Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Michael Jordan

The Second City takes top billing this weekend, as the staff here at will be hitting up the great city of Chicago for my buddy Foley's stag. It promises to be one of those legendary, debauchery-filled weekends with a game plan that includes blues bars and bleacher seats, and a roll-call of attendees that reads like a murderer's row of noteworthy dotcomrades.

To honour all that the City of Chicago has to offer, we'll be paying tribute to a different famous son (of which there are almost too many to count) everyday here on the blog.

There are simply no words to describe the way Michael Jordan played the game of basketball. I know this first hand, because I've been staring at my computer screen for two hours trying to find somewhere to begin.

Before he arrived in the NBA, in 1984, nobody had ever dreamed of playing the game of basketball the way he did. Ever since, that's all anybody has ever done. But nobody has come close.

I find it utterly laughable when people compare any one of a number of the players of today to the player that Michael Jordan was. How ridiculous does it sound when you think back to the time (a mere 8 years ago) when people were openly wondering whether Vince Carter was the next Michael Jordan? (I'm telling you, somebody is going to come across that last sentance one day and think that I'm on crack for writing it, but it's true. People were actually comparing Vince Carter to Michael Jordan!)

Even up until game 4 of the 2008 NBA finals, people were openly wondering whether or not Kobe Bryant (Kobe Bryant?) was at the same level as His Airness. Luckily for everyone involved, however, Kobe's team went on to blow a 24-point lead in a pivotal finals game (something that MJ, in a trillion kajillion years, would NEVER let happen to one of his teams), thereby saving everyone the embarassment of perpetuating one of the most absurd sporting "debates" in the history of mankind.

Because the fact is: there will never be another Michael Jordan. He was a once in a lifetime talent. Not only was he the most explosive and gracefully gifted scorer the game has ever seen (to this day, I continue to be awestruck by his dunk off of Pippen's missed free throw), but he was also the best defender of his generation. The awards he recieved in his playing days - Rookie of the Year; Five-time NBA MVP; Six-time NBA champion; Six-time NBA Finals MVP; Ten-time All-NBA First Team; Nine time NBA All-Defensive First Team; Defensive Player of the Year; 14-time NBA All-Star; Three-time NBA All-Star MVP; 50th Anniversary All-Time Team; Ten scoring titles - don't even begin to do him justice as a player. Because what couldn't be quantified about Michael Jordan was how badly he wanted to win.

There's a great story about MJ's competitive streak (and his love for gambling) that I'll quote from one of the Sports Guy's pieces:

Back before NBA teams had grasped the rejuvenating power of chartered airplanes, the Bulls were waiting for their luggage in Portland when Jordan slapped a hunny on the conveyor belt: I bet you my bags come out first. Jumping on the incredibly favorable odds, nine teammates happily accepted the wager. Sure enough, Jordan's bags led the rollout. He cackled with delight as he collected everyone's money.

What none of the suckers knew, and what MJ presumably never told them, was that he had bribed a baggage handler to help him out. He didn't pocket much (a few hundred bucks), and considering his net worth hovered around nine figures at the time, it's safe to say he didn't need the extra cash. But that didn't matter. There was a chance at an easy score, and he took it.

No sport has ever seen a competitor like Michael Jordan. He was blessed/cursed with a level of competitiveness that couldn't even begin to be described, let alone measured or matched. He took that aforementioned money from his teammates because he wanted to beat them, and because he wanted to emphatically reinforce that he was and always would be unbeatable, in whatever they wanted to compete in. And he was the same way on the court.

From the beginning of his career (hitting the game winning shot as a freshman in the 1982 NCAA Championship Game), MJ was a cold-blooded killer on the court, relishing the opportunity of ripping his opposition's heart out (exhibit A: this dunk over Patrick Ewing). A Michael Jordan led team was almost impossible to beat in the playoffs becuase he simply wouldn't let it happen. And when he decided that he was taking over a game, there was simply no stopping him.

Perhaps the best examples of his desire to utterly dominate were in 1993 and 1997, when the media essentially grew sick of awarding Jordan the regular season MVP (he very obviously deserved it both years), and instead handed the award to Charles Barkley ('93) and Karl Malone ('97). In both years, Jordan wound up meeting the regular season MVPs in the finals, and in both cases, Jordan absolutely eviscerated the so-called MVPs and their teams (averaging 41.0 ppg in '93; the game winner and the "flu game" in 1997).

In all of my years of watching sports, I have never seen an athlete dominate the way Michael Jordan did while playing for the Chicago Bulls. And to be honest, I don't think I'll live to see anyone ever come close.

PS - I spent hours watching countless MJ YouTube clips, and there doesn't seem to be a definitive montage of the best Jordan highlights (at least not with the accompanying play-by-play calls and crowd reaction that I consider to be essential). Somebody definitely needs to get on this. In the meantime, feel free to click on the hyperlinked text, as you will be treated to a variety of highlight segments that are only the tip of the iceberg where Jordan's career is concerned.)

PPS - To read about the one time you didn't want to be like Mike, click HERE and scroll down to "The Best Random Celebrity Moment Ever".

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