Michael Jordan – The Rum Diaries

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It’s time for another tequila post, but I haven’t had any tequila. Tonight my lovely wife and I went to a Japanese joint, and I indulged in something called a “Zombie.” Sippin’ on rum and juice, laid back, with my mind on my bloggin’ and my bloggin’ on my mind.

I’ve been listening to ESPN’s NBA Today podcast lately. It’s a pretty good, if wildly inconsistent, show. Henry Abbott is on Fridays, and he’s always interesting. And Tim Legler co-stars on Wednesdays. Legs is actually the money participant. He brings a unique view, the type of knowledge and enthusiasm that only an NBA veteran who had to claw his way into the league through the back door (and as such remained acutely cognizant of all the subtleties of his situation) could use to examine the game.

In this Wednesday’s ‘cast he was giving his take on Steve Nash’s back-to-back MVPs, basically stating that while Steve’s a great point guard, history may be a little skewed by showing him among the repeating MVPs alongside Russ, MJ, Bird, LeBron, Magic, Wilt, and Kareem. But, fearful of twitter attacks from Suns fans, Legs explained that he loved Nash’s game and that Steve was one of the five players in league history that he would have most liked to play alongside. The other players he mentioned were Magic, because Magic gets you open looks, Duncan because Duncan plays that defense behind you, and Jordan because Jordan gets you titles. Legler said, “MJ’s the Jeweler, cause he puts rings on fingers.”

Never had a doubt.

The Jeweler. That got me thinkin’. Strange things, subtle “vet that scratched and clawed his way into the league” statements get me thinkin’. And I remembered something my uncle who played a little summer-pro ball, said on the subject of MJ. Unk knows ball. Unk has seen everyone from Wilt to Half-Lin, Half-Lintastic. His favorites are, in no particular order, Wilt, Oscar, Bird, Doc, and MJ (good team!), but he holds Michael ahead of the others as the GOAT without debate. I asked him why once. What sets Michael ahead of all those other guys, all those guys who have been the best at one time or another? His answer: Michael wins. That’s all. Michael will not lose. And what else needs to be said?

If you were there, you remember. Jordan inspired a faith that most demi-gods could only envy, a sort of fanaticism that was embedded in everyone, teammates, fans, opponents, broadcasters, hostile crowds… Everyone KNEW, not thought, not hoped, not believed, but absolutely KNEW that the Chicago Bulls would win because Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan.

That is why I have a jumpman logo tattooed to my shoulder. We all need something to believe in. Life is uncertain. We are children who learn that our parents are imperfect beings and the world is a fearsome and unpredictable place. We are adults who understand that the we are ourselves imperfect beings, and the razor’s edge of loss is trawling beneath us all the time like an implacable shadow, Jaws with a pink slip, an eviction notice, a breakup letter, a doctor’s note. Nothing is promised. Nothing is definite. Except Michael. That hyper-competitive nature that people like to pick apart today. The undeniable need to crush opposition that led his hall of fame speech from the magnanimous into the infamous. That nearly sociological need to win at all costs… that was definite. I miss that.

I’m watching the Celtics struggle against today’s Bulls right now, and I’m reminded of that faith that I’ve never known before or since. I’ve held out hope for my Celts the last few years, but I’ve never had the faith. I was almost arrogant in my place as a fan of Jordan’s Bulls. Down one game to none against LA, and we lost homecourt advantage? We’ve got Michael Jordan! Drexler is the next best thing? PLEASE! We’ve got Michael Jordan! The Jazz have home court advantage this year, and Pippen is hurt? May the gods have mercy on your Mormon souls. Home court is nothing to us, for we have Michael F’n Jordan at our backs, and we cannot be defeated. Michael didn’t garner the casual sportsfan’s attention with his superlative athletic feats. He took hold of us all, diehards and part-timers alike, because of his reliability. The Bulls are on tonight. Put on WGN. We can watch Greatness unfold again.

There are stats, so many stats, that say that Jordan is the best ever. There are anecdotes, moments, acts of undeniable clutchness that are seared into our minds that say that Jordan is the best ever. There are the testimonies of players and coaches who lived through it all, that to a man will say that Michael Jordan is the best they’ve ever seen.

But it’s faith that made us watch and faith that tells us that we haven’t seen him eclipsed yet. We might fear Kobe on any given night. We might marvel at LeBron, appreciate Tim Duncan, and cheer on Kevin Durant, but we don’t KNOW that they will overcome. They don’t inspire faith.

It’s ironic that Phil Knight named his shoe label “Nike”, which is the Greek word for “victory.” He hired Michael Jordan to be the face of his “victory”, and MJ outgrew him and created a label of his own. Michael Jordan named his brand “Jordan”, which is the basketball word for “invincible.” We all had faith in Michael Jordan, like Myamoto Musashi, invincible under the sun. I miss that.

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6 Responses to “Michael Jordan – The Rum Diaries”

  1. High Above Courtside Says:

    I’m guessing your uncle must not have seen Bill Russell play. If his criteria for judging GOAT was winning, well…………….

    • jpalumbo Says:

      He did indeed, and had the highest respect for William Russell who won 21 of 21 elimination games in college, the olympics, and the pros. Of course like you he also remembers Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, Bailey Howell, John Havlicek, Satch Sanders, Tommy Heinson, KC Jones… When you got three Hall of Famers sitting through the opening tip because the league will only allow you to start five Hall of Famers in any one game, what threat do the Cincinnati Royals pose? That said I’m sure that Russell’s Celts inspired the Faith.

      Jason Palumbo

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. High Above Courtside Says:

    I just thought winning was winning. I didnt see anything about other factors, criterias, being involved in the sentence. And not even mentioning Russell was curious.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      Yeah, well I don’t know if you’ve drunk a zombie before, but it’s a testament to my 4th grade English teacher that I could compose sentences at all last night. Leaving out Russ was definitely an error. I’m sure listening to Johnny Most calling a Boston game gave the same sense of invincibility.

      Jason Palumbo

      Sent from my iPhone

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    I used to have that faith in Tom Brady, too, but inevitably it was shaken over the years. The simple truth is that you need one part talent and about ten parts luck to win even one championship, much less seem invincible in the playoffs over several years.

    We all had faith in Jordan because, from 1991 onward, he won 25 out of 26 series. If the 90s Bulls started another series tomorrow, we’d rediscover that old faith and “know” MJ would win.

    But who’s to say he would? Going 6/6 in the Finals is impressive; if each series is 50-50 there’s only a 2% chance you’d get 6 by luck alone. But there’s still that chance. Give MJ enough chances, and he’ll eventually fail, eventually prove our faith unfounded… just like Brady & every other athlete we ever wished was invincible.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      As Chuck always says, “Father Time is undefeated.”

      I think the thing about Mike was that luck was with him so often it seemed like he defied it. How many times did he carry the offense all game AND hit the final basket or make the assist in the playoffs? When a team strings together that many playoff series wins in a row, and one player is so clearly responsible for such a large portion of each win… When does luck become will?

      But of course he didn’t start his run of titles with that sort of luck. In 1989 and 1990 Chicago had basically the same team that won 3 in row from 91-93. But both of those seasons ended in the conference finals in games where Pippen was hurt (Laimbeer-induced concussion in game 6 of ’89 ECF and migraine in game 7 of ’90 ECF).

      Also if Brady was in a position to recover the fumbles the Giants made in both of those Superbowls, your faith might be stronger. The problem with only playing offense.

      Jason Palumbo

      Sent from my iPhone

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