Michael Jordan was already a cultural icon when he hosted Saturday Night Live in the fall of 1991. Still, the moment reflected his popularity really exploding after the Chicago Bulls won their first title earlier that summer.
Air Jordan was always more than just a basketball star. His charisma made him an ideal marketer and, in this case, even a comedian. The SNL appearance showcased all of Jordan’s persona and included an especially raunchy reference that perfectly described MJ’s game.
Michael Jordan and the Bulls officially took the NBA torch from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in 1991
When Michael Jordan came into the NBA in 1984, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were the definitive superstars of the sport.
Magic and Bird possessed singular brilliance, but they also helped the NBA explode as they developed a friendly, individual rivalry within the grudge match between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Other forces were at work, as well.
The late 1980s saw Isiah Thomas and the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons routinely take down Jordan and romp to consecutive NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. Though the Pistons might not have boasted the same gravitas as Magic’s Lakers or Bird’s Celtics, they still helped define an era.
However, Michael Jordan and the Bulls would leave little doubt about who’s league it was in the 1990-91 season.
The Bulls legend won his second MVP, averaging 31.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 2.7 steals. Jordan helped lead Chicago past the hated Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, then seized the torch from Johnson’s Lakers with a masterful performance in the NBA Finals.
Jordan was now the eminent superstar in the NBA. He finally managed to attain team success with all the individual brilliance and marketability. The national profile had risen even higher. Naturally, the only thing to do now was to go host SNL.
MJ basically described his game as “pornographic” in a memorable “Saturday Night Live” monologue
Michael Jordan came to New York City in late September 1991 at the top of the NBA world. What better way to keep promoting his brand than to host Saturday Night Live?
Jordan’s opening monologue focused on fabricated product endorsements he had to turn down. One such endorsement included pornographic films, but Jordan’s one-liner might as well have been a PG-13 description of his own game.
The humorous skit might be a more raunchy allusion to MJ’s artistry on the basketball court, but it’s a pretty accurate one nonetheless.
Michael Jordan was a wonder to behold on the hardwood, with the 1991 season possibly marking the apex of his physical and skillful brilliance. He still excelled at getting into the air, but became more adept as a transition playmaker and guy who began developing his pull-up and post game. The defensive excellence was every bit as notable, as Jordan harassed ball-handlers and played the passing lanes to perfection.
Others might have described Air Jordan’s game as “poetry in motion.” However, as he made clear in the SNL monologue, the Bulls icon’s aerial flair and individual brilliance might as well have been deemed “basketball porn.”
Michael Jordan’s success and cultural visibility continued to rise after 1991
Michael Jordan’s global profile continued to rise long after he hosted Saturday Night Live.
The Bulls stayed atop the NBA mountain for the majority of the 1990s. Jordan was also a star for the Dream Team in Barcelona in 1992. His stock only kept getting bigger.
Yet, despite the seismic growth in global superstardom, Jordan’s game never suffered. In fact, he arguably became even more beautiful as he aged. He became a master of the fadeaway jumper and was increasingly reliant on footwork and basketball IQ.
Many NBA players before and since have showcased their gifts in mesmerizing fashion. However, perhaps no one in the game’s history has evoked wonder and awe quite like MJ.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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