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Michael Jordan: The Everywhere Man

From SI vault: Michael Jordan is the consummate player and the ultimate showman. MJ has captivated America and is about to conquer the world.

Editor's note: In honor of Michael Jordan being named to the Forbes' billionaire list this week, 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.