Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on October 26, 2010

Today: Basketball superstar Michael Jordan: His greatest career failure and the blessing it became.

If you’ve been afraid to make a bold career move fearing others will laugh at you, today’s story will help you overcome your fear.

When Michael Jordan joined the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls in 1984-85, he joined a weak, lifeless team that in the prior year had won just 27 games, lost 55 and had drawn only about 6,000 fans a game at home.

But Michael was a bundle of positive energy, strong work ethic and talent and he lit a fire under his teammates. With the excitement he brought to the team in his first season, attendance nearly doubled, with Michael averaging 28.2 points per game and winning the Rookie of the Year award.

The team made the playoffs for the first time in four years and as more talented Bulls were added in the next few years they became a sensation and a championship team, playing before packed houses. Their television ratings skyrocketed and they built a global following.

Meanwhile Michael began winning the League’s top awards including Most Valuable Player and established himself as one of the greatest basketball players of all-time.

But then one day Michael suddenly shocked the sports world. Prior to the 1994 basketball season at just 31, in the prime of his basketball career he announced his retirement.

To understand why such an extraordinary a player would abruptly walk away from a great career we need to look into Michael’s background.

Michael and his father James R. Jordan Sr. were very close. His father was his best friend and trusted advisor. Together they played golf, went to the casinos and shared a lot of good times.

But on July 23rd, 1993 while James was on a long drive home, he got off at a highway rest stop to take a nap. Two teenage boys saw him sleeping in his car and to steal the car and everything in it they shot and killed James, who was 56 years old.

The killers threw his body in a swamp and it was not found for two weeks, so badly decomposed that it took 10 more days to identify him. Meanwhile police quickly captured the suspects because they were using James’ cell phone.

They were convicted of his murder and for this and other violent crimes they committed; they are serving life prison sentences.

But for Michael, James’ death was catastrophic and basketball no longer held its magic. Mourning his father and wanting to reconnect with him, Michael knew James had been a big baseball fan.

Michael abruptly retired from basketball to become a professional baseball player.

The world scoffed. It was one thing for Michael to mourn the death of his father and quite another to pursue a career in baseball, a sport in which he had little experience, while walking away from basketball superstardom and a multi-million dollar contract.

But Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf understood and he also owned a Major League baseball team, the Chicago White Sox and welcomed Michael trying out for the team.

The tryout was a disaster. Michael couldn’t compete well with the highly talented baseball players who had played the game since they were small boys. He swung at and missed pitches that had already arrived in the catcher’s mitt or sometimes awkwardly swung the bat practically falling over as he missed the ball.

In the field, Michael misjudged fly balls, sometimes stumbling under them. It was embarrassing and nearly everyone encouraged him to quit but he refused to give-up.

The White Sox accommodated him sending Michael to their Birmingham Barons Minor League team. There he dedicated himself to long hours of hard work attempting to develop his skills. And he improved remarkably.

But at season’s end, he batted .202 (a very low batting average), hit 3 homeruns (a power hitter hits 30 or 40) and as a right fielder made 11 errors (a typical right fielder would make 3 or 4). He did however steal 30 bases (compared to 5 or 10 for an average player).

In the process Michael won the respect of his teammates who realized this wasn’t just a publicity stunt and he even won the respect of hardened baseball officials and commentators for they had witnessed an incredible improvement by the man who wasn’t afraid to subject himself to ridicule.

Michael had honored his father’s memory and met the great challenge baseball had presented to him. He was now ready to return to basketball, where his extraordinary gifts made him one of the all-time greats. And he appreciated his basketball skills like never before, knowing from baseball what it was like to badly fail and then struggle to elevate his game.

After more than a year away, Michael was refreshed and came back better than ever and led the Chicago Bulls to a series of championships as he took top scoring honors, Most Valuable Player awards, All-Star honors and most other awards.

Today, at 47 years of age, Michael is retired as a player, is in the NBA Hall of Fame, and is the holder of numerous basketball records including highest career scoring average with 30.2 points per game. He is consistently listed among the greatest players ever.

He is majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, making him the first former player to buy an NBA team. Among his business interests is the Jordan clothing line and Michael makes charitable donations to such organizations as Habitat for Humanity and The Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

But Michael will always fondly recall that long ago summer of 1994 when he had the courage to do something few other superstar athletes would do, quit a great career to pursue another.

He will also always have the fond memories of his dad, and remember his dad’s encouragement and love which will continue to live within his heart for the rest of his life.

Success Tip of the Week: A Michael Jordan tip: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Each of us can try at what matters greatly to us and even if we don’t succeed, we will be wiser and better from the experience.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to my friend Mary Ellen, http://www.angelscribe.com/tipsntales.html for her insight into how Michael’s baseball experience uplifted his basketball career.

In the next KazanToday: An 8th grade dropout who became one of the world’s wealthiest men.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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