And he never forgot anyone who motivated him to get there.
Jordan was enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Friday night, a final honor that followed all the championship rings and MVP trophies he collected during his career.
From the high school coach who cut him to the last player to defend him in the NBA finals, Jordan remembered everyone who did something to bring out the competitiveness that carried him to the top of basketball.
"I'd do anything to win," he said.
He joined David Robinson and John Stockton, a pair of his 1992 Dream Team teammates, and coaches Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer in a distinguished class. Jordan insisted during a morning press conference that the weekend wasn't just about him, but he was clearly the star Friday night before a crowd that included former teammates Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
"He makes one big shot and everybody thinks he's kind of cool," Stockton joked. "I don't get it."
Jordan cried before beginning his acceptance speech, then entertained the crowd with memories of any slights that inspired him to get to Springfield:
-The coach who cut him from the varsity as a North Carolina schoolboy.
"I wanted to make sure you understood: You made a mistake, dude."
–Isiah Thomas, who allegedly orchestrated a "freezeout" of Jordan in his first All-Star game.
"I wanted to prove to you, Magic [Johnson], Larry [Bird], George [Gervin], everybody that I deserved [to be there] just as much as anybody else, and I hope over the period of my career I've done that without a doubt."
-Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who accused Jordan of "conning" players by acting friendly toward them, then attacking them in games.
"I just so happen to be a friendly guy. I get along with everybody, but at the same time, when the light comes on, I'm as competitive as anybody you know."
-The media who said Jordan, though a great player, would never win like Bird or Johnson.
"I had to listen to all that, and that put so much wood on that fire that it kept me each and every day trying to get better as a basketball player."
-Lastly, Utah's Bryon Russell. Jordan recalled meeting Russell while he was retired and playing minor league baseball in 1994 — and with Sloan looking on in horror — told of how Russell insisted he could have covered him if Jordan was still playing. Russell later got two cracks at Jordan in the NBA finals, and he was the defender when Jordan hit the clinching shot to win the 1998 title.
"From this day forward, if I ever see him in shorts, I'm coming at him."
Robinson was enshrined first on Friday before a large San Antonio contingent that included teammates Tim Duncan and Avery Johnson, and coaches Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich. Stockton told the Spurs that his running mate, Karl Malone, was the best power forward, not Duncan.
The enshrinement ceremony took place at Springfield's Symphony Hall, because Jordan was too big for the Hall of Fame. The move to the other building allowed for a crowd of about 2,600, more than double what the Hall can accommodate.
Most of the attention was on Jordan, the five-time NBA MVP, but the others in the class are some of the most accomplished in the sport. Stockton is the career leader in assists and steals, Robinson won an MVP trophy and two titles in San Antonio, Sloan is the only coach to win 1,000 games with one team, and Stringer was the first woman's coach to lead three different schools to the Final Four.
"Unique, unique competitors," Stockton said during the morning press conference.
Fiery ones, too. Sloan, Stockton's longtime coach, told two different tales of fights he was in as a hard-nosed player for Chicago.
Jordan remembered scoring around 20 points in a row late in a game to pull out a win, which was followed by a conversation with Bulls assistant Tex Winter.
"Tex reminded me that there's no 'I' in team," Jordan said. "And I looked back at Tex, I said, 'There's 'I' in win.' So whichever way you want it."
Jordan and Robinson were All-American college players who entered the NBA with high expectations. Sloan acknowledged he wasn't so sure about Stockton at first — and turns out, neither was Stockton.
"I thought they'd figure me out pretty quickly. I thought the Jazz would figure out that they'd made a mistake, so first paycheck I saved every cent," Stockton said. "I was pretty sure I was a one-year-and-out guy."
He ended up playing 19 seasons in Utah, while Robinson spent 14 with the Spurs. He is still an enormous presence in San Antonio through his charitable work.
"That's one of the things I think I loved most about San Antonio. When you get out in the community, you really feel like you're making a difference. You feel like you're impacting people there and families there," Robinson said. "So anybody who has followed my career, it's been as important as what we did on the court, being involved in the community, making a difference."
Stringer also talked of making a difference in the lives of others, such as the pride she feels watching women's basketball grow into a sport in which her former players can now earn a living playing professionally in the United States. Those contributions to the game, along with her 825 wins, had her sharing a stage Friday with Jordan, whose family she developed a friendship with when they did Nike tours together.
"I once paid to come into the Naismith Hall of Fame," she said, "and now here I am."