Five Notre Dame Connections to celebrate Michael Jordan’s birthday

The greatest basketball player to ever walk the earth is turning 61 today as Michael Jordan celebrates his birthday (sorry Kyle Hamilton).  Jordan starred at North Carolina long before Notre Dame joined the ACC but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have connections to Notre Dame throughout his playing days.

Five of these connections were highlighted during the 2020 documentary series, “The Last Dance”.  For a kid growing up in the ’90s, that documentary was a great walk down memory lane and incredibly informative for stories about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty.

What connections to Notre Dame did that documentary have?  Let’s look back at just a few:

Jordan teammate becomes Notre Dame head coach

Joe Robbins-USA TODAY Sports (c) 2005 by Joe Robbins
Joe Robbins-USA TODAY Sports (c) 2005 by Joe Robbins

Michael Jordan accomplished a lot during his three years at North Carolina but beating Notre Dame was not one of those things.

OK, he never lost either seeing as the two schools never played during Jordan’s 1981-84 run with Dean Smith and the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Jordan was, however, college teammates with former Tar Heels forward Matt Doherty who went into coaching and spent the 1999-2000 season at Notre Dame before leaving for the head job at North Carolina. Doherty was relieved of his duties after three seasons in Chapel Hill.

One of Jordan's Biggest Rivals was a Domer


It’s hard for me to look back on any sport and think of a bigger villain than Bill Laimbeer was to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the late-’80s and early-’90s. Laimbeer, along with Isiah Thomas, helped lead the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons squad that knocked Jordan’s Bulls from the postseason in both 1989 and 1990.

Laimbeer was as unlikable as any athlete one can remember watching, often getting into fights with the NBA’s biggest stars because of his ridiculous style of play. Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan are only a few of the stars to get roughed up by Laimbeer and the Pistons.

Jordan Rival Broke Notre Dame Hearts in NCAA Tournament

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

At three points of the 10-part documentary, “The Last Dance,” we see Michael Jordan come across former NBA star and current Boston Celtics executive, Danny Ainge.

Ainge is interviewed about his round of golf with Jordan during the 1986 NBA Playoffs. Jordan put on an all-time performance the next day against Ainge and the Celtics, scoring a playoff-record 63 points in an overtime loss for the Bulls.

Ainge appeared again playing against Jordan and the Bulls as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns in the 1992 and 1993 NBA Finals.

Ainge is, yes, that same Danny Ainge broke the hearts of Notre Dame fans everywhere in 1981.

Jordan 'Last Dance' Teammate a Short-Term Notre Dame Student

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

This one I had no idea about until doing a little bit of research. But a guy who is shown at various times in “The Last Dance” during the 1998 season was, at one time, a Notre Dame basketball player.

Joe Kleine was drafted sixth by the Sacramento Kings in 1985 and bounced around the NBA until his career came to an end following the 1999-2000 NBA season.

Johnny Jumpshot Wins it in '93 for Bulls

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Former Bulls guard and NBA executive John Paxson is interviewed as he played with Jordan from 1985-1993. He was the hero in the 1993 NBA Finals: His game-winning jump shot in Game 6 helped the Bulls clinch their third-straight NBA championship.

Paxson played his college ball at Notre Dame where he led the Irish with 17.7 points per game his senior season of 1982-83. Paxson was then drafted 19th overall by the San Antonio Spurs where he played two seasons before signing a free agent deal with Chicago before the 1985-86 season.

Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire