No one has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as frequently as Michael Jordan.
No one has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as frequently as Michael Jordan. Between November 1983 and February 2013, MJ appeared on 50 covers of SI. That works out to one appearance every seven months. Jordan turns 56 on Sunday, and so we decided to commemorate his birthday by looking at 10 of his best SI covers.
10. Nov. 28, 1983
This was MJ’s first cover, on the eve of his final season at North Carolina. Though he had hit the game-winning shot in the national championship game against Georgetown two seasons before, he was far from a household name. This cover with teammate Sam Perkins (one of five Jordan teammates that year who would go on to play in the NBA) introduced Jordan to a national audience.
9. Dec. 17, 1990
Is that a Civil War reference? (Magazines on newstands south of the Mason-Dixon did not feature an alternate “Manassas” headline.)
8. March 10, 1997
Yes, we were having this discussion before the Warriors became what they are. When this issue ran, the Bulls had just wrapped up a 72–10 season that culminated in a fourth championship in six seasons and were in the midst of a season in which they went 69–13. Chicago was 56–9 when this issue hit newstands, despite losing two out of five the week prior. The Bulls went on to win the title that year and the next, before Jordan retired for a second time.
7. Nov. 11, 1991
MJ and Pippen are Phil Jackson’s large adult sons.
6. Nov. 6, 1989
On the surface this is an awesome cover because of the proto-Photoshop job used to make Joe Dumars look like he’s toying with Mike. It’s also noteworthy because the analysis ended up being spot-on. No one could stop Jordan that year, who averaged 33.6 points per game en route to his fourth straight scoring title (a streak that would eventually stretch to seven seasons). Dumars and the Pistons met Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals that year for the second year in a row and while they couldn’t “shut down Michael” (who averaged 32.1 points in the seven-game series) they did enough to stifle his teammates and win the series.
5. Oct. 18, 1993
Jordan’s decision just a month before the start of the 1993–94 NBA season to retire from basketball left everyone asking a straightforward question: “Why?” The simplicity of the headline and the superb photo choice make for an excellent cover here.
4. Feb. 18, 1991
Everybody knows the historic 1992 U.S. men’s national team as the “Dream Team” but did you know SI was the first to bestow that name?
3. Dec. 10, 1984
It was obvious right from the start of Jordan’s NBA career what kind of player he would become. Not only was he averaging 24.9 points per game by the time this magazine came out, he was doing it in spectacular fashion. Jordan, in only 22 games, had become a must-see attraction. Lakers superfan Jack Nicholson skipped at game at the Forum to go across town and watch Jordan play the Clippers.
This cover later inspired a pair of Air Jordan shoes from Nike.
2. March 14, 1994
For better or worse (mostly worse), this may be Mike’s most memorable SI cover, or at least the one people can visualize most easily. Two spring training games was all SI needed to declare MJ’s baseball career doomed to fail. Jordan’s .202 batting average and 114 strikeouts in 127 Double A games proved that assessment accurate, but the cover still made Jordan so angry that he has refused to speak to SI to this day.
1. June 22, 1998
It was a bucket so iconic that it became simply “The Shot.” Not only did it win the Bulls their third straight championship (in the second of two three-peats), there was an overwhelming sense that it was Jordan’s final shot as an NBA player. He was a pending free agent, as were eight of his teammates, and was 35 years old. A looming labor lockout only added to the uncertainty, and so Jordan decided to retire (again). Of course, he returned after three years away to play for the Wizards—and appear on seven more SI covers.