Michael Jordan turns 50 years old

From the archives:
-- Jordan enters the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009
-- First two titles, 20 years later: 1991 & 1992

Sam Smith: What I remember most fondly is the kid.

Michael Jordan

There was the so-called “Love of the Game” clause in Michael Jordan’s first NBA contract, the insecurities like everyone else had and the uncertainties when he first walked into the old Angel Guardian gym on the north side with the concrete under the basketball floor, and the intense competitiveness we all came to admire and respect. Though mostly it was the joy of just playing, like he didn’t have to grow up.

“The best time of my life,” I remember Jordan telling me that rookie season in 1984-85 about life in the NBA with a not very good Bulls team and many not very upstanding teammates.

Every day, though, it was just playing, basketball and more basketball, practice and the games. Oh, the thrill of the games, and finding out he really could be as special as he hoped he might be and they said he would be. And the games never ended, the ping pong tournaments with his buddy Rod Higgins to the fierce card games well into the night with his North Carolina trio of old friends who occasionally joined him on road trips, Fred Whitfield, Fred Kerns and Adolph Shiver.

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it sounds so much so now as Jordan turns 50 years old. Michael Jordan can get an AARP card. How about that?

Michael Jordan in 1988 Slam Dunk Competition

The NBA plays its annual All-Star Game Sunday on Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday. Jordan never played an All-Star Game on his birthday, as back then the game usually was played about a week before Jordan’s birthday. Sam Smith offers one look at Jordan’s top 10 All-Star games/weekends.

At the top of his list is Feb. 7, 1988, when Jordan finished off the last All-Star Game in Chicago with 40 points in a 138-133 East win. With the East holding a six-point halftime lead, Jordan gave a rousing halftime speech in the East locker room demanding the team win and anyone not serious should leave. Dominique Wilkins, who was second in the slam dunk contest to Jordan that weekend, supported Jordan with 29 points. Jordan won the first of his three All-Star MVP’s. Jordan’s 40 points was two fewer than Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star record.

Michael Jordan and The Shot

Sam Smith looks back at Michael Jordan’s 12 best days on the basketball court, the significance of the No. 12 being the number Jordan wore in a 1990 game in Orlando when his jersey was stolen. Otherwise, he wore No. 23 and briefly No. 45 upon his return in 1995.

"There may never have been a more frequently shown first round playoff series winner," he writes of The Shot, Jordan's 1989 buzzer beater in Cleveland. "But that win effectively launched the Bulls’ championship run. Magic Johnson had labeled those versatile Cavs the team of the 1990s and they were 6-0 over the Bulls that season. The Bulls then would go onto the conference finals. But the talk had been if they’d lost in the first round the team could be broken up."

It will hardly be the first time Michael Jordan has hit the half century mark. In fact, the greatest basketball player of all-time scored 50 or more points 38 times during his illustrious NBA career.

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen

But on Sunday, of course, hitting 50 will happen again in a much different sense, as Jordan will fittingly celebrate his 50th birthday on a day when the modern day game’s greats will gather for the 62nd NBA All-Star Game in Houston.

For Jordan, the birthday festivities got started on Friday night, when Nike and the Jordan Brand hosted a star-studded affair. Among those in attendance was Scottie Pippen, who perhaps is positioned as well as anyone to remark on Jordan’s milestone birthday.

“The older I get, the more I tend to look back and reflect on those days,” Pippen said last week on the historical run he, Jordan and the Bulls enjoyed during the 1990s. “It’s pretty surprising when you think about how time has flown by so quickly. It’s something we can look back on and always be able to cherish.

“It truly doesn’t seem like it was that long ago since we first hooked up,” Pippen added. “It was before [the Bulls] were winning. I’m just happy we’ve both been able to age gracefully. It’s pretty amazing to not only celebrate his 50th birthday, but also celebrate one of the biggest brands out there.”

Michael Jordan: 50 vintage photos

With all of the success Michael Jordan enjoyed during his playing career came an endless supply of iconic photos. Bulls.com highlights 50 of them, from the early days of Air Jordans to celebrating the world championships during the 1990s.

Michael Reinsdorf on MJ: “He created the first worldwide brand in sports”

Michael Jordan and Michael Reinsdorf

Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf recently joined ESPN 1000 to discuss the legacy of Michael Jordan as he turns 50 years old.

“When you went to the games, you literally didn’t want to miss one second because you never knew what you might miss,” said Reinsdorf, who also shared that his father Jerry likened watching Jordan to seeing Babe Ruth in action. “All eyes were always on Michael and it was an incredible, joyous opportunity to get to see him play.”

“To me, when someone says Michael Jordan, I think about his refusal to lose a game, just his willingness to throw it all out there and never to give up,” added Reinsdorf. “During those games, no matter what we were down, it was like, ‘OK, Michael is going to take over and we’re going to get right back in this game.’”

Michael Jordan Hall of Fame