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As the NBA currently salutes Jeremy Lin, the first US-born NBA player of Taiwanese and Chinese heritage who has gone from bench-warmer to star for the New York Knicks, Jordan's legendary career was recalled by other icons.
LeBron James, the Miami Heat star still searching for his first title after two losing trips to the NBA Finals, posted a Twitter message calling Jordan The G.O.A.T., for Greatest of All Time.
"Happy B-day to the person I idolized and wanna to be just like as a kid playing the game of basketball Michael Jordan. #TheG.O.A.T." James tweeted.
Magic Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers star who now serves as a television commentator, praised Jordan in comments for ESPN.
"His will to win was higher than everyone else's," Johnson said of Jordan. "His talent level was higher than everyone else's and then he was the ultimate competitor. He wanted to win more than anybody else I've ever faced in my life.
"Michael Jordan, happy birthday -- you know you were the world's greatest."
Jordan guided the Chicago Bulls to six NBA crowns in the 1990s, winning three in a row before retiring at age 30 in 1993 to attempt an ill-fated career in baseball.
In March of 1995, Jordan returned to the NBA but the Bulls were ousted by Orlando in the second round of the playoffs. But then Jordan guided the Bulls to NBA crowns in 1996, 1997 and 1998 before retiring for a second time in 1999.
Jordan was named president of the NBA Washington Wizards in 2001 and returned to the court for two final seasons with the team before retiring yet again in 2003, finishing with 32,292 points, third on the NBA all-time list.
The Bulls referenced Jordan's changing jersey numbers at various stages of his career in a birthday tweet, noting that "Whether 23, 45, or even 12: there is only 1 MJ. Happy Birthday Michael Jordan."
The NBA acknowledged their last defining superstar by tweeting, "Happy 49th Birthday to the one and only Michael Jordan! #GOAT #TooManyAccomplishmentsToList".
After flopping in the front office for the Wizards, Jordan took an executive role with the NBA Charlotte Bobcats and then purchased the NBA club, but Jordan's on-court magic has not followed him as a dealmaker and talent scout.
The Bobcats have the NBA's worst record this season at 3-26 and are mired in a 16-game losing streak.
With high-leaping acrobatic shots and clutch baskets in the dying seconds of games, Jordan lived up to the Nike-powered hype as a generation of basketball followers sought to "Be Like Mike" and wear Air Jordan sneakers.
Jordan's endorsement power continues well after his playing career has ended. Forbes magazine has estimated Jordan's net worth at $500 million, largely because his Nike brand items remain a $1 billion moneymaker.
Jordan led the NBA in scoring for 10 seasons, seven in a row from 1987 through 1993 and again from 1996-1998. He was a five-time NBA regular-season Most Valuable Player and six-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
He also won two Olympic gold medals, most famously with the 1992 Barcelona Olympic US "Dream Team", the first all-NBA squad to compete in the Olympics and still the most dominant team ever seen in the Games.
Jordan divorced his wife Juanita in 2006 and became engaged to Cuban-born model Yvette Prieto last December.