ESPN’s must-watch Michael Jordan docuseries, The Last Dance, has thus far been very inside basketball. Which makes sense, since he’s the greatest player to ever step onto the hardwood and it is airing on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.
But any retrospective on Jordan requires looking far beyond the court.
He’s also a billionaire businessman, movie star, professional baseball player and meme. (One thing he is not, he once promised ET, is an overachiever.) To match Jordan’s six championship rings, we’re looking back on six of his greatest achievements that have nothing — OK, mostly nothing — to do with basketball.
1. From Air Jordans to the first NBA player to become a billionaire
“His Airness” signed with Nike in 1984 to create the Air Jordan. “In our mind, there was no question that Michael Jordan was the man we had to have,” Nike’s Mike Caster told ET. Jordan wasn’t the first player to do so, but after him, everyone from Shaquille O’Neal to Allen Iverson to LeBron James signed up for their own signature shoes.
Sneakers begat apparel which led to a fragrance and restaurant group, with endorsement deals with Gatorade, McDonald’s and more. “I’m trying to cut back,” he told ET in 1991. “If I want to get millions and millions of dollars in endorsements, all I have to do is accept every one that I’ve been presented with, but I’m trying to pick and choose.” And still, in 2014, Jordan became the first NBA player to become a billionaire.
2. Musical tributes from Michael Jackson and rap’s greatest emcees
Game recognize game, and great recognize great. So naturally, when the then-King of Pop was planning the music video for “Jam” — a new single off his 1991 album, Dangerous — he thought of the other MJ. The video (watch here) has Jordan teaching Jackson his moves on the court, and Jackson returning the favor by teaching Jordan to moonwalk.
Cameos aside, Jordan’s status as a pop culture legend has made him one of the most-dropped names in rap, with Kendrick Lamar titling a song after him and earning bars from Drake, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, 2Pac and Biggie. (The latter of whom rapped, “The only one soaring and scoring is Jordan/He must of had his Wheaties this morning.”)
3. His brief-but-promising stint playing professional baseball
After his first retirement from the NBA in ’93, the league’s greatest player put down the ball and picked up a bat as he signed with the Chicago White Sox. Jordan played for their minor-league team, the Birmingham Barons — and fulfilled a lifelong dream of his late father. Jordan may not have made MLB history, but he joined the likes of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders on a rare list of multi-sport professional athletes.
“With another 1,000 at-bats, he would’ve made it,” Barons manager Terry Francona has said. “But there’s something else that people miss about that season. Baseball wasn’t the only thing he picked up. I truly believe that he rediscovered himself, his joy for competition.” In 1995, Jordan returned to the NBA.
4. Starring in Space Jam, one of the ’90s most iconic movie
Every ’90s kid knows the most iconic game of Jordan’s career was the ’96 matchup between Tune Squad and Monstars, after Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Taz and the rest of the Looney Tunes enlisted Jordan — and Bill Murray — to thwart an evil theme park owner’s scheming. Jordan says he was only “experimenting” with acting, which he found more difficult than basketball.
“In basketball, things are instinctive. In acting, you gotta keep doing it over until you do it right,” he explained to ET at the movie’s junket. “I mean, if I miss two free throws, so what? We just get a rebound and go down there to the end. But it’s not that simple in acting.”
5. Becoming a meme
If you’re part of the zeitgeist in the 21st century and don’t become a meme, were you really part of it at all? Enter “Crying Jordan,” a photo of Jordan’s tear-stained mug — taken at his Basketball Hall of Fame induction in 2009 — became the weepy face of despair on social media, for matters both sports-related and otherwise.
Jordan commented on the meme at, of all places, Kobe Bryant’s memorial, during an emotional remembrance of the late all-star. “I told my wife that I wasn’t going to do this, because I didn’t want to see [another crying meme] for the next three or four years,” he said through tears. “That is what Kobe Bryant does to me.”
6. Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama
An Olympic gold medalist, ESPYs honoree and Kids’ Choice Awards winner (Favorite Male Athlete), Jordan reached the pinnacle of his achievements with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — “the highest civilian honor” — bestowed upon him by President Obama in 2016.
Medalled alongside the likes of Bill Gates, Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Diana Ross, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others, Jordan was regarded by Obama as such: “There is a reason you call somebody ‘the Michael Jordan of’ — the Michael Jordan of neurosurgery, or the Michael Jordan of rabbis, or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing. Everyone knows what you’re talking about. Because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness.”