On the court Michael Jordan was the model of perfection, and his reputation looms larger with each passing season. It seems that every time the basketball population tries to move past MJ by crowning a newcomer as the second coming (Grant Hill, Vince, Kobe, LeBron, and the list goes on), the deeper we actually dive into our own love and appreciation for Michael himself. As each passing player fails to live up to the legend of Jordan (although Kobe provides the closest impersonation possible), it becomes increasingly clear that the crown wasn’t crafted for anyone else’s dome. Michael can’t be replaced in the collective mind of basketball fans, especially for those lucky enough to have a memory bank full of turn-arounds and tomahawks courtesy of #23. Hell even the video game market’s leading basketball simulation, NBA 2k11, ditched the annual ‘current superstar cover’, opting instead to have Michael, who never appeared in video games in his own time, grace the game’s cover (Michael Jordan NBA 2k11 cover). The game should expect enormous sales, as it is largely assumed that a Michael cover will soundly outsell a game featuring the likeness of any current superstar on the cover, and therein lies the problem.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating a legend, especially one as universally admired and accepted as Michael, but such celebration should not be at the expense of the current cast of stars, and quite frankly (what I’m about to write feels a lot like blasphemy) the majority of Michael’s moves since his sixth-ring clinching shot over Russell certainly don’t seem worthy of much celebration. Unfortunately, the majority of my recent memories of Michael consist of misjudgment and mismanagement. Now, in no way do these new memories overshadow or undermine that permanent picture of basketball perfection that Michael has painted in my mind, but as his playing days fall further into the rearview, is it becoming easier to separate the man from the myth.
Michael’s second retirement seemed so suiting; gracefully bowing out at the top of the sport he helped revolutionize. A storybook ending to a storybook career. Or so we thought. The truth is, nothing MJ has done since “the shot” has been graceful. His questionable comeback (he never looked right in a Wizards jersey) and mismanagement (Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison anyone?) aside, it has been his outlook and demeanor towards the game that has been so damaging in my eyes. Michael’s accolades and accomplishments have pushed him to extreme icon status, as his word is accepted by most as basketball gospel. However, rather than using this power to promote the future of the game and its capable cast of current superstars, he instead uses the forum to consistently remind the basketball audience of his own abilities at the expense of both past and present players. From his biting hall of fame speech, which left everyone with the impression that life as the best retired basketball player in the world may not be all it’s cracked up to be, to his recent comments about LeBron’s decision to head to South Beach, there certainly seems to be a lot of bitterness coming from the ex-Bull.
Michael’s status aside, nobody likes a cranky, holier-than-thou, ex-superstar, especially the type that touts their era as the best, indirectly besmirching the current crop. Many label such comments as “competitive drive,” but there is nothing competitive about a 47 year old man casting stones at the decisions made by the current players, especially when the comments were blatantly made to solidify his own success. Maybe the hype around LeBron and the assembly of Miami’s big three has made Michael insecure in his own legacy, which, as he has made abundantly clear, is the most prominent piece of his own life, and thus feels the need to comment for self-security. However, thanks to almost two decades of unparalleled excellence on the court, Michael’s legacy is as solid as any under the sun, and as he has already begun to prove, the only man who can damage that legacy, is Michael himself.