Thursday, September 24, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want, Part Two

When LeBron James left the court after the end of the Eastern Conference Finals, refusing to shake hands or even saying a word to the champion Orlando Magic, the first thing that came to mind was: this reminds me of Michael Jordan. In June, I wrote, "I think it's clear that if Michael Jordan was playing in today's game, his legendary competitiveness would be chalked up to thuggery and selfishness." Well, in the aftermath of Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech, I have to say, I was right.

ESPN's Rick Reilly, the posterboy of a dying style of sportswriting that once made the Sports Illustrated writer an icon, called Jordan's speech "tactless, egotistical and unbecoming." These also happen to be three of the qualities that made Michael Jordan the undisputed king of basketball. As Reilly points out in his own article, former Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach has said about Jordan, "This guy is a killer. He's a cold-blooded assassin. It's not enough for him to beat you. He wants you dead."

That's what it takes sometimes to be the greatest ever. Jordan never quit trying to win. He still doesn't want to quit, which is why he seemed so upset during his induction; going into the Hall signifies the end, and for the best competitor the game has ever known, there is no end.

But nobody wants to hear it. Jordan's speech was disgusting and disrespectful. The irony, of course, is that when Jordan was a player, the most common criticism slung his way was that he was too corporate, too fake. People wanted the real Jordan. Well, be careful for what you wish for. You were given to real MJ, and you rebelled against it.

Or did you? You see, this shouldn't have caught Mr. Reilly off guard. In an SI column in June of 1993, Reilly wrote, "Whatever searing obsession is inside Jordan driving him to be the most dauntless basketball player on earth, does not suddenly leak out of his Nikes when he leaves the court." Seems as if Reilly has gotten old, as he is doing the same thing with Tiger Woods.

Don't get mad at Jordan, Woods or James for not being able to shut off the valve of competitiveness that got them where they are today. The best of the best are wired differently. It's a trait that is applauded when they are athletes but shunned in real life, as Reilly has properly demonstrated. So don't be surprised when after asking year after year for athletes to come out of their shell, you find that their real self is less than socially acceptable. It usually is for people with losing mentalities.


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