21 Life Lessons from Michael Jordan

Nick Scheidies
    Topics: Entrepreneurship     More posts about: Famous Entrepreneurs

Michael Jordan has been named the greatest sportsperson of all-time by fans around the globe.

Successful people share a lot of common traits.

In particular, how they understand and cope with setbacks and failure.

One such person is Michael Jeffrey Jordan – also known by his initials MJ.

Born: 17 February 1963 this basketball star won six NBA titles in his glittering career.

In 2020 his net worth is estimated at: 2.1 billion USD.

To borrow a line from Jay-Z, Michael Jordan isn’t just a businessman — he’s a business, man.

We are privileged to share these inspirational words and life lessons.

Pay attention, there is a lot to learn!

[Last Updated: February 25th 2021]

A Life lesson: Something from which useful knowledge or principles can be learned.

#1 Trust the Game

Be true to the game, because the game will be true to you. If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you. If you put forth the effort, good things will be bestowed upon you.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan believed that he would get out of the game exactly what he put into it.

If you don’t completely trust the game – if you think it’s “unfair” or “rigged” – then deep-down you’re not going to be feel motivated to give it everything you have. With that attitude, you’ve lost before you even begin.

Whether in life, business, or basketball, you get out what you put in.

Trust in this:

#2 Master the Fundamentals

You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.

Basketball’s like anything else: it mostly comes down to doing all of the basic stuff right. Once you’ve got the fundamentals down, you’ve got a solid foundation to build on.

Jordan warns that when you “get away from fundamentals… the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job… whatever you’re doing.”

#3 Learn from Your Parents

You might expect that Michael’s boyhood heroes were NBA superstars like Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabar, but you’d be wrong.

My heroes are and were my parents. I can’t see having anyone else as my heroes.

Michael Jordan

Jordan’s respect and admiration for his parents is one of the keys to his success.

#4 Be Like Mike: Practice Every Day

I’m not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat.

When Jordan first tried out for his high school basketball team, he didn’t make varsity. In an interview with ESPN, Jordan described how he felt:

It was embarrassing not making that team. They posted the roster and it was there for a long, long time without my name on it. I remember being really mad too, because there was a guy that made it that really wasn’t as good as me.

Jordan channeled his embarrassment and anger into motivation during practice:

Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it… that usually got me going again.

Jordan became better at playing than everyone else by first becoming better at practicing than everyone else.

Until the end of his career, Michael Jordan was the first person to get to the gym and the last one to leave.

#5 School is Important

Jordan decided to leave the University of North Carolina to enter the NBA draft one year early. In 1984, he started his professional career without a college degree.

Despite immediate success in the NBA, Jordan decided to go back to school. In 1986, he returned to North Carolina to earn his degree.

Michael Jordan life lessons

A Business Success Story: Nike and Air Jordans

Michael Jordan made $130 million from his Nike shoe deal last year—but he originally wanted to wear Adidas

It was his agent, David Falk, who persuaded Jordan to go with Nike – who was the upstart.

Nike had a simple goal when they launched Air Jordans:

To make $3,000,000 in 4 years. (For which they paid MJ $250k initially)

But they ended up selling $126,000,000 in the first year.

An off the scale of success!

Remember, this was 1985!

Before the Internet, before social media.

Can you imagine what would happen today with Instagram?

Michael Jordan was a celebrity beyond celebrity.

His endorsement of the Air Jordan shoe meant they, literally, sold like Hot Cakes!

Recommended: ‘The Last Dance’ – The untold story of Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Michael Jordan life lessonsMichael Jordan life lessons

#6 Be Like Mike: Don’t Let People Get in Your Head

It’s heavy duty to try to do everything and please everybody… I can’t live with what everyone’s impression of what I should or what I shouldn’t do.

Michael Jordan

Jordan was getting a lot of attention his rookie year. Sports Illustrated put him on the cover of their magazine with the words “A Star is Born” just one month into his NBA career.

All that quick attention aggravated a few NBA veterans. They decided to execute a “freeze out” of Jordan during the All-Star game where they simply wouldn’t pass him the ball.

But Jordan was unfazed. When the regular season resumed, he continued his stellar play and went on to win Rookie of the Year. Jordan is proof that you don’t have to let other people get into your head.

Recommended Reading: Michael Jordan: The Life | The definitive biography of a legendary athlete.

#7 Know How to Respond to Failure

Failure makes me work even harder.

Michael Jordan

Jordan wasn’t always a winner.

The first time he got to the NBA playoffs, his Bulls were knocked out in the first round. The next two years, they were swept by the Boston Celtics. After that, the Bulls were beat by the Detroit Pistons three years in a row.

All Michael Jordan knew was failure.

But it only made him want to be better.

He’s said, “Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

Video: “I’ve Missed More than 9,000 Shots in My Career”

Text From the Video:

I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot… and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Be More Like Mike:

Failure has a way of making people want to give up. But it has the opposite effect on Jordan.

If you don’t already, start thinking of your failures as fuel to work harder.

#8 Fear is an Illusion

I know fear is an obstacle for some people, but it’s an illusion to me.

Michael Jordan

Fears can be self-fulfilling. Sometimes the only thing holding you back from being successful is the fear that you may fail.

When we let go of our fears, we’re free to be more aggressive and take full advantage of our opportunities.

Recommended Reading: Michael Jordan: The Life | The definitive biography of a legendary athlete.

#9 Just Do It

Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.

Michael Jordan

There are three types of people. Jordan’s the type of person who makes it happen.

Which type are you?

#10 You Can’t Do It Alone

If you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

Michael Jordan

Throughout the 80’s, Jordan racked up a ton of personal achievements (scoring titles, league MVP awards, and “Defensive Player of the Year”). But no championships.

Those didn’t come until he had the help of Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and Phil Jackson.

#11 Excellence Speaks for Itself

At their prime, the Bulls would sell out every stadium they played in – home or away.

But the thing bringing in big crowds wasn’t the marketing department. It was the superior performance that Jordan and his teammates were putting on display.

Let your game be your promotional or marketing tool.

Michael Jordan

When you consistently deliver an excellent product, people will find out. No marketing firm necessary.

#12 Expect Your Shots to Go In

You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.

Michael Jordan

Jordan wouldn’t be legendary if he didn’t have such a knack for making the “big shot.”

Time and time again, Jordan would have the ball in his hands in the final second of a pivotal game and… swoosh. In all of those big moments, he never once entertained the possibility that the ball wouldn’t go in:

 I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot… when you think about the consequences you always think of a negative result.

In big moments, you should feel totally confident that you will succeed.

How to be More Like Mike:

Take a moment now and think about what you want to achieve more than anything else. Do you fully expect yourself to make it happen?

If the answer sounds anything like ‘no’, it’s time for a change in your attitude. Remember that every time Jordan pulled up for a jumper, he was expecting the ball to go in.

#13 When it’s Time to Change, Change

Jordan made one of the most shocking decisions in sports history when he retired from professional basketball on October 6, 1993. It’s hard to fathom quitting after winning three championships in a row, but Michael’s reasons were actually very simple:

I just needed to change. I was getting tired of the same old activity and routine and I didn’t feel all the same appreciation that I had felt before and it was tiresome.

A lot of things correlated with that — my father dying, the opportunity to play baseball, my desire to make a change. I look back on it and it was perfect timing to break away from it and see what I was missing, to see what it meant to me, to see the enjoyment that I got from the game.

Even though Jordan didn’t make it into the major leagues as a baseball player, it was important that he listened to the voice in his head that was telling him to make a change. He returned to the NBA refreshed in 1995 and promptly won three more championships.

#14 The Best Marketing is Simple

On March 18, 1995 Michael Jordan announced that he was coming out retirement with a press release that simply read, “I’m back.”

Two words were all it took to cue a media circus. Jordan’s first game back with the Bulls had the highest Nielsen rating of any regular season NBA game in twenty years.

Often, the most effective way to get the word out is to get straight to the point.

#15 Demand the Best from Your Team

Michael Jordan would often get frustrated with the effort of his teammates – especially at the end of his career when he played for the below-average Washington Wizards.

Fred Lynch, one of Jordan’s high school coaches, recalls that Jordan was demanding even as a teenager: “He’d get on his teammates all the time. He hasn’t changed that. What he always expected was everybody play the game as hard as he played it.”

Expecting the best in others helps bring it out in them. Of course, it’s most effective when you lead by example (as Jordan did).

#16 Learn to Harness Your Emotions

Heart is what separates the good from the great.

Michael Jordan

After winning his first NBA championship in 1991, Michael Jordan cried like a baby. He cried again following the 1996 championship. In those two moments, you can really see the depth Jordan’s emotional investment in the game.

Showing emotion is commonly considered a sign of weakness, but for Michael it was a source of great strength. Jordan had the rare ability maximize his emotional energy while still being in complete control.

#17 Be Like Mike: Love What You Do

Love is playing every game as if it’s your last!

Michael Jordan

Jordan loves basketball so much, he once said it was his wife (“It demands loyalty and responsibility, and it gives me back fulfillment and peace”).

When you do your work with love, as Jordan did, it will shine through in your performance.

#18 Be Like Mike: Play Business like a Game

Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.

Michael Jordan

You may have assumed that the “game” Michael’s talking about above is basketball, but he’s actually giving advice on the game of business.

If you think that business is boring, then you’re doing it wrong. The more fun you make your work, the more energy and enthusiasm you’ll bring to it – and the more success you’ll find.

#19 Be Like Mike: Forget the Past

Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.

Michael Jordan

Jordan’s made some tough decisions, but he doesn’t dwell on them.

There’s no reason to worry about the past because it’s not coming back.

#20 Be Like Mike – Ignore the Future

Never think about what’s at stake… If you start to think about who is going to win the championship, you’ve lost your focus.

Michael Jordan

It happens all the time in basketball: one team gets out to a big lead only to get overconfident and lose the game in the final seconds. Their mistake is thinking about the victory celebration instead of focusing on the game at hand.

There’s no point in distracting yourself with possible future scenarios. You’re not a psychic. Nothing’s going to play out like imagine. Your focus would be better spent on making the most of the present.

#21 Be Like Mike: Embrace the Present

Live the moment for the moment.

Michael Jordan

Every moment you’ve experienced has been right now.

If you want a deeper sense of contentment and satisfaction in your life, begin by making the most of the present.

Starting now!

Michael Jordan G.O.A.T

Michael Jordan is frequently referred to as the G.O.A.T. (Someone who is the Greatest Of All Time in their field)

We agree.

The above life lessons go some way to explaining the legendary status that Michael Jordan has achieved. What it cannot convey is that “magic” that set him apart from his contemporaries. If you have not already done, we recommend watching The Last Dance on Netflix.

Finally what do you do after the real Last Dance back in 1998?

With his sixth NBA championship secured and the break-up of the Bulls imminent, Michael Jordan visited Killarney, Ireland to play golf and drink Guinness. 

He did a lot of other things too, but the above article gives a unique insight into this Great Man that many articles cannot convey.


Additional Recommended Reading: 21 Life Lessons from Steve Jobs

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