Editor's note: In honor of Michael Jordan being named to the Forbes' billionaire list this week, SI.com is re-publishing Jack McCallum's 1991 Sportsman of the Year essay on Jordan, titled: "Alone On The Mountaintop." This story originally appeared in the Dec. 23, 1991 issue.
At the relatively tender age of 28, he stands alone on the mountaintop, unquestionably the most famous athlete on the planet and one of its most famous citizens of any kind. We've heard it so often that it's now a cliché, though an accurate one: He transcends sports. He keeps a championship ring on his dresser at home and will be making room for another if his team (18-3 at week's end) plays the next six months of the season the way it has played the first two. A two-time MVP, he was probably the best player in the world even before Magic Johnson's retirement last month, but now the subject isn't even worth debating.
He will earn about $25 million in 1992, only $3.8 million of it from his day job--the rest, an astonishing $21.2 million, from a flood of endorsements. His name and his face are on sneakers, sandwiches, soft drinks and cereal boxes, to mention just a few items. He has a lovely and loving wife, two adorable sons and a relationship with his parents that is so good, the sappiest sitcom wouldn't touch it. He is bothered somewhat by tendinitis and a bone spur in his left knee but is otherwise in outstanding health. He has trouble off the tee from time to time, but his handicap is still in single figures, and any number of professional tutors are at his beck and call.
And, so, despite a few aesthetic drawbacks--near baldness, skinny legs, overly long basketball trunks and the continuing tendency to stick out his tongue--we honor Michael Jeffrey Jordan as our Sportsman of the Year for 1991.
It is a virtual certainty that since the award originated in 1954, no athlete has been as popular on a worldwide scale as Jordan is now and, for that matter, has been for the last several years. He has surpassed every standard by which we gauge an athlete's fame and, with few exceptions, he has handled the adulation with a preternatural grace and ease that have cut
across lines of race, age and gender.
SI's 100 Best Michael Jordan Photos
Michael Jordan leaps from the free-throw line for a perfect-score dunk in the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. A prolific dunker throughout his career due to his tremendous leaping ability, Jordan won back-to-back dunk contests in 1987 and '88.
Michael Jordan pulls down a rebound in an ACC game against Virginia in January 1982. He scored 13.5 points per game that season as a freshman.
Michael Jordan goes for a layup against Patrick Ewing during the 1982 NCAA National Championship between North Carolina and Georgetown.
Michael Jordan hits the game-winning jumper to beat Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA Championship game. Jordan, ACC Freshman of the Year, propelled North Carolina to a national title by nailing a jumper with 17 seconds remaining, putting the Tar Heels up for good 63-62. Jordan had 16 points in the game.
Michael Jordan plays aggressive defense against Duke's Tommy Amaker in a 1984 ACC Tournament semifinal. North Carolina entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 1 in the nation, but Indiana upset the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16.
Michael Jordan poses for a 1983 portrait at center court of the Carmichael Arena, the home to North Carolina men's basketball during Jordan's tenure. Playing under legendary coach Dean Smith, Jordan won a national championship in 1982 and the Naismith and Wooden awards for college player of the year in 1984.
Michael Jordan rubs the head of Sam Perkins for a portrait in November 1983. The Tar Heels went undefeated in the ACC during the regular season but lost in the ACC Tournament and was upset in the Sweet 16 by Indiana.
Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins sit on the couch in coach Dean Smith's office at North Carolina in November 1983. Smith won the first national championship of his Hall of Fame coaching career with Jordan and Perkins in 1982.
Michael Jordan plays Ms. Pac Man at North Carolina in November 1983. Already a first-team All-America from his sophomore season, Jordan topped that by winning the 1984 John Wooden Award as a junior before declaring for the NBA Draft.
Michael Jordan dances to Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" in his dorm room in November 1983. North Carolina entered the 1983-84 season ranked No. 1 in the nation, earning Jordan his first SI cover appearance and photo shoot.
Michael Jordan stands with North Carolina teammate Sam Perkins in November 1983. The Tar Heels' star duo combined for 37.2 points per game in the 1983-84 season.
To tune up for his first Olympics, Michael Jordan competes for Team USA against a team of NBA All-Stars in 1984. Although the games against the NBA players were incredibly physical and left the Olympians bruised and battered, the move paid off when the Americans went 8-0 at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics en route to a gold medal.
Michael Jordan shoots a jumper for Team USA at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Playing for a still all-amateur team, Jordan led all the squad with 17.1 points per game as the U.S. took gold with an 8-0 record.
Michael Jordans smiles alongside Julius Erving during warmups before the Chicago Bulls game against the Philadelphia 76ers in November 1984.
Michael Jordan drives a bumper car against Bulls teammates Rod Higgins and Orlando Woolridge at an amusement park in Phoenix in November 1984.
Rookie sensation Michael Jordan opts for some slightly smaller links in a round of miniature golf with the Bulls in Phoenix in 1984.
Michael Jordan walks on the court with his tongue out in November 1984, his rookie season. Jordan picked up the habit from his father, who would stick his tongue out when he was absorbed in his work.
Rookie sensation Michael Jordan sits on the bench during a game against the Phoenix Suns. Jordan scored 20 or more points in 21 of his first 25 games.
Michael Jordan tries to drive through traffic against Washington in January 1985. After averaging 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.4 steals, Jordan was named Rookie of the Year and selected for the All-Star Game, the first of his 14 selections.
Michael Jordan goes up for a dunk during the 1987 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest.
Michael Jordan drives with the ball in the 1987 All-Star Game. He earned his third straight All-Star selection and became the only player other than Wilt Chamberlain to score 3,000 points in a season. He also became the first player to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in a season.
Michael Jordan flies through the paint to the rim for a dunk in this 1987 action portrait.
Young autograph seekers surround Michael Jordan at a basketball camp in March 1987. With his on-court success and successful off-court marketing, Jordan quickly became one of the NBA's biggest stars.
Michael Jordan fakes on a drive against the Los Angeles Lakers in February 1988. Jordan won his first MVP Award that season, averaging 35.0 points, 5.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 1.6 blocks. Those final two stats helped Jordan claim Defensive Player of the Year.
Michael Jordan takes off from the free-throw line to earn a perfect score and win the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. Jordan's famous jam pushed him in front of Dominique Wilkins for his second straight win.
Michael Jordan goes up for a layup after blowing past Brad Daugherty of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series in May 1988. Jordan torched Cleveland for 38 or more points in each game of the series, but the Bulls couldn't get past the Detroit Pistons in the next round.
5-3 Muggsy Bogues stands alongside 6-6 Michael Jordan during a game between the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets in February 1989.
Michael Jordan makes a pass in the face of Cleveland's Ron Harper in Game 5 of a first-round Eastern Conference series. Jordan finished the game with his famous jumper over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer to win the series.
Michael Jordan rises up for a buzzer-beater, now referred to as "The Shot," to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs on May 7, 1989. Jordan hit a jumper with six seconds remaining to give the Bulls a lead, only for the Cavaliers to take it right back with a layup by Craig Ehlo with three seconds left. Jordan, double-teamed on the inbounds play, got just enough separation to receive the ball and get the shot off over Ehlo to win the first-round series in five games.
Michael Jordan puts up a shot over the outstretched arm of Detroit's John Salley in Game 2 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. Despite four games with 31 or more points, Jordan was unable to keep the Pistons from eliminating the Bulls in the conference finals for the second consecutive season.
Michael Jordan makes a midair pass to Scottie Pippen against the Detroit Pistons in Game 3 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan's 47 points and 10 rebounds got the Bulls the win in that game, but the Pistons took the series in seven games.
Members of the Dream Team Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley hold up Olympic rings for a portrait in February 1991.
Michael Jordan soars for a slam against the Knicks in April 1991. He scored 34 points with eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in the Bulls' win in New York.
Michael Jordan tries to drive past Barkley in 1991. Jordan said he didn't consciously stick his tongue out while playing and even told kids not to do it out of fear they might accidentally bite theirs.
Michael Jordan soars for a dunk in Game 3 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Jordan scored 46 of Chicago's 97 points in the Bulls only loss of the series against the 76ers en route to another championship.
Michael Jordan drives on the Detroit Pistons' Joe Dumars in Game 2 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan dropped 35 points in the Bulls' win, the second of four straight to finally oust the Pistons in the playoffs after Detroit eliminated them in each of the two prior seasons.
Jordan gets ready to throw down an authoritative dunk against Detroit in Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls put an exclamation point on avenging their back-to-back playoff eliminations at the hands of the Pistons, sweeping Detroit in four games.
Michael Jordan goes up for a one-handed slam in 1991. He averaged 31.5 points per game in the 1990-91 season, part of a seven-season stretch in which he scored more than 30 points per game.
Michael Jordan pressures Magic Johnson in Game 3 of the 1991 NBA Finals. Jordan's defense was a source of great frustration for the Lakers as he tallied 14 steals and seven blocks in the five-game series.
Michael Jordan smiles after bringing home the first NBA title of his career in 1991. After losing to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals the two years prior, the Bulls swept Detroit and then defeated the Lakers in five games for the first championship in franchise history. He cried after receiving the trophy.
Michael Jordan finishes off a fast break with an emphatic slam dunk against the Denver Nuggets in November 1991. Jordan scored 38 points with 12 assists and seven rebounds in a wild 151-145, come-from-behind win.
Michael Jordan leaps to intercept a pass against the Spurs in January 1992. Jordan made the NBA All-Defensive First Team that season for the fifth straight time.
Michael Jordan takes a fadeaway jumper against the New York Knicks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1992. He averaged 31.3 points during the series, capping it off with a 42-point performance in Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Security guards crowd around Michael Jordan as he gets out of his Ferrari to enter Chicago Stadium in May 1992.
Michael Jordan and Horace Grant helped up Scottie Pippen in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1992. The Bulls needed all seven games to get past the Knicks, dominating New York 110-81 in the final game.
Michael Jordan celebrates the Bulls' repeat as NBA champions after dropping the Portland Trail Blazers in six games in 1992. He earned his third MVP Award and second consecutive Final MVP.
The three biggest stars of the 1992 Dream Team -- Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson -- pose during a photo shoot in June 1992. The trio and their teammates would put on a show at the Barcelona Summer Olympics two months later.
Michael Jordan contorts in air to get a shot off against Angola in Team USA's 1992 Summer Olympic matchup in Barcelona. The Dream Team crushed every team it faced, never winning by fewer than 32 points and defeating Angola 116-48. Jordan averaged 14.9 points, second highest on the team.
Michael Jordan reaches for a rebound in the gold-medal game at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Just like every other team the Dream Team faced, Croatia was no match for Team USA, falling 117-85. Jordan scored 22 points to help win his second Olympic gold medal.
Michael Jordan relaxes in his hotel room in Coconut Grove, Fla., in March 1993.
Michael Jordan drives against the New York Knicks in the 1993 NBA Playoffs. After winning a third straight NBA title, Jordan stunningly retired from basketball, saying he had lost his desire to play.
Michael Jordan and the Phoenix Suns' Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley battle for position in Game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals. Barkley beat out Jordan for the regular season MVP, but Jordan got the title as the Bulls beat the Suns in six games.
Michael Jordan rises up to the hoop against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the 1993 NBA Finals. Jordan shrugged off the building off-court controversy about his gambling habits to lead the Bulls to their third straight championship.
Taking a break from the action of the 1993 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley chat in Game 5. Jordan averaged an NBA Finals-record 41 points in the series, becoming the first player to win three straight Finals MVPs.
Michael Jordan enjoys his other passion, playing a round of golf. Jordan had a great love for the sport that occasionally got him in trouble, such as when instances of his high-stakes gambling arose in 1992 and 1993.
After retiring from basketball in 1994, Michael Jordan signed a minor league deal with the White Sox to pursue his recently murdered father's dream to have a baseball player for a son.
Michael Jordan looks to bunt during spring training with the White Sox. Jordan's short-lived baseball career did not develop the way he hoped it would as he hit just .202 with three home runs for Double-A Birmingham.
In the Arizona Fall League in 1994, Michael Jordan was competing with some of the top prospects in baseball, including Scottsdale teammate Nomar Garciaparra.
Michael Jordan cuts to the rim against the New York Knicks in March 1995, his fifth game after returning from his first retirement. In addition to his 55 points, Jordan fed Bill Wennington for the game-winner in the Bulls' 113-111 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Michael Jordan goes up for a dunk against the 76ers in a January 1996 game in Philadelphia. Jordan had nine games with 40 or more points during the 1995-96 season, including 48 points against the 76ers.
Michael Jordan laughs with Magic Johnson during a post-game press conference after a Bulls-Lakers game in February 1996 in Los Angeles.
Phil Jackson talks to Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1996. Jordan and Pippen combined for 36 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists and four steals in the Bulls' 94-91 win at New York.
Michael Jordan talks with Bulls coach Phil Jackson on the sideline during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks in 1996. Coming off a record 72-10 regular season, the Bulls lost just three games in the postseason as Jordan claimed another championship in his first full season back from retirement.
Michael Jordan receives the Maurice Podoloff Trophy from NBA commissioner David Stern before Game 2 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. In his first full season back from his first retirement, Jordan won his fourth MVP Award, leading the league with 30.4 points per game.
Michael Jordan argues with a referee during Game 3 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan had little to worry about in this series as his Bulls swept the Orlando Magic to advance to the NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan takes the ball to the hoop against the Utah Jazz in Chicago in the 1997 NBA Finals. The Bulls won all three games of the series at the United Center, including Game 1, in which Jordan hit a game-winning 20-footer at the buzzer.
Michael Jordan hangs his head in exhaustion and tugs at his shorts during Game 5 against Utah in the 1997 NBA Finals. Battling a nasty stomach virus he came down with the day before the game, Jordan scored 38 points with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals to lead the Bulls to a critical victory.
Michael Jordan hugs Scottie Pippen after the duo won their fifth NBA title together in 1997. Jordan earned his fifth Finals MVP Award in as many appearances.
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman soak in the cheers at the United Center. The trio won three NBA titles together.
Michael Jordan clasps the Larry O'Brien Trophy and high-fives some fans after winning the 1997 NBA Finals, the fifth championship of his career. The Bulls downed the Utah Jazz in six games, and Jordan was named Finals MVP, avenging his loss to the Jazz's Karl Malone for the regular season MVP.
Michael Jordan gives a slight smile during a November 1997 game against the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan connected on 12-of-24 shots in the game for 28 points to go along with seven assists and four rebounds.
Michael Jordan readies a cigar in his Porsche after a home game in 1998.
Michael Jordan throws down a dunk against the New York Knicks in March 1998. Jordan dominated the Knicks in the Bulls' 102-89 victory, amassing 42 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Michael Jordan, Ron Harper, Scottie Pippen and Scott Burrell plays whist on a Chicago Bulls team flight in March 1998. Jordan was in the midst of his fifth MVP season, in which he averaged a league-best 28.7 points per game.
Michael Jordan checks his watch in a Houston hotel elevator with Dennis Rodman and security personnel in April 1998.
Michael Jordan rejects the New Jersey Nets' Chris Gatling at the rim in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference playoffs first-round series in 1998. With Jordan scoring 32 or more points in each game, the Bulls made quick work of the Nets, eliminating them in three games.
Michael Jordan splits a double team to get a shot off against the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan dominated the Pacers to will the Bulls to a victory, scoring 41 points with five assists, four rebounds and four steals. Chicago won the series in seven games.
Michael Jordan fights for a loose ball with Rik Smits and Derrick McKey of the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. In a tremendous all-around performance, Jordan led the Bulls with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to return to the NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan drives to the hoop against Utah in Game 1 on the 1998 NBA Finals. The Bulls dropped the first game of the series despite 33 points from Jordan, but rallied to win the series in six games.
Michael Jordan throws down a dunk in the second half of Game 2 of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. After dropping game 1 of the series, the Bulls rattled off three straight wins to take control of the Finals and win the championship in six games.
Michael Jordan pulls up for his game-winning jumper to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals and clinch the championship. Jordan shook loose from defender Bryon Russell to nail the shot, his final in a Bulls' uniform.
Michael Jordan stands on the block during Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Jordan dropped 45 points in the game to rally the Bulls to a series-clinching victory.
Michael Jordan hugs Phil Jackson after winning the 1998 NBA Finals over the Utah Jazz. The championship victory was the last time either would represent the Chicago Bulls as Jordan retired for a second time after the season and Jackson took a year off from coaching before taking over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Michael Jordan wraps his arm around his mother, Deloris, after defeating the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals to wrap up his sixth championship. In the final 41.9 seconds, Jordan made a layup, stole the ball from Karl Malone and hit a game-winning jumper from the top of the key to bring the Bulls back from a three-point deficit.
Michael Jordan holds the Finals MVP trophy as Phil Jackson raises the Larry O'Brien Trophy following the Bulls' victory over the Utah Jazz to win the 1998 NBA Finals. Jordan averaged 33.5 points per game in the six-game series to claim the last of his six Finals MVP Awards.
Michael Jordan smokes his victory cigar in the Bulls locker room after defeating Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. Between the 1990-91 and 1997-98 NBA seasons, Jordan led the Bulls to a championship each season in which he played the full season.
Michael Jordan is all smiles, playing piano and smoking a cigar after winning his sixth national championship in 1998. The title finished off the second three-peat of championships of Jordan's career.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen hold up six fingers after winning their sixth championship following Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz.
Michael Jordan encourages his Wizards team from the bench against the Miami Heat in a preseason game in October 2001. Jordan announced his return to the floor on Sept. 25, just a month before the start of the regular season.
Michael Jordan pulls up for a jumper against the Philadelphia 76ers in November 2001. Jordan came out of retirement three years after leaving the Bulls to help the Washington Wizards, in whom he became part owner in 2000.
Michael Jordan flashes a smile during a Washington Wizards game against the Miami Heat in November 2001.
Michael Jordan appears emotional in his first game back in Chicago before his Washington Wizards took on the Bulls on Jan. 19, 2002. Jordan posted 16 points with 12 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, in the Wizards 77-69 win.
Michael Jordan drives against Kobe Bryant in a November 2002 matchup between the Wizards and the Lakers. Although nearly 40 at the time to Bryant's 24, Jordan matched Bryant's output with 25 points to the Laker guard's 27 in a 100-99 Wizards win.
Michael Jordan attacks the basket in his 14th and final All-Star Game in 2003. Jordan started the game when Vince Carter offered him his starting spot, and seemed poised to have the game winner with a baseline jumper with 4.8 seconds remaining in overtime. Instead, Jermaine O'Neal fouled Kobe Bryant to force a second overtime, and the West prevailed.
Michael Jordan during a home game against the Dallas Mavericks in February 2003. Despite turning 40 during the season and being more than a decade older than some of his teammates, Jordan led the Washington Wizards in scoring, averaging 20.0 points per game with 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists.