Today I saw this quote from Michael Jordan, and the usage of Present Perfect in all of his past failed experiences got my attention:

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I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

I cannot see why is it being used here; any help regarding its use?

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    possible duplicate of Why is 'present perfect' present if it happened in the past? And why is it 'perfect'?. Jordan quite correctly uses present perfect because his focus is on his status today - so although he's referring to the past, he's really "boasting" about where he is now. Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 22:54
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    @JLG: He could still legitimately use present perfect even if he was retired - it just emphasises the fact that the man speaking now carries all the "past" events as part of himself. Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 22:58
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    @JLG: My father used to be a bricklayer, but he's been retired for nearly 30 years now. He could just as legitimately have said "I've laid a million bricks in my career" yesterday as 30 years ago. What matters is whether he's relating his past to his present when he speaks, not whether he's still laying bricks. Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 23:12
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    This is the Existential sense of the Perfect, used to indicate the existence of past events. McCawley gives the example I have read Principia Mathematica five times. Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 0:31
  • All of those things are true, but Jordan was playing at the time of the quote. He played from 1984 to 2003 (with a couple of brief retirements). The quote is from the book Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh by Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson, copyright 1998.
    – JLG
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 3:06

2 Answers 2


The usage of the Present Perfect is perfectly good here.

Had it been the alternative Past Simple that some people might prefer:

"I missed... I lost... I was trusted and missed... I failed..."

Then all the past experiences being mentioned would be totally detached from where MJ was at the time of speaking. In short, all his past experiences would hold little relevance to where he's gotten.

On the other hand, as it appears in the quote:

"I've missed... I've lost... I've been trusted and missed... I've failed..."

Everything connects, affects, and even builds up to the point when he says: "This is why I succeed."

P.S. This would be true whether MJ was still playing or already retired at the time of the quote. In the last sentence, he could be talking about his success specifically in basketball, a recently fulfilled career, or life in general

  • What if the guy was dead?
    – Noah
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 5:12
  • But then, Noah, how could he speak? :-D
    – Cool Elf
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 10:32
  • As if you were to speak for him?
    – Noah
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 10:57
  • I'd go with Past Simple
    – Cool Elf
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 12:35
  • That's what I thought. But some people do use the present perfect, here is an example. And if you search Google Books for "Shakespeare has done", you will get many hits. Any idea?
    – Noah
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 12:59

If he said this while his career was still in progress, as the last sentence suggests, it's perfectly fine. He has the opportunity to continue missing shots, losing games and so on.

We use the present perfect when the event being described could still continue - Michael Jordan continues to lose games, and to fail in other ways; whereas using the simple past would suggest that he has finished with failure, and he no longer misses shots or loses games.

If he said it after his career was over, then yes, it might be better if he had used the simple past, rather than the present perfect. But it's a grey area; it's not uncommon to use the present perfect in such cases.

Also, don't forget that Michael Jordan is better known for his basketball skills than his literary prowess.

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    Sorry, but -1. It's not a grey area at all- his use of tense is perfectly acceptable and in my mind preferable even. I also don't think it has to do, in any way, with his "literary prowess."
    – Jim
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 3:13
  • I agree with Jim
    – Cool Elf
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 3:18
  • Can't agree more, @Jim.
    – Noah
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 0:40

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