"It's a very privileged day for me to be a part of this and whatever way I could have done it than going in with two Olympian friends, Jerry Sloan, who's from Chicago, was actually before me, and Vivian Stringer, who I've known since back in the date. It's truly a place for me to be a part of this, and contrary to what you guys believe, it's not just me going into the hall of fame. It's a group of us. And I'm glad to be a part of them, and believe me, I'm going remember them as much as they remember me. Thank you very much," Jordan said Friday morning when getting his Hall of Fame blazer.
The Hall of Fame exhibit includes replica jerseys and rings from the championships Jordan won playing for North Carolina, the Chicago Bulls, the U.S. Olympic team. Also included-- his Air Jordan sneakers.
Tied to Chicago history forever
Nowhere in the world is Jordan more loved than in Chicago, where he created the Bulls dynasty. Most fans knew it was just a matter of time until Jordan, whom many consider the greatest basketball player of all time, joined the rest of the legends.
"Unbelievable. What an inspiration he is to all kids growing up. I grew in St. Louis, but still loved watching him," said Ryan Polen, Michael Jordan fan.
They still want to be like Mike. Jordan took the game to a whole other level. Polen and Jim Blockinger are just thrilled that Michael Jordan is finally is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Jordan led the Bulls to six championships during his Chicago career. Jordan both excelled on and off the court. He was the first basketball player to earn 9 figures in endorsement contracts and a $30-million single year playing contract with the Bulls. But still – it's his move that keep fans talking -- even though he's been away from the game for years.
"He was our role model. He was a positive role model. He was so eloquent in how he spoke and, you know, his actions off the court, they were great as a kid to watch and see what you can aspire to, and it gave you that hope that you can be as great as he was on and off the court," said Jim Blockinger, Michael Jordan Fan
The Hall of Fame
David Robinson, John Stockton, Utah coach Jerry Sloan and Rutgers women's coach C. Vivian Stringer are the other members of the Class of 2009. But the attention is largely on Jordan, the six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP and 10-time scoring champion.
Others have won more or scored more, but Jordan might top them all.
"I think you have to be realistic," Barkley said. "Michael Jordan to me is the best basketball player ever."
His entrance into the Hall is bringing unprecedented attention, forcing the enshrinement ceremonies to be moved to Springfield's Symphony Hall, with a capacity of about 2,600 that is more than double what the Hall of Fame can hold.
"Every class is special, there's no question about that, but this one seems to rise a bit above the normal class and obviously it's because of who's in the class," said John Doleva, the Hall's president and CEO.
"Not only Michael Jordan, but others that are joining him in this class. But he does bring a lot of notoriety and a lot of interest and obviously has a very broad fan base around the world, so I would say this is the biggest enshrinement we've had."
Doleva said nearly 60 Hall of Famers -- more than for any induction -- are returning for the festivities. He estimated there were nearly double the usual number of requests for media credentials.
Besides Jordan, those on hand will see Robinson, who helped San Antonio win two NBA titles and the United States win two Olympic gold medals; Stockton, the NBA's career leader in assists and steals who also won Olympic gold in 1992 and 1996; Sloan, Stockton's longtime coach who has won more than 1,000 games in Utah; and Stringer, the first women's coach to lead three schools to the Final Four.
It would be an elite class even without Jordan. With him, it becomes perhaps the strongest and has Springfield buzzing.
"I'm anxious to see who's there, but I've got to think there are going to be a lot of former teammates," said Kerr, who won titles with Jordan and Robinson and was traveling to Springfield on Thursday.
Besides replica jerseys and rings from the championships he won playing for North Carolina, the Chicago Bulls, and the U.S. Olympic team, Jordan's exhibit honors his legacy as a pitchman. There's a collection of his Air Jordans, the backbone of an endorsement empire that won the sneaker market for Nike and paved the way for today's players to make millions off the court.
"We all owe Michael Jordan a lot of money," said Barkley, who is Sloan's presenter. "There's three guys we owe a lot of money to. First there was Magic (Johnson), then (Larry) Bird. They really turned the NBA around, but Michael Jordan really took it to a whole other level. If you talk about golf, there was Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger (Woods) took it to a whole other stratosphere. And we do, we do owe Michael Jordan and I thank him a great deal for that."
Woods, as fierce a competitor as anyone, has succeeded Jordan as perhaps the world's most recognizable athlete.
"I remember the countless hours I spent with Michael in the gym feeding him balls," Woods said. "He would just shoot all night. And we thought that, yeah, he just showed up to the game and off he went and scored 45 and went home. You don't realize what he did to prepare for that."
The weekend events began Thursday night, with the enshrinement Friday night followed by a ring ceremony Saturday at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Though it's largely a celebration of Jordan, he said during the election news conference in April that the Hall of Fame wasn't fun for him, "because at that time, your basketball career is completely over."
Maybe the greatest one in history.
"Michael Jordan -- unparalleled skills, ultimate competitor, consummate team player, and an assassin in clutch time," Hall of Fame coach and ESPN analyst Jack Ramsay said.
And on Friday, a Hall of Famer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.