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Early NBA career

After scoring 16 points in his first NBA game, Jordan took the league by storm in his rookie year, scoring 40 or more points six times en route to a 28.2 points-per-game season (sixth best all-time by a rookie). He also averaged 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.4 steals per game. He revived interest in a floundering Bulls franchise, received a spot on the All-Star team, and won the Rookie of the Year award.

In the third game of the 1985-1986 NBA season, Jordan broke a bone in his foot and missed all but 18 games. Upon his return, as advised by team doctors Jordan was restricted to a limited number of minutes per game by Coach Stan Albeck and General Manager Jerry Krause. Jordan disagreed with this decision and this soured his relationship with Krause for the rest of his career, as he felt that Krause was intentionally trying to lose games in order to gain a better pick in the NBA draft. In spite of Jordan's injury, the Bulls still managed to make the playoffs, where they were defeated in three games by the eventual champion Boston Celtics.

The series is best remembered for Jordan's 63 points in a double-overtime loss in Game 2, an NBA playoff single game scoring record that still stands. After the game, Larry Bird commented that it was "God disguised as Michael Jordan". The following season established Jordan as one of the best players in the league. Jordan scored 50 or more points eight times during the regular season and 40 or more points 36 times, won his first scoring title with a 37.1 points-per-game average (only Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor have had higher season averages), and became the only player besides Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season. He finished runner-up to Magic Johnson in MVP voting. The playoffs ended for the Bulls as they did the year before, in a three-game sweep by the Celtics.

In his fourth season, Jordan averaged 35 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game, won his first MVP award and the Defensive Player of the Year award (garnering 259 steals and 131 blocks), was named MVP of the All-Star Game, and won his second consecutive Slam Dunk Contest with a dunk from the free throw line. Jordan's Bulls got out of the first round for the first time, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games (with Jordan averaging 45.2 points per game during the series) before losing in five games to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons.

In 1988-89, Jordan averaged 32.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game while finishing second in the MVP voting. In Magic-like fashion, Jordan also recorded 15 triple-doubles during the regular season including a streak of 7 consecutive triple-doubles which saw him record 10 triple-doubles in 11 games. Jordan also recorded 3 triple-doubles while scoring at least 40 points and came 2 assists shy of being the first player ever to record a triple-double while scoring at least 50 points against the Phoenix Suns on January 21, 1989. He established himself as one of the NBA's great clutch performers with a last-second jump shot over Craig Ehlo in Game 5 in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls, fueled by the emergence of small forward Scottie Pippen and power forward Horace Grant as starters, defeated the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals before losing to the Pistons in the Conference Finals.

The Pistons, with their punishing, physical play, established a plan for playing against Jordan, dubbed "The Jordan Rules" by Pistons coach Chuck Daly. The Jordan rules involved double- and triple-teaming him every time he touched the ball, preventing him from going to the baseline, hammering him when he drove to the basket, forcing him to the center where help defense could arrive and making him rely on his inexperienced teammates.

Coach Phil Jackson took over the team in the 1989-90 season, in which Jordan averaged 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and finished third place in the MVP voting. On March 28, Jordan recorded career highs of 69 points and 18 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bulls lost to the Pistons in seven games in the Conference Finals.

 

The first three-peat

In the 1990-91 season, Michael Jordan, motivated by the team's narrow defeat against the Pistons a year earlier, finally bought into Jackson and assistant coach Tex Winter's triangle offense after years of resistance. That year, he won his second MVP award after averaging 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game for the regular season. For the first time in his career, Jordan failed to register a game of scoring at least 50 points while leading the league in scoring.

The Bulls finished in first place for the first time in 16 years and set a franchise record in regular season wins with 61. With Scottie Pippen developing into an All-Star, the Bulls proved too strong for their Eastern Conference competition. The Bulls defeated the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Detroit Pistons en route to the NBA Finals where they then beat Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bulls compiled an excellent 15-2 playoff record along the way. In what would become an enduring video clip, Jordan changed hands midair while completing a layup against the Lakers. Jordan won his first NBA Finals MVP award unanimously, and wept while holding his first NBA Finals trophy.

Jordan and the Bulls continued their dominance in the 1991-1992 season, establishing another new franchise high with a 67-15 record. Jordan won his second consecutive MVP award with a 30.1/6.4/6.1 season. After winning a physical 7-game series over the burgeoning New York Knicks in the second round and finishing off the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals in 6 games, the Bulls faced off against Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trail Blazers in the Finals. The media, hoping to recreate a Magic-Bird type rivalry in a Jordan-Drexler/"Air" Jordan vs. Clyde "The Glide" rivalry, compared the two throughout the pre-Finals hype.

In the first game of the Finals that year, Jordan scored a record 35 points in the first half and finished the game with 39. Jordan sank 6 three pointers during the half and many fans will remember the last three pointer he hit over the hands of Cliff Robinson in which he jogged down the court shrugging as if to say "I don't know what's going on". The Bulls would go on to win game one, and then wrapped up the series in six games. Because of his dominating performance, Jordan was named Finals MVP for the second year in a row. Jordan would finish the series averaging 35.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 6.5 APG while shooting 53% from the floor. Drexler finished with averages of 24.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 5.3 APG but only shot 41% from the floor.

In 1992-93, despite a 32.6/6.7/5.5 campaign, Jordan's streak of consecutive MVP seasons ended as he lost the award to his friend Charles Barkley. Fittingly, though, Jordan and the Bulls would end up meeting Barkley and his Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals, in a match-up dubbed as "Altitude vs. Attitude". Jordan's perceived slighting in the MVP balloting only fueled his competitive fire.

The Bulls would capture their third consecutive NBA championship on a game-winning shot by John Paxson and a last-second block by Horace Grant, but Jordan was once again Chicago's catalyst. He averaged a Finals-record 41.0 PPG during the six-game series, and in the process became the first player in NBA history to win three straight Finals MVPs. With the Finals triumph, Jordan capped off what may have been the most spectacular seven-year run by an athlete ever, but there were signs that Jordan was tiring of his massive celebrity and all of the non-basketball hassles in his life.

 

First retirement and gambling allegations

On October 6, 1993, Jordan announced his retirement, citing a lost desire to play the game. Many speculate that the murder of his father, James Jordan, in July 1993 factored into his decision. However, those close to Jordan claim that he was strongly considering retirement as early as the summer of 1992, and that the added exhaustion of the Dream Team run only solidified Michael's burned-out feelings regarding the game and his ever-growing celebrity.

In any case, Jordan's announcement sent shockwaves throughout the NBA and appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Not since Jim Brown's sudden retirement from the NFL in 1966 had such a dominant athlete walked away from the game at the peak of his abilities.

There have been many unproven conspiracy theories about why Jordan retired in 1993. In the year before his retirement, Jordan had admitted to having to cover $57,000 in gambling losses. Author Richard Esquinas wrote a book claiming he had won $1.3 million in gambling money from Jordan on the golf course.

At the same time, Jordan had also been spotted at casinos in Atlantic City. One theory states that the increased scrutiny for Jordan's gambling activities led to a "deal" between Jordan and the NBA, where Jordan would retire for a few years. Supporters of this theory cite Jordan's statement at his retirement press conference as evidence. "Five years down the road," he said, "if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me, if David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back."

However, three days after his retirement, the NBA cleared Jordan of any wrongdoing and stated that its investigation revealed that there was "absolutely no evidence Jordan violated league rules."

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