The Definitive Ranking of Michael Jordan’s Sports Illustrated Covers

  • Michael Jordan
    50. "Did You Doubt Him?"

    January 14, 2002

    Michael was still showing the NBA that he had game, and he was still giving the Knicks fits. Hashtag #RetireAlreadyOldMan.

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  • 49. "Are the Bulls So Good They're Bad for the NBA?"

    March 10, 1997 

    The Bulls, up to this point, had only lost seven games on the season, and they ended up winning 69 games, with Mike balling in the XII. So maybe SI was right?

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  • 48. "Chicago Fire"

    June 3, 1996 

    The Bulls were on a mission as they blew out Orlando by 38 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and went on to sweep the Magic in four games.

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  • Michael Jordan
    47. "The Black Athlete"

    August 5, 1991

    Race and athletics had reached its peak in the summer of 1991 with Michael Jordan changing the culture of all things basketball on and off the court.

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  • 46. "Can Anyone Shut Down Michael?"

    November 6, 1989

    Detroit had gotten the better of the Bulls in the past two playoff series by implementing the “Jordan Rules” on how to play MJ defensively, so it was appropriate to have Joe Dumars holding back a cut-out of the NBA’s best player.

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  • 45. "Jordan's My Name, Gold's My Game"

    August 14, 1989

    After a tough playoff loss to the Detroit Pistons, Jordan took his frustrations out to the golf course. Jordan, an avid golfer, has always claimed that golf is harder than basketball.

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  • 44. "How High Can He Fly?"

    March 13, 1989

    Michael Jordan was setting the league on fire. By the 50th game of the season he had five games of 50-plus points. However the Pistons still had his number as the Bulls were 0-3 vs. Detroit at this point in the season.

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  • Michael Jordan
    43. "Michael Jordan Vs. The Young Guns"

    October 29, 2001

    Michael played in 60 games and scored in double-figures in 55 of those games. Not bad for a washed-up player in his late 30s.

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  • 42. "Guarding Jordan"

    May 19, 1997 

    The Hawks had the daunting task of playing the NBA champs in the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Hawks fell, 4-1. Steve Smith is probably still thinking he held Michael under 30 for the last four games. Hashtag #MoralVictory.

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  • Michael Jordan
    41. "Bull Whipped"

    June 17, 1996 

    The Bulls got off to a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Sonics won the next two but Michael and crew closed out the Sonics 4-2. Michael Jordan earned his fourth ring the hard way.

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  • 40. "Boss Jordan: How good will he be?"

    February 14, 2000

    Michael’s second comeback didn’t have all the pomp and circumstance as his first. Still, the aging superstar was loved by sneaker collectors because new colorways of footwear would no longer have the traditional red, black, and white Bulls colors.

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  • Michael Jordan
    39. "Battle Of The Titans: Michael Vs. Shaq"

    May 23, 1995

    The Bulls had No. 23 back, who was trying to bring his team back to the Finals. However, the Bulls were missing something and it showed as the Orlando Magic dispatched Air Jordan in six games.

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  • Michael Jordan
    38. "It's SuperMichael...Or is it?"

    March 20, 1995

    There were rumblings of Michael Jordan maybe coming back to basketball. A press release on March 18, 1995, by his agent David Falk, said 2 words: “I’M BACK.”

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  • 37. "Happy 40th Birthday, Michael"

    February 17, 2003

    In his final season in the NBA as a player, Michael played in all 82 games. Michael hit double-figures in 75 of those games. After the season was over he rode off into the sunset and never looked back at Washington.

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  • Michael Jordan
    36. "Head To Head"

    June 21, 1993 

    Charles Barkley left Philly so he could play in the NBA Finals. Phoenix was on cloud nine with their savior taking them to the promised land. In Charles’ only Finals appearance, he faced the two-time defending champion Michael Jordan, and the Bulls.

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  • Michael Jordan
    35. "Hanging Tough"

    June 7, 1993

    After the Knicks took a commanding 2-0 lead over the two-time defending champion Bulls, Michael Jordan — wearing the VIII here against Anthony Mason — and the troops regrouped in Chicago and and won the series by winning the next four games.

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  • Michael Jordan
    34. "Showtime"

    May 21, 1990 

    After taking out the Bucks in three games, the 76ers were next in the 1990 Playoffs, led by Charles Barkley. They were no match, falling to the Bulls in five games.

    Unfortunately for Michael the SI Jinx hit the Bulls as they lost to Detroit in 7 games for the 3rd season in a row.

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  • Michael Jordan
    33. "Michael Jordan's Greatest Hits"

    January 25, 1999

    There were so many memorable moments in Michael Jordan’s career that it might be larger than this top 50 article.

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  • Michael Jordan
    32. "What's the Best Sports year Ever?"

    December 28, 1998

    This question would really depend on who was your favorite team or teams.

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  • 31. "Chicago Confidential"

    May 11, 1998

    This cover had some controversy surround it because of the card playing but the Rick Reilly piece showed how the Bulls live day-to-day and this was one of those moments, passing time on the plane.

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  • Michael Jordan
    30. "Bag It, Michael!"

    March 14, 1994

    After losing his father, Michael Jordan granted one of his old man’s wishes, as well as his childhood dream, of attempting to play baseball.

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  • 29. "Yesss!"

    June 15, 1992

    The Bulls slugged it out with Portland as “Clyde the Glide” faced his “Royal Airness” in the NBA Finals.

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  • 28. "Busting Loose"

    May 25, 1992

    It took the champions seven games to dispatch the Knicks. In Game 7, the Bulls blew out the Knicks by 29 points as Michael went for 42 points in this closeout game.

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  • Michael Jordan
    27. "Air Power"

    June 17, 1991

    After dropping Game 1 of the Finals, Michael Jordan and friends took over to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. The date this cover was released the Bulls had eliminated the Lakers and won their first NBA title, 4-1.

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  • Michael Jordan
    26. "Michael Turns 50"

    February 18, 2013

    All the nostalgia, rolled up into one magazine, as a tribute to the greatest basketball player of this generation.

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  • Michael Jordan
    25. "The Last Stand"

    June 8, 1998

    After dismantling the Nets in three games and the Hornets in five, the Indiana Pacers took the Bulls to seven games. The Bulls would now face a familiar foe in the Utah Jazz, who they disposed off in the Finals the year prior in six games. Could the Bulls repeat? Hashtag #3PeatAgain.

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  • 24. "Gimme Five"

    June 9, 1997 

    This cover was released the morning after the Jazz cut the Bulls 2-0 series lead to 2-2. Hashtag #SIJINX.

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  • Michael Jordan
    23. "Air & Space"

    October 23, 1995

    The Bulls had many questions headed into the ’95-96 season. Could Michael Jordan get back to G.O.A.T. form? Could the role players produce? Could Dennis Rodman help bridge the gap and help MJ, Kukoc, and Scottie bring back another title to Chicago?

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  • Michael Jordan
    22. "Why?"

    October 18, 1993  

    Seen here in the Jordan VII, the world’s greatest basketball player walks away from the game he loves.

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  • 21. "3!"

    June 28, 1993 

    The Bulls won their third title after defeating the Phoenix Suns 4-2.

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  • Michael Jordan
    20. "On a Collision Course"

    May 11, 1992

    The defending NBA champions were 2-0 against the Trail Blazers, who the Bulls would face in the NBA Finals. Here’s Mike wearing the Air Jordan VI against Portland’s Clyde Drexler.

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  • Michael Jordan
    19. "Finally"

    June 3, 1991

    It was a long time coming. The Chicago Bulls had fallen to their nemesis, the Detroit Pistons, in three consecutive years. The Pistons were going for a three-peat and Michael Jeffrey Jordan had had enough. The Bulls, led by MJ, swept the two-time champions and finally advanced to the NBA Finals, where they would face the Los Angeles Lakers.

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  • Michael Jordan
    18. "Another Bull Run"

    December 17, 1990

    The Bulls had just won seven games in a row and Portland came to town and beat the Bulls at the old Chicago Stadium. So it looks like SI was running with the cover no matter what happened that night. Michael went for 35 in the loss — rocking the Jordan V — but was a bit spent after beating the Knicks 24 hours prior.

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  • 17. "Don't Bag It, Michael"

    February 16, 1998

    Rumblings around the NBA would have looked like #PleaseDontGOMJ #MJRIP #GOKNICKS #IHATEMJ #PLEASERETIREMJ. Michael Jordan and the Bulls were on a collision course toward another three-peat. So the entire NBA would have to watch and wait for the soap opera to unravel.

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  • 16. "How Sweet It Is"

    June 22, 1992

    Michael Jordan goes back-to-back as the Bulls defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2.

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  • Michael Jordan
    15. "MJ Rises Again"

    June 15, 1998 

    The Bulls stood one game away from winning their sixth title of the decade. What if MJ hadn’t retired? #8RingsInARow.

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  • 14. "Man in the Middle"

    November 11, 1991

    The main reasons for the dual three-peat are all featured on the same cover: MJ, Pippen, and Phil (aka Lord of the Rings.)

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  • Michael Jordan
    13. "Dream Team"

    February 18, 1991

    The announcement of the “Dream Team” made this the greatest team ever assembled, and it sent shockwaves throughout the world. After Team USA placed third in the 1988 Olympics it was time to have the best players in the world compete against everyone.

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  • Michael Jordan
    12. "Sky High"

    May 16, 1988

    Michael Jordan and the Bulls finally were able to advance to the second round of the playoffs after Michael Jordan was able to closeout the Cavs in the Air Jordan III. MJ scorched the Cavs to the tune of 45 points per game.

    Michael and the Bulls were eliminated by the Pistons 4-1 in the following series.

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  • 11. "Pictures '87"

    December 28, 1987

    This Michael Jordan cover features MJ with a Wilson autographed Michael Jordan basketball.

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  • Michael Jordan
    10. "One-Man Gang"

    November 17, 1986

    Michael Jordan missed most of the ’85-86 season with a broken bone in his foot, and after coming back to the team after a late run that pushed the Bulls into the playoffs with a 30-52 record, MJ torched the Celtics for 63 points in a double-overtime playoff loss. The one-man gang moniker was appropriate for this cover.

    In his first eight games of the following season, while rocking the Jordan II, MJ averaged 38.3 ppg. During the 1986-87 season, MJ set some career-highs with 1,098 field goals, 2,279 shots, 3,041 points, 833 free throws made, and 972 free throw attempts.

    The Bulls faced the Celtics in the playoffs and again were swept in three games. Michael still averaged 36.3 points per game.

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  • 9. "Sportsman of the Year"

    December 23, 1991

    After winning his first title, MJ picked up where he left off with a 14-game win streak after dropping two of their first three games to start the season. The “Sportsman of the Year” was the culmination of a lot of hard work and perseverance, which made that first title even more memorable.

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  • 8. "Magic & Michael"

    June 18, 1991

    Two of the greatest players of the ’80s and of all time were facing each other in the NBA Finals.

    Magic and the aging Lakers were back in the Finals playing the upstart Chicago Bulls and the next star of the NBA, Michael Jordan.

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  • 7. "A Star Is Born"

    December 10, 1984

    The Bulls had missed the playoffs the previous three seasons before Michael Jordan fell to the third pick in the draft. Michael was ready for the big time. He averaged 28.2 points per game in his rookie campaign as he helped the Bulls into the playoffs.  They fell to Milwaukee in four games where Michael averaged 29.3 points per game. The Bulls attendance flourished as everyone was eager to see the NBA’s newest star.

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  • 6. "'I'm Back'"

    March 27,1995

    Michael Jordan, rocking the No. 45, came back a tad short as the Pacers beat the Bulls by seven in his first game. But the only thing that mattered was the G.O.A.T. was back.

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  • Michael Jordan
    5. "Up, Up For L.A."

    July 23, 1984

    Michael represented his country by being selected to play for Team USA by Indiana’s Bobby Knight. He played alongside two future Hall of Famers in Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing. MJ led Team USA in scoring (17.1 ppg) as Team USA won the gold medal in the ’84 Olympics (Los Angeles). The team went 8-0 and Michael showed the world that he was America’s next superstar, even though he was wearing…Converse.

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  • Michael Jordan
    4. "Raging Bull"

    May 15, 1989 

    MJ took out the Cavs in the fifth and deciding game while going for 44 points and in pure MJ form, taking the last shot with Craig Ehlo draped all over him. MJ elevated and sunk Cleveland for the second year in a row.

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  • 3. "Is the Jordan Dynasty the NBA's best ever?"

    June 23, 1997 

    The Bulls eliminate the Jazz as Michael and the Bulls win their fifth NBA title and have gone back-to-back for a second time.

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  • 2. "No. 1 North Carolina"

    November 28, 1983

    After hitting the game-winning jumper in the Superdome to bring Dean Smith his first national championship, the Tar Heel junior Michael Jordan catapulted to stardom. Gone was the first pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, James Worthy, and still the No. 1 Tar Heels went 28-3 and were a one-seed in the NCAA Tourney before falling to Indiana in the Sweet 16.

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  • Michael Jordan
    1. "The Man, The Shot"

    June 22, 1998 

    If you’re going to end your career with one defining play, how about winning a game on the road, in the Finals, and cementing your legacy with a second three-peat with the same team that drafted you!

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Michael Jordan was an icon and my nemesis at the same time. Being a Knicks fan, I only wanted my home team to win a title in my lifetime. Their last title was in 1973. Fast forward 41 years later and some of the memories have faded. One thing I’ll still say, though, is that Jordan was the greatest player I’ve ever seen. Sorry LeBron, Charles, Clyde, Hakeem, Patrick, Magic, Kareem, and the countless millions to have played the game.

While looking at all the magazines in my office, garage, and walk-in closet, I always realize how much I love sports. Looking through them all, I’m amazed at the history and how things used to be. My thought process came to a head in 2007 when I was out in New Haven, Conn., at a restaurant and saw a familiar face.

Scott Burrell, Miguel Rodriguez
Miguel Rodriguez

I thought to myself would Scott Burrell be wearing the last of the Jordan title rings? The last ring of the second three-peat? I approached the former Chicago wing player and after some great stories of that magical year with the Bulls, Scott Burrell, who had only worn the ring out once before, placed it in my hands. I remembering imagining a Knicks logo on it; I would’ve ran in the other direction. Then I asked the biggest question of all:

“Can I put the ring on?”

So now this legacy, all the heartache, and sleepless nights thinking about…how can we beat this team? This one man? All of that disappeared. I thought about how hard it was to get by the Pistons. All those summers in the gym, year after year playing golf early while the NBA Finals were on. Winning three titles, retiring, coming back. Being asked a million times why? Losing your father and then coming back again and again and again.

The sixth ring in the trilogy and the 50 Sports Illustrated covers have a large significance in the history of sports, street culture, sneaker culture, and the largest sports brand on Earth. Michael Jordan!

Thank you for taking me down memory lane, MJ. Here is The Definitive Ranking of Michael Jordan’s Sports Illustrated Covers.

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Follow Miguel on Twitter at @TheNational

GIF via Patrick Judabong