The sports documentary miniseries The Last Dance received critical acclaim and captured every sports fan’s imagination as it concluded on Netflix recently. It was a compelling account of what made Michael Jordan and the 1990’s Chicago Bulls great.
But there were some obscure facts along the way, which didn’t make the final cut.
10 He’s technically from New York
It’s a little-known fact that Jordan was actually born in Brooklyn, New York at Cumberland Hospital. He didn’t live in the Big Apple for long, as it was when he was a toddler that his parents, James and Delores, moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where his obsession with basketball developed. The Jordans only resided in New York for 18 months, while father James undertook mechanic’s training on the GI Bill where he studied airplane hydraulics.
MJ’s formative years were in North Carolina, so he definitely never regarded New York as his home. After his playing career with both Chicago and Washington, Jordan bought a stake in the Charlotte Bobcats, in his home state of North Carolina. He still owns a majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets (they reverted back to their original name in 2014) to this day, thus is his attachment to the state.
9 He grew four inches in one summer as a teenager
In Jordan’s sophomore year at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington he tried out for the varsity basketball team but missed out as he was too short at 5’11” (180cm). Given his father was only 5’9″ and mother was 5’6″, it didn’t look good for Michael.
The following summer he exploded in height, growing four inches (10cm) to 6’2”. He’d already started to dominate with his junior varsity team and trained intently on breaking into the varsity team but his growth spurt only helped his cause. He succeeded, started averaging big points, grew even more to 6’3” and eventually made the 1981 McDonald’s All-American Game. Next stop was college basketball.
8 He studied cultural geography at college
Given his prodigious talent, Jordan accepted a basketball scholarship in 1981 at the University of North Carolina. It’s hard to believe it, but Jordan enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts with a Geography major. He studied Basic Writing, Selected Math, Beginning Tennis and Elementary Portuguese in his first term in fall 1981.
With his star on the rise after dominating college basketball and winning a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, Jordan opted to delay his final year and enter the 1984 NBA Draft. He joined Chicago, but actually returned to North Carolina in 1986 to complete his Geography major. It’s understood his interest in cultural geography developed during a 1983 trip to Venezuela with the US Pan American team.
7 Why he wore 23
Jordan’s number 23 is iconic and has spawned many copycats in his honour, such as soccer’s David Beckham, cricket’s Shane Warne and basketball star LeBron James. So why did Michael choose the number 23?
The number carried significant sentimental importance for Michael, whose role model as a youngster was his brother Larry, who was older than him by 11 months. Larry played for their high school varsity basketball team and wore the number 45. Michael eventually made that team and chose to halve the 45, wearing 23. Thankfully 22.5 wasn’t available.
Of course, MJ wore both 23 and 45 during his NBA career, as highlighted by The Last Dance when he returned after his first retirement, only to surrender the latter jersey during the 1994-95 NBA Eastern Conference semi-finals after a sledge from Orlando’s Nick Anderson when he said “number 45 doesn’t explode like number 23 used to”.
6 He once wore number 12 in the NBA
It’s a quirky fact that in a match against the Orlando Magic in the 1989-90 NBA season he wore the number 12 jersey. The story goes that Jordan’s jersey was stolen from the visitors’ change-rooms at Orlando’s Amway Arena some time between Chicago’s gameday morning shoot-around and when they arrived pre-game at about 4:30pm.
Despite the fact that the visiting change-rooms was locked up airtight, somehow Jordan’s jersey had gone missing, prompting an arena-wide search. It’s also believed there was a PA announcement across the venue asking fans if they may donate a Jordan shirt which would fit him! Nothing came to fruition and Jordan, albeit agitated by not having his preferred kit, settled for an unnamed number 12 jersey. It didn’t faze him on court, as he scored 49 points although the Bulls went down 135-129.
A recent Orlando Magic video claimed that one of the Bulls’ personnel hatched an elaborate plan to steal the 23 jerseys through a ceiling tile.
5 He had a “Love of the Game” clause in his contract
At the very start of Jordan’s NBA career he had an unusual clause put in his first professional contract with the Bulls which enabled him to play basketball against anyone, anywhere and anytime. It’s remarkable to think general manager Jerry Krause enabled this to happen, given the risk of injury but Jordan retained it due to his passion for hoops.
It’s understood to literally apply to any situation, from exhibition games to pickup games. Jordan spent countless hours at Wilmington’s Empie Park during his high school days challenging anyone to a game. He embraced playground hoops during his college days and carried that on after graduation in 1986 and 1987, including alumni matches.
It’s believed the clause was removed at some point in the 90s under a new collective bargaining agreement. But during the filming of ‘Space Jam’ in 1995, Warner Brothers erected a facility for Jordan to play basketball, which was highlighted by The Last Dance as matches involving plenty of NBA stars, such as Reggie Miller. MJ just loved to play, and win.
4 Miami Heat retired his number
Yes, you read that right, the Miami Heat, whom Jordan played a collective total of zero games for, retired his number 23. Remarkably it was also the first time in franchise history that the Heat had retired a number.
Miami retired the number before Jordan’s final game at their home venue, the American Airlines Arena, on April 11 2003, erecting a jersey which was half-Chicago, half-Washington.
Heat coach Pat Riley said on mid-court: “In honor of your greatness and for all you’ve done for the game of basketball—and not just the NBA, but for all the fans around the world—we want to honor you tonight and hang your jersey, number 23, from the rafters. No one will ever wear number 23 for the Miami Heat. You’re the best.” The Heat is the only team other than Chicago to retire his number.
3 His divorce was the largest celebrity settlement
Jordan married his first wife Juanita Vanoy in 1989 but they split in 2002, before reconciling and then eventually divorcing in 2006. It was claimed that the divorce settlement was worth US$168m, which went down as number one on the Forbes’ list of ‘The 10 Most Expensive Celebrity Divorces’. According to Forbes, Jordan was worth US$525m in 2009.
Jordan was allegedly guilty of infidelity during the marriage, although the couple’s lawyers said publicly that the split was “mutual and amicable”. Besides for the US$168m, he also paid more than US$2m in legal fees.
Since then, actor Mel Gibson and Robyn Moore trumped that settlement with an even more expensive divorce.
2 He donated a significant lawsuit settlement to charity
In 2015, after a six-year court battle, Jordan received a multimillion-dollar settlement for a lawsuit against supermarkets Dominick’s and Jewel-Osco for the unauthorized use of his name in an advertisement in a 2009 edition of Sports Illustrated. The settlement was undisclosed, although he’d previously won a jury verdict worth US$8.9m against Dominick’s, so it was significant.
Jordan vowed that he’d donate all of the money, once he’d paid his attorneys, to charity. “The 23 charities I’ve chosen to make donations to all support the health, education and well-being of the kids of Chicago,” Jordan said. “Chicago has given me so much and I want to give back to its kids — the city’s future.” For Jordan, the case wasn’t about the money, but instead to protect his image rights.
1 Same wedding venue as the Trumps
Jordan’s second wife Cuban-American model Yvette Prieto did not feature in The Last Dance. In fact, his first wife Vanoy was also completely absent while his children barely featured in it either. However, Jordan met Prieto well after his playing career, first locking eyes in a nightclub in 2007 when Michael was 44.
Miami raised Prieto and Jordan moved in together in 2009 and the NBA superstar proposed during the Christmas break in 2011. The couple eventually married in 2013 in Florida, with Tiger Woods and Spike Lee among the guest list, while Robin Thicke and Usher both performed.
The venue, an Episcopal church called Bethesda-by-the-Sea, was also where future US President Donald Trump married Melania in 2005. Jordan and Prieto have since had two children together.
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