Major league sports were slow to integrate. Professional basketball was integrated in 1951, when the Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper and the New York Knicks hired Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton. By the late 1960s, most of the sport’s biggest stars were minorities—men like Bill Russell, Wilt “Wilt the Stilt” Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, and Willis Reed. These and other talented athletes helped transform the game from a relatively polite and static affair to a fast-breaking, high-speed contest. Black players won more and more roster positions as the 1970s progressed. Athletes such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo, and Wes Unseld helped further the evolution of the modern professional basketball game. By the 1980s, black dominance of the sport was assured with the arrival of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, and Charles Barkley. In 1992 the celebrated “Dream Team”—the first American Olympic basketball team composed of professional players—had only two white players; the team won the gold medal handily. In recent years, men such as Shaquille O’Neal (1972–), Allen Iverson (1975–), Kobe B. Bryant, (1978–), and LeBron James (1984–), have dominated the basketball scene.
Michael Jordan enjoyed such an amazing career that even non-basketball fans were familiar with his success, mostly with the Chicago Bulls. He was on six NBA championship teams and two Olympic gold medal teams, and has won nearly every basketball award imaginable.