VetFamily: Michael Jordan
The grit. The discipline. The stamina.
These are part of what made Michael Jordan one of the best basketball players in history. But they’re also qualities of two of his family members who served in the military: James Jordan Sr., his father, in the Air Force, and James Jordan Jr., Michael’s older brother, in the Army. All three Jordans possessed the team loyalty and leadership capability required for a life in service on or off the court.
A new documentary on Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls recently wrapped on ESPN. Titled “The Last Dance,” it follows the Bulls' historic 1997-98 season from start to finish, while also covering the rest of the chapters in Jordan's remarkable career. The 10-part docuseries follows him from when he was an emerging star in high school to becoming a worldwide sports figure.
That season was his sixth NBA championship with the team. In his 15-year professional basketball career, he was the NBA Most Valuable Player five times and NBA Finals MVP six times. He played in 1,072 NBA games, scored 32,292 points, and had 5,633 assists and 6,672 rebounds. Jordan has had endorsement deals with Nike, Hanes, Gatorade, and other brands, continuing his legacy as a household name in basketball.
Jordan was born on February 17, 1963 in Brooklyn, NY. His parents had recently moved there for his father, James Jordan Sr., to study airplane hydraulics and train as a mechanic on the GI Bill. Jordan Sr. joined the Air Force upon graduating high school and was first stationed in San Antonio, TX. A few years later, he transferred to a base in Virginia where he married Deloris Peoples, Michael’s mother. Jordan Sr. encouraged his talented son to pursue his career, and being an avid fan, taught him sports from a young age.
His father is not the only family military connection.
"I have a brother who has been in the service for 31 years and he represents more than what I've done on the basketball court," Michael Jordan said at a National Guard Ceremony in 2010. "He's really my hero. He tells me a lot of stories of what he endured and some of the things that you all deal with and it gives me great pride knowing what you represent and that you take care of us."
That brother is James Jordan Jr., the oldest of Michael’s four siblings. He spent 31 years serving in the Army, becoming command sergeant major of the 35th Signal Brigade at Fort Bragg. He entered basic training in June 1975 and had three assignments in Korea.
“The Army was my life,” Jordan Jr. said in the Star News. “That’s why I dedicated myself to it. I felt I could be very successful in it. It didn’t require me to be 6 feet tall. It just required me to be physically fit.” He stands at 5’7 compared to his basketball star brother’s 6’6.
Nearing his mandatory retirement date after 30 years of service, Jordan Jr. decided to stay in the Army an additional year to complete a deployment to Iraq. Deploying in November 2004, he was responsible for nearly 4,000 troops while overseas.
His admirable military career always stayed separate from the fame of his athletic brother. "I've been doing this by myself for so long, being my own person, being my own soldier," he told CBS News. "I'm going to continue doing it the same way until the day I feel like I need to hang it up, not when they feel like I need to hang it up."
He retired from the Army in April 2006, with a ceremony held at Fort Bragg. Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Allen, the senior noncommissioned officer of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps told the Star News that “even though Michael Jordan was out there, everybody was still in line to shake Sergeant Major Jordan’s hand, not to pay homage to his brother.”
Michael Jordan himself was sworn in as an honorary member of the Army National Guard in 2010, marking his association with the Guard providing sponsorship for two riders on his Michael Jordan Motorsports team.
"I'm very proud that the National Guard has chosen us to showcase what you represent," said Jordan during the ceremony. "Every time we step onto the (race) track we know that your hard work, dedication and support and everything is on the track with us. We want to represent that to the most of our abilities."