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.”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.