Commentary: Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, turns 50

The stars of the National Basketball Association gathered in Houston from Feb. 15-17 to participate in the annual All-Star Weekend.
On Sunday, the best players of the Eastern Conference took on the best of the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. The Western Conference won 143-138 in a game that was a borderline dunk-contest until the fourth quarter when the teams began to play defense.
Sunday also marked two historic days for basketball. Not only was it the 45th anniversary of the opening of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., but also the 50th birthday of the greatest basketball player of all-time, Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan changed the way Americans think about basketball. His high-flying dunks were something that people hadn’t seen before. Stars such as Julius Erving could dunk but no one had done it as often or as spectacularly as Jordan did. He led the way for future stars such as Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, who, inevitably, are compared to him.
There isn’t any comparison. Jordan finished his career with six NBA Championship rings along with six NBA Finals MVP awards from 1991-93 and 1996-98. He also won a National Championship at the University of North Carolina in 1982 and two Olympic Gold medals in 1984 and 1992. He was recognized in 1996 while he was still playing as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. In 2009, Jordan was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
While his athletic accomplishments would be enough to solidify his place as one of the most recognizable athletes of all time, he also made a mark on the business side of basketball.
Jordan did his high-flying show in his own pair of sneakers. Before that, almost every basketball player wore the same shoe design. Jordan changed that, with the help of Nike, by playing in Air Jordans. The popularity of the shoes took off like Jordan jumping from the free-throw line to dunk. Nike stayed ahead of this popularity by coming out with a new design each year. Jordan made a fortune for himself and Nike even after he retired after two forgettable seasons with the Washington Wizards in 2003. In 2009, Nike made $1 billion off of Air Jordan sales.
These days, Jordan is majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats are one of the worst teams in the league, but sometimes, the best athletes of all-time don’t make the best owners of all-time.
Michael Jordan is one of those athletes who only comes around once in a generation: An athlete who, through achievements in sports and out, becomes part of the culture. Before him, the only American athletes who were recognized worldwide were Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. In America, it’s easy to see the mark Michael Jordan left. Like Babe Ruth did for baseball in the 1920s, Jordan took the NBA to heights of popularity that it had never experienced before.
As Jordan turns 50, it is important to recognize that the things he did could only be done by him. The reason he is the greatest basketball player of all time is because he changed what a basketball player could do. He also changed the relationship between sports and business. It is for these reasons that Jordan will be remembered for all time.

Stephen Whitaker
Managing Editor