A Revealing Look At The Real MJ
Wednesday - September 23, 2009
Byron Russell heard the challenge and didn’t back down.
“I’ll play his a** right now,” said the the former Jazz guard. Michael Jordan had just called him out in front of the world and if MJ has some baggy half-pants to pull up, free time and a few extra frequent flier miles, Russell will be there to settle the decade-old score. And maybe do some pushing off of his own.
The commentary following the NBA Hall of Fame induction speeches came rushing in like Charles Barkley on a buffet table. As did the Internet searches seeking out the identity of Jordan’s date for the evening. For the record, it was Cuban model Yvette Prieto. It’s nice to see that Michael, though older and quite a few pounds heavier, can still score. Perhaps that’s something Russell should consider.
Jordan upset many more than just those he spoke about or alluded to during his overly long comments. He was disrespectful, rude and arrogant, said the critics. I was excited. I hadn’t been so happy to hit YouTube since the Jessica Simpson slo-mo threat went into heavy rotation. So I watched it. Then I watched it again. A third time proved necessary. What was I missing? Am I just thick? Was I missing the subtleties of quality one-upsmanship or had the several attempts to find an unedited version of the ceremony clouded my judgment?
Nope. Jordan’s speech may have been clumsy and even a little unsettling at times, but mostly he was just trying to be funny and, in his own way, thank those who helped him achieve greatness.
Sometimes he was successful, other times he missed the mark. It was one time when it can be safely said Michael Jordan is no John Stockton. But his address, whether good or bad, provided a revealing look at the person behind the carefully crafted image that we’ve been force-fed for 25 years.
Michael Jordan is a competitor driven by the need to succeed with the willingness to run over anyone standing between him and competitive perfection. The best example of this came during his semi-comical, semi-critical commentary about Jeff Van Gundy, who once, said Jordan conned players by befriending them, then attacking them on the court. However it was meant by the leg-snipping former Knicks’ coach, Van Gundy’s comments offered a fair assessment of Jordan’s personality. MJ can be gracious and vindictive. His charisma drew hordes of admirers while his insatiable need for success could be difficult to deal with, even for team-mates. Recalling a conversation with former Bulls assistant Tex Winter, Jordan said, “There is no I in team, but there is an I in win.” Everyone knew Jordan was the “I.” The “you” was all those who motivated him through action real and imagined. This was the answer to his question, “What is it about me that you guys don’t know?”
Jordan took on the faceless, defenseless and unattributed members of the media who lined up to criticize his every move. MJ claimed he was motivated by those who said, “A scoring champion can’t win a title,” even though George Mikan made a regular habit of it five decades ago and Joe Fulks did the same in the league’s first year.
Further adventures into the motivational mind of Michael Jordan revealed his need to outperform his high school teammate Leroy Smith, who was chosen over Jordan to join the varsity team at his high school. Jordan kept the long-told fabrication alive about being cut from his high school team when, in truth, Smith was picked over Jordan because he was taller. Jordan continued to dominate the jayvees.
His college coach riled his competitive nature by not putting him on the Sports Illustrated cover as a freshman with the Tarheels’other four starters. So did his college roommate, Buzz Peterson, the state’s player of the year. Jordan said Peterson became a “dot on my board” because, “He ain’t never played against me yet.”
Dean Smith, Phil Jackson, Jerry Reinsdorf, Doug Collins and John Starks of double-nickel fame, all became humorous victims in Jordan’s treadmill of confessed motivational figures. One thank you, however, fell unnervingly flat.
Jordan discussed the famed 1985 All-Star Game where it was rumored that some veteran players, led by Isiah Thomas, tried to limit his touches. Though he thanked Thomas, Magic Johnson and George Gervin for inspiring him, his recollection of the day was a mixture of tribute and suggestive historical correction.
“They say it was a so-called freeze-out in my rookie season. I would have never guessed, but you guys gave me the motivation to say, ‘You know what, evidently I haven’t proved enough to these guys,’” he said.
The one place where the criticism of Jordan is warranted was in the inclusion of his longtime public adversary, former Chicago general manager Jerry Krause. “He’s not here. I don’t know who invited him. I didn’t,” said Jordan.
He tried to explain their difference by saying they were both very competitive and that often strong wills clash. But like his All-Star explanation, his need for control left what he seemed to think of as a fond look back appear strangely vindictive. “He (Krause) said organizations win championships, but I didn’t see organizations playing with flu in Utah. I didn’t seem them playing with a bad ankle. Granted, organizations put together teams, but at the end of the day the team has to go out and play ... Don’t put the organization ahead of the players because the players still have to perform.”
Anyone looking for kindly fond farewell from Jordan had little understanding of the real person. Had he been more polished in his address, his final public performance might have been received with no trace of scandal. But then we would have missed perhaps our last chance to really get to know the man behind the mask.
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