Michael Jordan's career timeline

Michael Jordan's career timeline
February 15, 2013, 3:00 pm

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Mark Strotman

Michael Jordan's illustrious career has been filled with unforgettable moments. From the game-winner as a freshman at North Carolina to The Shot on Ehlo, the most storied basketball player of all-time provided countless jumpers, steals and dunks etched into history. In honor of his famous No. 23, here are the most memorable events of his basketball career.

Fall 1978: A three-sport athlete at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C., Micheal Jordan tries out for the varsity basketball team as a sophomore. He expects his hard work the previous offseason will pay off with a roster spot, but instead his good friend Leroy Smith is the only sophomore named to the varsity squad.

Spring 1981: Jordan eventually has two successful seasons on the varsity squad and the spring after his senior season is named to the McDonald’s All-American team. He joins a group that includes Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and future North Carolina teammate and best friend Buzz Peterson. Jordan scores a record 30 points and hits two free throws with 11 seconds left to help the East to a 96-95 win.

March 29, 1982: Recruited by assistant Roy Williams, Jordan commits to the Tar Heels in 1981. He is named the ACC Freshman of the Year and the Tar Heels earn the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. Jordan, Sam Perkins and James Worthy make it to the Championship game, where Jordan drains a jumper with 15 seconds left to give North Carolina a 63-62 victory over Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas.

Spring 1984: His successful freshman season propels him into his next two seasons, when Jordan is named a first-team All-American as both a sophomore and junior. In his final season with the Tar Heels he averages 19.6 points on 55 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds. The Tar Heels go 28-3 but are bounced in the Sweet 16. Jordan is named both the Naismith and Wooden College Player of the Year.

June 19, 1984: Jordan declares for the 1984 NBA Draft after his junior season. The Bulls select Jordan third overall after the Rockets take Hakeem Olajuwon and the Trail Blazers opt for Kentucky center Sam Bowie. Olajuwon enjoys an 18-year Hall of Fame career, while Bowie plays 10 injury-riddled seasons, averaging 10.9 points in 511 career games.

Apr. 20, 1986: After winning Rookie of the Year in 1985, Jordan suffers a broken foot three games into his sophomore season. He is limited to 18 regular season games but the Bulls make it to the playoffs despite losing 52 games. In Game 2 of the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the top-seeded Celtics, he puts on perhaps the greatest playoff performance in NBA history. Facing five Hall of Famers, Jordan scores 63 points on 22-of-41 shooting and makes 19-of-21 free throws in a 135-131 double-overtime loss. The Celtics sweep the series, but Jordan’s performance still stands as one of the best ever.

1986-1987: That 63-point performance carries over into his third season, when Jordan averages a career-best 37.1 points in 82 games. He becomes the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season, and also becomes the first player to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season. Jordan wins the NBA Slam Dunk contest, but the best was yet to come …

Feb. 6, 1988: Performing in front of the hometown fans in Chicago, Jordan and Dominique Wilkins put on what is widely considered the greatest Slam Dunk contest. Words don’t do it justice: You can watch it here.  

May 7, 1989: After the historic Slam Dunk contest, Jordan continues his offensive surge finishing the year averaging 32.5 points and 8 assists. Jordan’s first playoff series win with the Bulls comes in grand fashion, as he hits his famous jumper on Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo at the buzzer to win Game 5, 101-100. Jordan finishes that game with 44 points on 17-of-32 shooting.

1991: After falling to the Bad Boy Pistons in the playoffs three consecutive years (1988-1990), Jordan gets over the hump by sweeping Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. It is the Bulls’ first NBA Finals appearance and Jordan’s Bulls defeat the Lakers in five games to win his first title. The two most memorable moments from the series? Jordan switching hands in Game 2 to avoid a Sam Perkins block to convert a layup, and Jordan sobbing while holding the trophy in the locker room after the clinching Game 5 win.

1991-1992: Media outlets hype Jordan’s third straight NBA Finals appearance against Portland superstar Clyde Drexler as the next great rivalry. Jordan sets the tone for the series by draining six first half 3-pointers, the last of which prompts his famous shrug to the scorer’s table. The Bulls win the series in six games, as Jordan and the Bulls take the final two games after the Trail Blazers tie the series in Game 4.

Summer 1992: Fresh off his second NBA Championship, Jordan leads the “Dream Team” to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics. The Americans dominate the competition, defeating its opponents by nearly 44 points per game and routing Venezuela 80-47 in the Gold medal game. Jordan averages 12.7 points, fourth-highest on the team. He becomes the only player in NBA history to win the NBA MVP, an NBA Finals, an NBA Finals MVP and a Gold medal in one season.

[MORE: Full coverage of Michael Jordan's 50th birthday celebration]

1992-1993: The name of the game for Jordan is momentum and fresh off his historic run in 1992, Jordan wins his third straight title -- this time over the Phoenix Suns in six games. Jordan has added motivation, as Charles Barkley was named the regular-season MVP. Jordan responds with a Finals-record 41 points per game and becomes the first player to win three straight NBA Finals MVPs.

Oct. 6, 1993: Jordan tearfully announces his retirement, citing a loss of his love for the game and the effect his father’s murder earlier that summer has had on him. His late father, James, had always dreamed of Michael as a professional baseball player, so that summer he signs a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox. In 1994, Jordan hits .202 with three home runs and 51 RBIs for the Birmingham Barons. It was a failed experiment, but Jordan maintains a relationship with Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf who also owns the White Sox.

March 18, 1995: Jordan faxes perhaps the two most famous words in franchise history: “I’m back.” His return to the Bulls is met with jubilation across the city and, while the Bulls fall to the Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Jordan averages 31.0 points in the series and the Bulls’ future is restored.

1996: The addition of Dennis Rodman and the playoff loss from a year prior fuels Jordan in the 1995-1996 season. The Bulls open the season 41-3 and wind up going an NBA-record 72-10 in the regular season. The MVP Jordan and the Bulls run through the playoffs and defeat the SuperSonics in six games. Jordan clinches the win with 22 points on Father’s Day and lets his emotions pour out in the locker room holding the game ball.

June 11, 1997: In a crucial Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Jordan wakes up the day before the game drenched in sweat and nauseated. Diagnosed with food poisoning, Jordan plays the next day and somehow scores 38 points -- 17 in the second quarter alone -- to help a 16-point Jazz lead disappear. He scores 15 more in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to break an 85-all tie. The Bulls take a 3-2 series lead with a 90-88 win and two days later bring home championship No. 5.

June 14, 1998: Of all the lasting images in Jordan’s historic career, none are more memorable than this. Jordan takes the Delta Center court, 48 minutes from his sixth championship. A back-and-forth affair sees the Jazz take a five-point lead into the fourth quarter, and an 86-83 lead inside one minute. A Jordan layup pulls the Bulls within one, and on the following Jazz possession he steals the ball from Karl Malone. With less than 10 seconds to play, Jordan, from the top of the key, dribbles right, crosses over Byron Russell and connects on a 17-foot jumper to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead with 5.2 seconds left. It was Jordan’s final shot as a Bull, and quite possibly his greatest.

Jan. 13, 1999: Jordan says goodbye to the game he loves a second time amidst player contract disputes and Phil Jackson’s uncertain future. He finishes his 12-year Bulls career with six championships, five NBA MVPs, six Finals MVPs, 13 All-Star nominations, a Defensive Player of the Year award, a retired No. 23 jersey and countless other records.

2000: Despite leaving the game as a player, Jordan stays in the NBA as part owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. He is unfortunately remembered most for his selection of high school senior Kwame Brown with the No. 1 pick of the 2000 NBA Draft, passing on Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol, who go No. 2 and 3, respectively.

Sept. 25, 2001: Like he did in 1995, Jordan again feels the itch to return to basketball. In 60 games Jordan, age 38, averages 22.9 points and 5.2 assists, both of which led the team. In his second season with the Wizards Jordan is named to his 14th NBA All-Star Game and, in February, becomes the first 40-year-old to score 40 or more points (43, vs. New Jersey). In two seasons, Jordan averages 21.2 points on 43 percent shooting.

Jan. 2, 2003: In his final season, Jordan makes one last return to the United Center. He is given a near-three-minute standing ovation when introduced and finishes with 10 points, five rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes. The Wizards defeat Jalen Rose and the Bulls, 107-82. Fans chant “We want Mike!” in the fourth quarter, though Jordan doesn’t play in the final stanza.

Apr. 16, 2003: Jordan ties up his Air Jordan sneakers one last time, scoring 15 points in a 107-87 loss in Philadelphia. Jordan receives a standing ovation after he leaves the game with two minutes to go, sinking his last two free throws before leaving the court for the last time. He finishes with career averages of 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 1,072 career games.