Saturday, March 24, 2007

I just never dug Michael Jordan

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, one sports figure stood above all others. Michael Jordan received unheard of attention in pop culture for an athelete, promoted more products than any other sprots figure had, and won championships seemingly at will. Michael Jordan opened a door for black athletes that made it possible for them to promote any product, breaking down doors that previous black athletes had been unable to knock on. Jordan was an amazing combination of grace and power, but I never was a Jordan guy. I appreciated his skill but never became a big Jordan fan.

Growing up, I was a Sixers fan with Doctor J and Charles Barkley being my favorite players. I managed to grow up in the great decade for competitive, professional basketball, the 80s, and had an apprciation for the sport. This was a little different than the average white kid from the sticks. I already had exposure to the game by watching it regularly on NESN with my grandparents, and by going to Celtics games once a year with my dad. A lot of rural/suburban, white kids were not NBA fans until Michael burst onto the scene.

Mihael Jordan did what every kid wanted to do: fly through the air. The NBA marketed him, along with Nike, as the cool thing, the next thing, and eventually, the only thing. When he retired in '98, the NBA had spent so much time showcasing him that they had no heir to the throne. Kids across America were slammed with the Jordan hero-myth non-stop by David Stern and company. I never quite understood the kids who wholeheartedly latched onto the Bulls bandwagon and Jordan himself. One would think that watching Jordan would be the gateway to following a local team, but it didn't work out that way for the NBA. When he left, so did a lot of fans.

In opposition to other NBA fans, I did not slobber all over Jordan. In opposition to Jordan detractors, I did not make idiotic statements like "Jordan is the best athlete to play in the NBA, Larry Bird is the greatest NBA player of all time". That was a line Celtics fans liked to use and some still use it today. Honestly, that reeks of thinly veiled racism, which I come to expect from degenerate New England sports fans. I always appreciated his skill, and reading a book like this one further developed my appreciation for his hard work as well as natural gifts. I think part of my reluctance to dive headfirst into hero worship of Jordan was my already established loyalty to the Sixers organization. I was a huge Barkley fan, so naturally in 1993, I was rooting for the Suns to knock off the Bulls. I never understood why kids in my school would support Jordan 100% in every single NBA Finals. The idol creation of Stern and Co. had worked to perfection. Had Stern and the NBA done a bit better of a job with a succession plan, the league might not have dipped as far as it did after Jordan's '98 retirement.

A major turn off for me regarding Jordan, which colors how I look at him from here on out was the shameless shilling he did for any product and the bungled Wizards management & comeback. I enjoyed most of Jodan's commercials during his playing career, but when he ventured into the realm of battery endorsements, I really got sick of it. I wondered what product he would turn down. The overexposure was sickening, and in my eyes, he lost some credibility the more he endorsed things. His attempt at a comeback with the Wizards was awful, and I kept giving him a chance. I kept saying "he's going to trade himself for draft picks to a contender, and then slide back to basketball exec with the picks, so smart". Little did I know that the comeback was just a self absorbed man trying to stay on stage for one more bow, one more curtain call, stealing time and attention from emerging players and setting a franchise back a few years. It as such a waste of effort compared to the gutsy win over the Jazz in '98. My friends and I pondered how this would taint his legacy. While the media would probably never let it truly change how they portrayed him, in the minds of fans, that failed experiment would have to leave some mark.

Jordan is the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of shoes and step on the court. He had the rare combination of amazing physical gifts and relentless determination. He worked harder than everyone else, yet was already ahead of the pack in ability. Lebron James supposedly coasted the first half of this year to gear up for the playoffs. Jordan never would have done that, and we all know from evidence, he never did. Jordan had things going for him that the average NBA player might not have: a 2 parent home, a middle class childhood, an apprenticeship at a great college program. With the NBA rule change on minimum age limits, it will help with refining and polishing new players. I think this is an overlooked aspect to Jordan's career. He played 3 years under Dean Smith, became a better defender, and learned how to be a team player even if he was a superstar. So much coddling of young prodigies goes on today that you wonder if someone will ever have the proper make up and environment to become the next Jordan or even greater. Jordan was a once in a generation athlete for his sport, and I would like to remember him that way. While he is the greatest to have ever played, he still was just one player.... and no player is greater than the game.

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