "I wish you guys nothing but the best. The ceiling is the roof." Naturally, it was a social media phenomenon.
Jordan was and is a big fan of cigars and gambling, so it's no surprise that he enjoys golf, an activity that allows him to do both at the same time. Did he really have a $300,000 bet on a hole? Let's go to Charles Barkley. It's the stuff of myth and legend.
Jordan's bald head and iconic shoes, not to mention his taste in well-tailored suits, made him something of a fashion icon in the '90s. Unfortunately, Jordan's style didn't translate as well to the 2000s, which led to some rather humorous pictures of him wearing baggy jeans best described as garish. This was "memorable" many times. But let's not think of him that way; let's always think of him looking sharp in a suit.