Jordan Speaks out on LeBron; People Overreact

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The Press finally got Michael Jordan to weigh in on the all-star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh scheming that sabotage and taking over South Beach like the Kardashian girls with great field goal percentages. Of course the ramifications of Jordan giving his opinion about anything at all are that a new Gospel must be written and THE WAY has been shown.

Here’s what Michael had to say:

“There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team,’ ” Jordan said after playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada. “But that’s … things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”

Three points about this statement:

First I absolutely swear I recall Jordan very specifically saying he recruited Patrick Ewing to join him in North Carolina. I recall him getting upset over half the decisions the Bulls GM staff made regarding personnel, because he didn’t think they bringing in enough talent to help him win. I very specifically recall him asking the Bulls to go after Juwon Howard in the summer of 1996 or 1997 after working out with Juwon all summer and being impressed. For Jordan to say he wouldn’t try to put together the best possible team around himself… I’m not sure his history backs that up. Did he ever have the opportunity to get together with Magic and Bird? Obviously not.

Which leads to my second point – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in no way equate to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Magic and Bird have 6 MVPs and 5 Finals MVPs between them. They were each at one point in their careers considered the absolute best player in the game, and when Michael was coming into his athletic peak, they were still the co-best in the league in most eyes. Neither Wade nor Bosh comes close to that sort of stature, especially not Bosh, who has done nothing in the playoffs. What Michael describes is a unifying of the 3 greatest talents of a generation. If LeBron had found a way to unite himself with Kobe Bryant and a young, healthy Tim Duncan, then we could make this comparison, and it would be apt. LeBron teaming with Wade and Bosh is closer to Jordan joining forces with Charles Barkley and Chris Mullin. Yes it would likely lead to titles, but it’s not a gathering of the titans.

Third, Michael at no point says that he thinks it’s wrong of Bron, Wade, and Bosh to go this route, simply that it’s not what he would have done. He does not imply that some personal weakness of character reveals itself in players getting together and trying to build a strong team through free agency. Readers infer it and attribute it, but it is clearly not stated or alluded to here. Nor is there any indication that Michael Jordan believes his way of doing things was the only way to do things. His way of doing things specifically broke the pattern of winners that came before him. They said a leading scorer couldn’t win a title. He had to prove that wrong. They said he couldn’t make his teammates better and still put up such monster stats. He had to prove that wrong. On the court, Jordan was a non-conformist. Why do we assume he expects this generation to conform to what he did?

My favorite basketball writer today, and a guy I generally consider to have the most level-headed take on any sensational story, Henry Abbott of Truehoop, went for the drama on this one:

Jordan, Barkley and others are making fun of James — perhaps the most biting of all of Jordan’s words was “kid” — for getting help. If the whole idea is to show that you’re the baddest man on the planet, what do we care about all these SuperFriends? (Similarly, Jordan said the other day that Bryant was the best player in the NBA. He’s the most fearless, that’s for sure.)

The problem with the critique is twofold. For one thing, he’s not bad as the man. James shoots plenty with the game on the line, already produces like one of the two best players in NBA history (hitting at a better career rate than Bryant), wins a lot of games and even called himself leader of Team USA.

But more importantly, how do we know James’ end goal is to be the man?

It’s a team game. Jordan and Bryant are self-reliant types who didn’t come naturally to the idea that crunch time ought to be played as a team. Both have had to be coached into passing with the game on the line.

This is an example of revisionist NBA history squashing the past into the shape it needs to fit to be in the premise of the day. Michael Jordan was an unwilling passer? The man averaged 11 assists a game when Coach Collins made him a point guard. Well then how come he needed Phil Jackson to point out that Paxson was open when the Bulls finished off the Lakers in 1991? How come he needed Kerr to personally come to him before the final play of the 1997 Finals to tell him he would be open and ready to shoot if Stockton doubled? Let me answer that question with a question: Can you recall any championship winning passes that Larry Bird or Magic Johnson made? How about Isiah Thomas or Tim Duncan? Bob Cousy? One comes to mind for Larry Bird, and if he could have gathered and shot the ball he stole from Isiah Thomas in game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, I bet he would have done that instead of dumping it to DJ as he fell out of bounds.

Does that make those players selfish? Of course not! That’s a ludicrous question. Those players are the exact opposite of selfish. But the best player on a team is generally responsible for the last play of a game, and there it is. Self-confidence breeds heroics. Putting in the hours at the gym, knowing that you were there every morning and can make that shot and won’t flinch… it’s a part of the game. Sometimes passing the ball to a wide open teammate in the corner isn’t the best play if he doesn’t want that shot.

But beyond the notion that passing in the clutch is somehow exemplary of whether a player is willing to win as a member of a team or has to be the one doing the heavy lifting and getting the glory, there’s this assumption that doing the heavy lifting and getting the glory was the most critical thing to Michael Jordan. How do we know this? There’s every reason to believe that he honestly wanted to win above all else and honestly thought he had to perform at the level he did in order to make that happen. There certainly isn’t any evidence to suggest he told Jerry Krause to leave available talent on the table for other teams to gobble up because it would hurt his machismo. Coach Dean Smith of the conservative four corners offense loved Michael Jordan. Coach Bobby Knight the same.

Was there a player in the NBA who Jordan would have deferred to? Probably as rookie. Certainly not by his 4th season. But let’s all recall that his 4th season is the best PER and the best WS of all time. He actually was the most productive player ever at that point. He had good reason to believe that deferring was the wrong thing to do. And of course you have to recall that he joined a godawful team that specifically needed him to do everything all the time his rookie year. If he’d been drafted by the champion Boston Celtics, would he have settled into his third option role at first, like he did as a freshman at North Carolina? Probably. And he probably would have worked his way back to the head of the class just like he did then.

My other problem with this read of the Jordan quote by Henry Abbott is how much denigration he interprets. I don’t see Michael making fun of LeBron at all. I don’t see the word “kid” as an automatic put down. If Jerry West had said the exact same thing would anyone read such negativity into it. I doubt it.

Kobe, if you don't do it my way, it don't count!

There’s something about Michael Jordan that makes even the most reasonable and rationale want to start mythologizing. People want his words to have a special meaning, and they will read it there for better or worse no matter what. Which doesn’t make sense. Michael was a determined competitor who amplified his considerable natural talent with intense hard work and an almost unmatched desire to win. That is all. He is not the basketball Dalai Lama. He is not a philosopher on the way of winning or a life coach to aspiring billionaires. He’s a guy selling shoes and running a middling NBA franchise. We cannot fabricate a way of basketball perfection by hanging on his every syllable, and nor should we demonize him for saying things that don’t grok with our notion of basketball purity. And no one, not Kobe, not Wade, not even LeBron can follow in his footsteps to recreate greatness. He climbed the mountain, and now he is the mountain. That path is long gone.

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One Response to “Jordan Speaks out on LeBron; People Overreact”

  1. Score Board Says:

    Next Knicks GM: Isiah Thomas?…

    I found your entry interesting to I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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