Rookies are supposed to be learning the ropes, acclimatizing themselves to the NBA. Rarely do first-year guys come in and dominate like they’ve been bosses the whole time. Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan– these legends are members of the rare breed. Speaking of MJ, have you ever wondered what was Michael Jordan like as a rookie? If anything, his rookie season is among the best in NBA history.
Brief Background on Michael Jordan’s Basketball Career
Michael Jordan played college ball at the University of North Carolina under the infamous Dean Smith. Jordan credited Smith with his decision to join the NBA Draft in 1984, forfeiting his final year of eligibility at Chapel Hill in the process.
Since he stepped on an NBA court, Jordan did nothing but amaze and drop jaws. His athleticism is otherworldly. His physical attributes– large hands, strong upper body, and insane vertical leap– allowed him to do things ordinary humans couldn’t even dream of doing. He singlehandedly resurrected a Bulls franchise struggling with attendance and only had one postseason appearance in the previous seven years.
After his first season, Jordan did the following:
- Jordan was selected to be an All-Star, despite playing only 18 games in his second season due to a broken foot. Remember that he also made the All-Star team as a rookie!
- Jordan also made the All-NBA Second Team in 1985, with Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas on the First Team.
- In 1988, Jordan captured his first league MVP award and became the Defensive Player of the Year, a feat later achieved by Hakeem Olajuwon and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
- Up until that point, MJ was known for scoring and defense but had not achieved great team success.
- He only made the Conference Finals in 1989, losing to the Detroit Pistons in six games.
- The following year, the Bulls won a rematch in seven games against the Pistons.
- It wasn’t until 1991 that Jordan won his first NBA championship.
- Scottie Pippen’s development and Phil Jackson’s coaching played crucial roles.
- MJ won his first of six Finals MVPs by defeating Magic Johnson’s Lakers.
- Jordan’s last championship came in 1998 against the Utah Jazz.
- He famously ended the series with an iconic game-winning jumper over Bryon Russell in Game 6.
After Jordan’s retirement in 1998, he came back in 2001, this time with the Washington Wizards. It was nothing but love for the game that motivated MJ, as the Wizards were not even postseason contenders during these years. Nevertheless, a 39-year-old Michael Jordan still played 82 games in 2002-03, averaging 20 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals.
Besides his magnificent college and NBA career, Jordan was also a member of the 1992 United States Olympic team that won gold in Barcelona. He headlined the “Dream Team” alongside Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and the who’s who of the NBA during the time.
Michael Jordan’s Rookie Seasons and Early Years
Michael Jordan’s rookie year was a portent of things to come. He came during the most turbulent years in the Windy City, a roster littered with mismatched pieces that played passive defense powered by an otherwise anemic offense.
In fact, the year prior Jordan was drafted, the Bulls gave up the ninth-most points to opponents while being only the 20th out of 23 teams in points per game. It’s no wonder why the squad finished the season with only 27 wins, the second-worst record in the league that time behind the Indiana Pacers.
And by the luck of the draw, along came Jordan. Collectively, the team wasn’t any better, but with coach Kevin Loughery giving the green light to Michael, the NBA world became witnesses to his early greatness.
The Michael Jordan rookie year stats were nothing short of incredible:
- Averaged 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.4 steals while playing 82 games. That’s the sixth-highest PPG average by a rookie behind Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Bellamy, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Elvin Hayes.
- The guy led the league in total points (2,313) while leading the teams in rebounds and assists.
- Jordan’s 2.4 steals is tied for the third-best average by a rookie.
- Jordan even did better in the postseason, dropping averages of 29.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and 2.8 steals in three playoff games.
As great as Jordan was, the Bulls weren’t really built to compete deep in the playoffs during his early years. In fact, he experienced three consecutive first-round exits from 1985 to 1987 despite averaging otherworldly numbers.
In one of these games, specifically Game 2 of the 1986 first-round series between the Bulls and Celtics, Jordan dropped a playoff-best 63 points, a scoring feat nobody ever came close to beating.
After the game, Larry Bird uttered the famous line: “I didn’t think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us. He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
How was Michael Jordan’s Rookie Season Performance?
There were statistically better rookie season performances, but Jordan’s was one of a kind. Recent rookie wonders such as Luka Doncic and LeBron James paled in comparison. He hit the ground running and quickly established himself as a superstar in the league. If there were any question marks about how Jordan would fare in the big league, all those were answered in his rookie season.
Even though Jordan was behind Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1984 draft and as an overall prospect, the former Tar Heel was just better. Did Michael Jordan win Rookie of the Year over Olajuwon? You bet! Hakeem’s numbers were magnificent as a rookie– 20.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks– but Jordan was turning heads.
So, how does Jordan’s rookie season performance rank all-time? It’s probably within the top 5 range, on par, but not better than Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wilt dropped 37 and 27 on everybody’s heads as a rookie, while the Big O averaged a near 30-point triple-double. Kareem averaged 28.2 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in his first year, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 29-game improvement over the previous season.
What Made MJ’s Rookie Year Legendary?
When the Michael Jordan rookie draft went down in 1984, he was surrounded with more questions than answers. After his first year, the only question remaining was how far he could take his career.
What made Jordan’s rookie year legendary was not only the sheer numbers but how he got those numbers. He did it with a consistent menu of electrifying dunks and acrobatic plays that quickly became a signature part of his game. Jordan brought a level of excitement and flair to the NBA that captivated fans, helping rejuvenate an interest in the sport.
Jordan also showed he gave everything on both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard averaged nearly three steals a game to lead the league. On top of that, MJ could have easily turned his back on the team and set his focus on playing elsewhere, but he gutted it out and showed extraordinary resiliency.
As a result, his rookie year became a launching pad for his career. Not only did he make waves with his basketball prowess, but his off-court contributions, like his Nike shoe deal in his rookie year, paved the way for Jordan to become a household name.
Wrapping Things Up: What was Michael Jordan Like as a Rookie?
Only a few have become legitimate superstars in their rookie seasons, and Michael Jordan is undoubtedly one of them. As a rookie, MJ averaged over 28 points, six rebounds, and nearly six dimes a game while leading the league in total points and steals. And even that did not encapsulate his real impact on the game and his team.
With these things considered, what was Michael Jordan like as a rookie? While he still has a lot to work on his game, Jordan hit the ground running and was the alpha for the Bulls from the get-go. MJ led Chicago to the playoffs for the first time in four years and impressed. Jordan showed he was ready to be the next big thing and wasn’t afraid to be the guy in the most crucial moments. Sure enough, his rookie year became a launching pad of a legendary career that made him the basketball GOAT in the eyes of many.
If you’re interested in learning Michael Jordan’s story, check out this basketball biography book.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.