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NBA confessional - Against the overdog

Be like Mike?

Michael Jordan Toy Historian Joshua De Vaney
An icon, for the shrine.
Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images

Apparently a global pandemic, the tragic and unnecessary loss of lives isn’t enough. Quarantine and isolation isn’t enough. Economic meltdown, anxiety and depression for so many isn’t enough. When live sports went off the air* I thought, well, there will be time for some soothing NBA nostalgia. There will be a chance to dig into teams and players that were less celebrated at the time, and are somewhat forgotten now.

Maybe something on David Robinson vs Hakeem. Or just WHY Mike D’Antoni’s SSOL Phoenix Suns were so very different from the rest of the league. Even the clashes between Dallas and Miami (and Wade shoots yet another free throw).

What did we get instead? A month-long celebration of The Overdog. The looming, gloomy, presence of the NBA. It’s current Eminence Gris. The figure that still, decades later, turns the joy of the game into an unpleasant chore, a pointless staring contest. Yes, Michael Jordan, a person almost no one would ever be interested in, if he wasn’t good at basketball.

Please, someone, tell me, is the endless hagiography of Michael Jordan finally over? Or are there another (approximately) 37 episodes? Will there be an episode on Jordan’s retirement fashion choices? (Yes, I am more stylish than Michael Jordan. It’s not that big an accomplishment.) Six hours on his petty, score-settling, Hall of Fame speech?

Try this thought experiment. Remove Jordan from the marketing presentation of Jordan, the myth-making in the brilliant commercials that tried to turn him into someone likable. In your mind separate Michael Jordan from Nike’s image machine, the sales brilliance that turned Wieden+Kennedy into a major ad agency in sleepy Portland Oregon.

Interesting, isn’t it? What’s fun about Jordan now? Particularly mid/late career (title winning) baseline-turnaround-jumper-and-defense-and-special-whistle Jordan?

The fun stuff came early, when he wasn’t winning, and the winning, if you watched the show (or the actual games) didn’t look like fun for anyone. I’ll give the Golden State Warriors this, at least, until last season, they looked like they were enjoying it all. A grim sense of escaping an off-season of cold stares and resentment seemed to be the Chicago Bulls major reward from Jordan with another title.

Jordan made people want the aggravating cast of characters in Detroit to triumph. The only modern figure that I can think of who seems as joyless, as vindictive, as petty and as strangely defensive about his gifts from God, is Lionel Messi. They don’t want to give anyone else credit, because that might mean they didn’t do it all themselves, with their work and attitude.

Don’t give me that “You’ve gotta be that way.” stuff either. Tim Duncan wasn’t that way, drinking great pinot noir and laughing with his friends and teammates at sumptuous dinners. The Ringz thing with him is one or two lucky shot’s difference.

Or how about the NBA great who is so odd, and so smart the sports media doesn’t quite know what to do with him? Kareem Abdul Jabbar? This is a man with six titles as well, stretching from 1971 to 1988! He’s had a social conscience since long before it was trendy. He’s written three (good) meditative books about Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, and race. He was hilarious in a small movie part. He’s still alive. He lives in LA.

Of course from a Rockets perspective the series brought up the same old excuses and casting of doubt upon the Rockets. Sorry St. Micheal didn’t show up. It’s hardly the Rockets’ fault. It’s too bad. I’d have loved to see Hakeem and company humble the Bulls, and I believe they would have. Chicago couldn’t beat teams with dominant centers, because they basically ignored that position.

Orlando’s (pre-Shaq departure, and Penny Hardaway injury), ass kicking of Chicago was given short shrift in the month-long basketball nightmare. One might even say the presentation was disingenuous. The Rockets swept that Orlando team.

Anyhow, after a month, I’m relieved that’s over. I’m not so glad Jordan has been revived in the consciousness of the young NBA fan. Yes, Jordan was great at basketball. Unquestionably so. He was a tough. He was driven. He won a lot of titles. So did other people.

To me he was...boring. And now, he’s back. To bore me some more.

* Is there any reason we couldn’t have had golf or tennis during the lockdown? It seems like the number of people involved, and player contact, could be well controlled, and safe. I’m genuinely asking.


Would the 1990s Rockets Have Beaten The Bulls?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Yes. To the betterment of the league.
    (35 votes)
  • 10%
    No. St. Michael must never be questioned.
    (6 votes)
  • 16%
    Who knows?
    (9 votes)
  • 9%
    It’s been a long quarantine. Long.
    (5 votes)
55 votes total Vote Now