Friday, November 12, 2004

Michael Jordan

Okay, after a day of mulling things over, here's my judgment on MJ (subject to revision):

First, I probably agree with a lot of what MSR thinks about the man. He certainly doesn't come across as a very nice person when you actually look deeper than the hagiographic books, articles, and ESPN specials devoted to the man. Even the book I read about him, "Playing for Keeps" by Halberstam, MJ has moments where he appears to be a complete ass - and this is in a book meant to celebrate him.

And I'm a Jordan admirer only in the sense that he was a winner, something that I think is pretty hard to debate. Certainly the biggest winner in recent sports history, if not ever. And to me, this is what is so fascinating about sports - there is always a winner, and there is always a best. Contrast that to Hollywood, for example, where there are never any definitive winners; there is no objective measurement by which the Oscars are awarded, it's simply whoever the voters like the most that year. For me, part of the real draw of sports is the fact that we watch, quite simply, the very best in the world, and not only that, we KNOW they are the very best. I can walk down to the UI theater department and probably find someone who can act as well as Ashton Kutcher, but there isn't anyone in the state of Iowa who can throw the football like Brett Favre.

That is ultimately why I am sort of enamored with Jordan: he was the greatest player in a league full of men who were the very best basketball players in a world of 6 billion humans. It's hard for me to articulate it beyond that, but I can't imagine being one of the top 100 in America at something, much less the best in the world. It certainly spoke to his legacy when, upon his return to the Wizards, a lot of the players were apprehensive about playing with him, since they grew up idolizing the man.

Again, as a person, he leaves a lot to be desired. The Washington Post did a series of articles about the Wizards when Jordan came back, and he didn't even come across very well in those articles. Then you throw in the paternity lawsuits, the way he treats his teammates, the way he preyed on weaker teammates for his own gain; none of it makes me think I'd like to spend a lot of time with him as a person. But I think that's probably true for a lot of great athletes, with the exception of maybe Brett Favre (a Mississippi boy was addicted to painkillers - does it get cooler than that?) and Sir Charles. Look at Larry Bird, who has never come across as a very warm or caring person; look at Jim Brown and his domestic abuse stuff; and this isn't even counting all the guys who have had varying degrees of trouble with the law.

All of this to say that I probably agree with MSR when it comes to Jordan as a person and how the media basically gave him a free pass for his entire career. But I have never thought he was much of a human being, but I certainly think he is an astounding basketball player.


UPDATE: I should have said that I also subscribe to the theory that Jordan came back not for any love of basketball, but simply because he wanted the media spotlight again. I also think the point made by Jonathan Last, in his excellent Weekly Standard essay on Jordan, holds true: Jordan was never particularly enamored with basketball, it just happened to be the one thing he was the best at.

1 Comments:

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Tortfeasor said...

Bo, you pretty much articulated my thoughts on Jordan.

I tried not to like Jordan for a long time, but eventually, I had to admit that he was something special -- not just as an athlete, but as a warrior totally dedicated to the cause of winning. That kind of excellence truly has to be admired.

But damn! I've still never seen anything like the sports media's idol worship of Jordan. It was almost as amazing as Jordan's feats on the court, and that's the aspect of Leahy's book that most intrigues me. Like he says in his intro, no political reporter (at least, I hope not) would want to be known as "Kerry's guy" or "Bush's guy," yet these sports reporters eagerly take long, deep sniffs of particular athletes' jock straps so they can brag that they are "Jordan's guy" or whatever. It's pretty bizarre.

 

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