North Carolina: Michael Jordan
You just can’t encapsulate the magnificent career of Michael Jordan. He’s the greatest basketball player to ever live and has become one of the most recognized sports brands of all time. He’s an icon in every sense of the word, and he was a Tar Heel.
Jordan spent three years playing basketball at North Carolina. He hit the game-winning shot with 17 seconds left in the 1982 NCAA championship game and was the consensus National Player of the Year during his junior season in 1984. The greatness the world saw when he led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles and led the league in scoring in 10 different seasons was born in Chapel Hill learning under Dean Smith.
“I learned a lot from his tutelage, it made me so much better as a professional basketball player,” Jordan told Showtime in an interview for a special that aired about Smith in 2015.
First, however, Smith had to get him. The sales pitch was strong and genuine, so with his parents’ blessing, the Wilmington, NC, native committed to play for Smith at UNC.
“He was telling us about the university, and it was strictly academics first and my parents were ecstatic,” Jordan also said in the Showtime interview. “I had some rawness to me (and) he shaped all of that… Coach used to always say, ‘I’ve prepared you for this, now just go out and have fun and let it happen.’”
Jordan’s Carolina career was remarkable.
In addition to being the 1984 consensus National Player of the Year, Jordan was also the 1984 ACC Player of the Year, The Sporting News National Player of the Year in 1983, a two-time first-team All-America, two-time first-team All-ACC, ACC Rookie of the Year in 1982 and made the 1982 NCAA All-Tournament team.
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard averaged 17.7 points, 5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game over his UNC career. He averaged 20 points per contest in 1983, nullifying the silly perception that Smith was the only one that could hold Jordan to under 20 points a game, especially considering he averaged playing just 30 minutes per contest that season. Jordan scored 1,788 points as a Tar Heel.
He led Carolina to an 88-13 record, including a 38-4 ACC mark, which included the Heels going 14-0 ACC in 1984. Jordan was named the Greatest ACC Athlete of the league’s first 50 years.
Like so many of Smith’s players did long after their playing days, Jordan remained close to his former coach until his death in 2015. When Smith passed, Jordan released the following statement:
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach – he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”
Jordan’s star really grew in the summer after he left UNC a year early for the NBA when he led the United States to the gold medal in the summer Olympics. Legendary Indiana coach Bobby Knight was the USA team’s coach and raved about Jordan’s greatness, but may have been more impressed about another trait of Jordan’s.
“I'm not sure I've ever been around anybody that wanted to win more or worked harder than Michael Jordan,” he told New York Newsday in 2016.
Jordan won two Olympic gold medals, including in 1984 when amateurs still played, and in 1992 on the first ever “Dream Team.” In addition, Jordan was a three-time USA Basketball male athlete of the year.
Professionally, the No. 3 overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft, Jordan was a five-time NBA MVP, played on 14 All-Star teams, won six NBA championships, was named the NBA Finals MVP six times, won three NBA All-Star Game MVPs, NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1988, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1991, nine-time NBA All-Defensive team, 10-time NBA scoring champ, three-time NBA steals leader, two-time NBA slam dunk champion, three-time AP Athlete of the Year and NBA Rookie of the Year.
He played 14 seasons in the NBA, scored 32,292 career points (30.1 average), grabbed 6,672 rebounds (6.2 average), handed out 5,633 assists (5.3 average) and eight times averaged more than 30 points per game.
Jordan averaged 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.1 steals in 179 NBA playoff games.
He’s enshrined in the FIBA Hall of Fame, College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Widely considered the greatest basketball player ever, he also transcended sports by changing how athletes are marketed. He built a billion dollar empire with Nike and the Jordan Brand. He’s earned nearly $2 billion in endorsements in his lifetime, and even 11 years after he stopped playing, Jordan made more than $100 million in likeness in 2014.
The current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan has earned more money than any other athlete of all time.
The greatest of all-time? Perhaps the man whom the NBA logo was designed after, as legend has it, knows who the greatest player is when he sees him.
“I hate to say it's not a Laker but Michael Jordan,” Jerry West, a longtime Los Angeles Lakers’ great and former GM, told assembled media in 2015. “He's been the greatest player I've ever seen. And I'm probably a harsh judge of talent in the sense that I admire players that are really good defensive players and really good offensive players.”