Friday, September 11, 2009

His Airness?

I had mixed emotions tonight watching Michael Jordan's induction into the basketball hall of fame.

I loved—LOVED—Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls when I was a kid. I mean, devotion like I've given few things in my life. It was Michael Jordan who first turned me on to basketball, who first got me seriously interested in sports (even more so than the Redskins, if you can believe that). I was just 9 years old, as far as I can recall, and had no reason to root for him other than he was greatness personified (and, I'm proud to say, my fandom began before he started winning championships—I suffered through those Pistons playoff series). With his induction, I'm sure you can go any number of places on the Internet and find gushing praise of his prowess, so I'll spare you here.

In the years since his retirement (from the Wizards, you may recall, not the Bulls—the coda to his career conveniently forgotten by the video montage tonight), my devotion to Jordan hasn't just waned, it's all but disappeared. Now the stories about his ruthlessness—as both an opponent and a teammate—I ignored as a child strike a different chord. The sordid details of his messy divorce hold greater meaning than the championship trophies.

But seeing those highlights, I was swept up all over again in those beaming childhood memories. He was amazing, wasn't he? I've seen those clips literally hundreds of times—many of them I witnessed live (on TV, of course). They still give me goosebumps.

Those are fantasy. Michael Jordan the Reality was in full view tonight during his acceptance speech. A man obsessed with competition—winning, more specifically. As the glow of his athletic accomplishments fades from present day into history, the unsavory aspects of Jordan's personality shine brighter, and the glare is harsh.

I don't know Michael Jordan personally. Maybe he was just nervous. But he came off like a jerk tonight. A bitter former shorts-clad god who still holds grudges. He aired old grievances (here's lookin' at you, Jerry Krause), ripped former opponents (hello, Bryon Russell), and ridiculed ex-teammates in justifying a lifetime spent destroying every obstacle in his path. I would not want to be Michael Jordan's friend. I wonder how many he really has. He only mentioned a few, and only in passing (Scottie Pippen, Dean Smith, Phil Jackson—sorry, Charles, even though you're sitting right down front, no shout out from MJ).

He did make me laugh a few times. Of course he did. Jordan didn't become a global icon just because he could play ball—he's a charmer. But he's not nearly as personable anymore away from the dazzling dunks and game-winning shots.

So, in the end, tonight's induction of the greatest basketball player of my lifetime left me pondering a question I don't know if I'll ever be able to answer: How do you make the most out of what God gives you and still make room for God in your life? Whether he knows it or not, Michael Jordan was a blessed man. And he took what God gave him and made the absolute most of it—perhaps more than any other basketball player who's ever lived. Because as amazing as Jordan was physically, he may have been even more impressive mentally; his devotion to his craft was unparalleled, and that's what made him great. That's what he talked about tonight—the "competitive fire."

But at what point does making the most of what God's given you become contrary to His divine purpose for your life? How do you find the line between wasting your God-given abilities and allowing them to become your god? Did Michael Jordan's six championship titles cost him too much? Should I be doing more with my life than sitting here on a Friday night tapping away at a keyboard?

I have no idea.

But I do know Michael Jordan did not come across as His Airness tonight, the man who inspired millions and millions of kids just like me by floating high above the hardwood. Never has he seemed more stuck in the ground—a bitter middle-aged man looking for something, anything to fill his life the way basketball used to. It was a sad thing to watch, really.

So I guess he's inspired me again. In 16 years, when I reach his current age, I don't want to be like Mike.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Very poignant analysis. Your honesty is thought provoking. I find my self caught somewhere between pity and disgust when I see men like Jordan wallowing in his current life stage. And then I notice the log in my own eye and I find myself asking the same question you shared so perfectly. Am I doing enough? Thanks for this piece.