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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Jordan rules the NBA
By Andrew McKenzie

Michael Jordan's worth to the US economy has been estimated at $10 billion
Even at 40, MJ is the number one draw in basketball

Nineteen years ago, NBA commissioner David Stern uttered 21 words that would forever change the game of basketball.

"With the third pick of the 1984 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls pick Michael Jordan of the University of North Carolina."

Jordan led the Bulls to six titles, but his worth to the sport stretched far beyond the "Windy City".

Just a few years before he entered the NBA, the league was on its knees.

It was rescued from financial meltdown by the arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and the rivalry between Bird's Boston Celtics and Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers.

The company should change its name to Mike
Alvin Robertson
Former NBA star

But while Bird and Johnson helped the NBA back onto its feet, it was Jordan who allowed it to take off.

With his gravity-defying game, Jordan transformed the sport into one played "above the rim", filling empty arenas with excitement in much the same way that baseball icon Babe Ruth did in the 1920s.

In 1983-84 the Bulls had averaged just over 6,000 fans per game.

But they soon became the hottest ticket in the NBA, beginning a run of more than 500 consecutive sell-outs.

Jordan established himself as much more than an unbelievable player - he was also a marketing dream.

Possessing intelligence and good looks, and coming from a hard-working middle class background, Jordan was the perfect role model for the kids of America.

Jordan has mastered the skill most needed for political success: how to stay afloat without visible means of support
Margaret Thatcher

As the Gatorade slogan famously said, everyone wanted to "be like Mike".

And everyone wanted a piece of him too.

Nike signed him to a five-year deal worth $2.5m - the most ever for a basketball star.

But even the huge sums of money involved failed to make the public perceive Jordan as a greedy sportsman.

Most people considered him underpaid.

In their first year of sales, Nike Air Jordan shoes grossed $130m.

Former opponent Alvin Robertson suggested "the company should change its name to Mike".

The offers continued to pour in and Jordan was soon advertising everything from aftershave to underwear.

By the time he retired for a second time in 1998, Fortune magazine estimated Jordan's worth to the US economy had been $10 billion.

And fans at games held aloft banners proclaiming "Michael for President".

He even got a glowing reference from Magaret Thatcher.

I could talk all day about his global impact and still wouldn't be finished
Yao Ming

"Michael Jordan has already mastered the skill most needed for political success: how to stay afloat without visible means of support," she said.

Even his peers were in awe of him.

Bird likened him to God, Charles Barkley called him Jesus, while ex-Bulls coach Phil Jackson called him the Michelangelo of basketball.

But it was away from America that the Jordan effect was best seen.

Basketball became second only to football in world popularity helped by MJ's role in the 1992 Olympics.

In a "Dream Team" of All-Stars, Jordan shone the brightest.

Fans clamoured to get a glimpse of the most recognisable athlete in the world, while celebrated opponents lined up to have their picture taken with him.

His image has unquestionably been a catalyst for the surge of international players in the NBA.

In twenty years time, people will still be talking about Michael Jordan
Joe Dumars,
Ex-Detroit Pistons

When Jordan joined the league there were only a handful of non-Americans - this season there are 66 foreign players from 34 different countries.

The NBA's newest phenomenon, China's Yao Ming, is one of a factory-line of players attracted to the game by "His Airness".

"Michael Jordan is just an incredible player," said Ming, who was only four when Jordan made his debut. "I could talk all day about his global impact and still wouldn't be finished."

Even at 40, MJ remains the number one draw in basketball.

His Washington Wizards play to sell-out stadiums wherever they go and boast the highest home attendance in the league.

Even after two Jordan retirements, the question the NBA still has to answer is how does it survive without its most famous son?

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