Intelligences and Michael Jordan's Career

Intelligences and Michael Jordan's Career

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In Creating Minds, by Howard Gardner, three organizing themes are introduced. Gardner proposes that the creative activity of an individual is broken down into relationships: between the child and the master, between an individual and his work, and between an individual and other people. When studying Michael Jordan, three key moments in his life appear to represent these three principles and explain his success. First, proof of his level of dominance should be presented.

Michael Jeffrey Jordan has experienced success at the highest level of his domain. Jordan began his career as the National Basketball Association Rookie of the Year in 1984-85. He led his team to six NBA championships, and was named the Finals Most Valuable Player each time. Jordan won ten scoring titles, including seven straight from the 1986-87 to 1992-93 season. He also received the regular season MVP five times. In the year 2001, a panel of sports experts was organized in order to vote for the greatest athlete of the twentieth century. This distinguished 48-member panel voted Michael Jordan number one ahead of such greats as Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali.

What does it take to be the greatest? In order to be a master of any domain, you must possess an added characteristic that your peers do not. There may be another person who can jump as high as you can, or who can run as fast as you, or who can bench press more weight than you. But you can make sure that there is no one who practices more than you. The ability to push yourself to your limit and maybe a bit further is going to give you the advantage over your competitors. This is an aspect of the intrapersonal intelligence discussed by Howard Gardner is his book Creating Minds.

I propose that Michael Jordan’s success is not solely due to his athletic ability, but rather to the interaction between his bodily/kinesthetic and intrapersonal intelligences. One without the other would not have allowed him to accomplish all that he has in his career.

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There have been certain times in his life, correlating to Howard Gardner’s three principles, where this combination of intelligences has been brought to the forefront and tested. Jordan has passed with flying colors.

High School

Born in Brooklyn, New York on February 17, 1963, Jordan was the fourth child and youngest of three boys. Michael’s parents moved the family back to Wallace, North Carolina soon after his birth. Jordan began honing his skills early by practicing with his older brother Larry. Larry was five-feet seven-inches tall, but had incredible athletic ability. Michael’s dad, James Jordan, built a small basketball court in the family’s backyard, and Michael and Larry would play against each other everyday. For years, Larry dominated Michael; however, they always pushed each other to become better. Their relationship was loving and competitive. Although Larry was older, stronger, and better, he helped Michael improve his playing. Although he had no problem beating his younger brother in their basketball games, Larry also offered encouragement and tips on how to improve Michael’s playing. Finally, as Michael grew older, he began to compete with his older brother and start to beat him. This was the beginning of Michael’s kinesthetic intelligence. At a young age he was developing his shooting ability, quickness, and conditioning. Larry never grew tall enough to make use of his skill; however his support of Michael never faded. Similarly, Michael always maintained an appreciation for his brother and how he helped him. One of Michael’s roommates in college commented about Jordan that “when his brother was around, he dropped all his mounting fame and his accomplishments and become nothing more than a loving, adoring younger brother” (Halberstam 20).

Another person that cultivated Michael’s kinesthetic/bodily ability was his friend Leroy Smith. They played together on the ninth grade basketball team and practiced together everyday. Michael and Leroy often played one-on-one, pushing each other to become a better basketball player. Michael played well in ninth grade, and his coaches were impressed with his quickness. In the summer before tenth grade, Michael and Leroy went to the basketball camp of Pop Herring, Laney High School’s varsity coach. The six foot six Smith and speedy Jordan were both invited to try out for the varsity team the upcoming school year. When the list of players that made the team was posted, Smith’s name was on it and Jordan’s was not. Jordan’s kinesthetic intelligence was strong, but he was still growing and had room for improvement. Some people may have become discouraged and given up. Not Michael.

This was Michael’s chance to dig deep and discover what kind of intrapersonal intelligence he possessed. He knew himself, that he had the potential to become a great player and he had to work harder and show those around him what he had inside. Michael came early to school everyday to shoot around. His high school gym teacher often had to chase Jordan out of the gym and tell him to go to class. Leroy said that although Jordan was extremely competitive before he was cut, afterwards he seemed even more competitive. His determination led him to become the best player on the jayvee squad, using his quickness as an advantage. Ron Coley, an assistant coach for Laney High School, spoke of the first time he saw Michael play:

“I entered the gym when the jayvee game was just ending up. There were nine players on the court just coasting, but there was one kid playing his heart out. The way he was playing I thought his team was down by one point with two minutes to play. So I looked up at the clock and his team was down twenty points and there was only one minute to play. It was Michael, and I quickly learned he was always like that.”

Instead of becoming angry at being cut, Jordan turned his emotions into motivation. He used this time in his life to shape his intrapersonal intelligence. Some games he scored forty points, and he become so popular that the entire varsity would come early to watch him play. He then easily made the varsity team his junior year after growing four inches. He was not satisfied with making the team. He was the hardest-working player on the team during practice. He pushed his teammates and often got angry with the coaches for not expecting more effort out of the other players. Michael led his high school team to a 13-10 record his junior year, and his senior year they improved to 19-4.

This obstacle in Michael’s life helped him learn about himself. Jordan discovered that using the athletic ability he had worked on as a youth, he could be good. However, he saw that in order to be great, he would also have to employ his intrapersonal skills. Michael confronted the demons that said he was not good enough, and overwhelmed them. This time became pivotal to Jordan’s career; he had proved to himself that he was unstoppable as long as he never gave up.

This lesson learned in his youth represents Jordan’s relationship between the child and the adult creator. From this point on he was not discouraged because he looked at the world through the eyes of a child. Even when a situation seems unfeasible, Michael Jordan refuses to give up.

1997 Finals


The 1997 season for the Chicago Bulls was a success. The team worked hard to compile a 69-13 record, earning them a spot in the playoffs. The Bulls easily defeated Washington three games to none in the first round. In the conference semifinals they beat Atlanta four games to one and had the same record against Miami in the conference finals.

However, the NBA championship series was more difficult. Michael Jordan’s teammates were nursing injuries. Dennis Rodman was still recovering from knee surgery and Scottie Pippen was playing on an injured foot. The team needed Jordan to carry them on his shoulders in order to win their (and his) fifth title.

Jordan’s kinesthetic abilities had been on display during the playoffs. He was shooting 46.2 percent from the field and sinking 81.2 percent of his free throws. He averaged 32.1 points per game in the 1997 playoffs. His team was depending on him in the finals.

With the series between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz tied at 2-2, the teams were preparing for a pivotal Game 5 on June 11, 1997. In the meantime, Michael Jordan was preparing to throw up. Afflicted with possible food poisoning or the flu, Michael was extremely weak before the game. His eyes were glazed, his forehead was burning and he was suffering from severe dehydration. His good friend and teammate Scottie Pippen watched Jordan in the locker room, and later admitted that Jordan was so sick that he “didn’t think he would be able to put his uniform on.”

Nonetheless, Jordan did put his uniform on, and although he was too sick to participate in the morning shootaround, he managed to walk onto the court when the game was ready to begin. It was at this moment that Jordan was forced to call upon his intrapersonal intelligence. His body was telling him to sit, to rest, yet he found a way to convince his body that he needed to play. Not only play, but he was also needed to play with excellence. He thought about was he was capable of and made a decision to take control of his body and showed the strength of his mind.

During the first two quarters, Jordan had made a contribution despite his sickness. He admitted, “I was very tired at halftime. I told coach to use me in spurts but somehow I found the energy to stay strong and I really wanted it bad.” He came out in the second half and played incredibly. He scored 38 points in the game, including fifteen in the fourth quarter. With 46 seconds left in the game, Chicago down by one, Jordan went to the free throw line and sunk his first shot. He missed the second but got the rebound, and eventually sunk the game winning three-point shot with twenty-five seconds left.

As the Bulls celebrated their victory, Scottie Pippen helped the weakened Jordan off the court. He barely looked able to stand yet he had just dominated a crucial NBA Finals game. Jordan used the kinesthetic abilities that he had been developing since his youth and combined them with his will to win. He was unstoppable on a day he should have been immobile.

When asked about Jordan, NBA hall of fame member Bill Walton stated, “When you’re really great, you believe you can do anything.” Michael Jordan disregarded the facts and followed his heart. He showed that no matter how great an athlete he had become, the internal motivation he possessed would be what separates him from his peers.

Jordan’s miraculous athleticism displayed on June 11, 1997 represents his relationship between the individual and his work. Jordan’s strength under adverse conditions and ensuing domination symbolize his mastery of the sport, and revision of the nature of the game.

The Comeback

On September 25, 2001, Michael Jordan came out of retirement. “I am returning as a player to the game I love” he announced to the eager press, “While nothing can take away from the past, I am firmly focused on the future and the competitive challenge ahead of me.” Jordan returned to play for the Washington Wizards, a team that he had been president of since his retirement, although there were many obstacles for him to overcome.

First, Jordan had to get back into shape after being away from the game for three years. This would be a test to his kinesthetic intelligence. How strong could his body become at age 38? During his workouts, Jordan faced a setback in mid-June when he broke two ribs playing a pickup game with other NBA players. He healed and continued the conditioning program. “I started to get my legs back and my timing back,” Jordan explained. Jordan approached his playing weight of 215 pounds after shedding nearly thirty pounds during his workouts. A teammate who was scrimmaging against Jordan noted, “You can’t keep up with Mike. He’s a step ahead of everybody. With two, three broken ribs, it doesn’t matter.”

With his body back to the shape it had once been in, Michael’s attention had to turn to his intrapersonal intelligence. The announcement of Jordan’s return brought much opposition. Although a fan poll showed a 2 to 1 ratio supporting Jordan’s return, those numbers were a sharp decrease from the once overwhelmingly popular player. In a article, the following fan comments were printed:

“This certainly sparks of a marketing scheme.”
“Just how long will Michael Jordan last in the NBA before he once again leaves?”
“I think this is the biggest mistake of his career.”
“Isn’t Jordan too old for another comeback?”
“One of the main reasons-probably the only reason-he’s coming back is money.”

The press and his peers are also criticizing Michael’s return. In a Time Magazine article, Joel Stein commented that, “not even Michael Jordan can gracefully accept his mortality.” Lacking support from most of his field, Jordan had to be sure that returning to basketball was something he wanted to do. He could have just stopped training. He doesn’t need the money or the fame, but his heart was telling him that he needed to play. Knowing himself well, he faced the hostility head on. Michael’s friends say that he took articles telling him not to come back, and placed them on his refrigerator for motivation. He was determined to whether other people wanted him to or not. An NBA source claimed if “they try to stop him, it will only firm up his resolve.”

So Michael returned. As of November 22, 2001, Michael was averaging 27.5 points per game. He may not be the same as he once was, but Michael is playing the game to the best of his ability, which is still better than most of the league. His drive to comeback combined with the maintenance of his talent makes him one of the best players in the league seventeen years after he entered the NBA and garnered Rookie of the Year honors.

Michael’s triumphant return to basketball represents the relationship between him and others in and out of his field. He continued to labor towards his goal of playing again because he knew that he would not be happy unless he was playing competitive basketball. His ability to feed off of criticism and at the same time receive support from friends and some NBA players showed his command of this relationship.

Significance to Me

I believe this paper, along with EDP180, has taught me an important lesson that I will be able to carry with me long after college. To be a successful doctor, it will be crucial for me to understand anatomy, and other academic areas related to the field. However, it will be more important for me to have a keen intrapersonal intelligence. Entering the field of sports medicine will be tough for me as a woman. No matter how much I learn, the most significant part of my work will be my motivation.

Every historical figure we have studied in the class has had to have the intrapersonal intelligence. No matter what field, their success would have not occurred without a drive to accomplish a goal. Martha Graham, for example, spoke in detail on the importance of practice for a dancer. She noted that once a person dedicated his or herself to dance, it would take at least ten years to become what she would call a dancer. Spending that long in training requires a desire to push oneself to be the best. This intrapersonal drive is also found in math, art, music, writing, science, and as we have seen with Michael Jordan, athletics.

Works Cited

Associated Press. Painful Setback. 15 June 2001. CNNSI. 23 November 2001.

Boswell, Thomas. Hapless Wizards Become the Turkeys. 22 November 2001. The Washington Post. 23 November 2001.

Halberstam, David. Playing for Keeps. New York: Random House, 1999. Kiger, Fred. Air is Supreme. 2001. ESPN Sportscentury. 12 November 2001.

Naughton, Jim. Taking to the Air. New York: Warner Books, 1992.

Remnick, David. The Devil Problem. New York: Random House, 1996.

Schwartz, Larry. Michael Jordan Transcends Hoops. 2001. ESPN Sportscentury. 12 November 2001.

Stein, Joel. “Still Up in the Air.” Time Magazine. 30 July 2001, 30-31.

MJ Picture Credits

Cover: MJ Dunk  HYPERLINK ""

Page 1: MJ Bulls Shot  HYPERLINK

Page 5: The United Center in Chicago  HYPERLINK

Page 7: Pippen Holding Jordan  HYPERLINK

Page 9: MJ Wizards Shot  HYPERLINK
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