As a teenager, my brother got us tickets to a Washington Wizards game. The only memory that remains is of a player at the free throw line wearing a tucked-in t-shirt and pants up to his waist. They weren’t baggy. He stood out among the loose-fit warmup-wearing ballers. His appearance reminded me of a nerd. I was a teenager.
Before any joke cracked about this player at the free throw line, I realized who it was and I didn’t dare. It was Michael Jordan; the player my brother paid for me to see. The icon above all icons. In that moment, teenage me decided tucking a t-shirt into waist-high pants was a good idea. Yes, this nerdy look must be the best way to warm-up. If the actions of the Basketball God declared it, then it must be so.
That experience – in a microcosm – shows enough explanation why LeBron James’ comparison to Jordan is a ghost chase.
When Jordan played on television, it stopped traffic. No matter the crowd or event, someone turned on the tube. We watched in awe, we watched in amazement and as we watched, we fell in love.
*There are New York Knicks fans who will disagree with that assessment
For those with no vested interest in a specific team Jordan laid to waste, it was the only thing worth watching. His captivating play combined with several other factors to create an image untouchable for those in pursuit.
He came at a time when the public had just seen Larry Bird and Magic Johnson tussle for the world’s greatest player award. Arguments abound, someone could choose Magic or Bird. Neither could be proven wrong. Once Jordan’s dominance began, no argument held water.
He stepped into a wider TV market than stars before. Jordan capitalized with Hanes, McDonalds, Gatorade and Nike endorsements. Those commercials – at that time – made him larger than life. Now, endorsements are worth grains of salt. Then, to see MJ drink Gatorade was to need, not want, to be like Mike.
He became a sympathetic figure when his father was murdered. Despite gambling debt rumors and womanizing tales, Jordan still could do little wrong in the eyes of the American public.
There’s a fat chance that would be the case today. James’ worst decision was a televised decision on where to play basketball. The program was a publicity stunt gone wrong, and it sent people in an overreacted rage. Jordan’s success came at the right time, his polarizing image stood unmarked to most folks. Then, we didn’t root for him to fail – aside from Knicks fans – we united with his success.
What happens now is further perpetuation. We laugh at his lack of fashion sense and his buffoonery in Charlotte’s front office. However, at the end of the day we still know he was the best there was, is and ever will be.
The last time we witnessed Jordan on the court, he was a 40-year old man playing a young man’s game better than most young men played it. Some scoff at his final comeback as his career’s least valuable mentions. To me, it’s one of the most impressive.
That was 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve seen him make the same game-winning shots thousands of times. The way we see it now, Jordan never lost a game and never missed a shot. He didn’t take plays off and (almost) never let anyone get the best of him. His career is etched so deeply and large that it might as well be the stone itself.
When others try to etch their own legacy, Jordan’s trademark on the slate overwhelms their accomplishments.
Once a god on the court, MJ is now an god in the sport’s heavens. His number is retired where LeBron plays his home games, despite never playing for Miami. That’s about as firm a reminder as we need.
After the dust cleared on Jordan’s career, he became so much larger than the sport and the players who play it. There will not be another Michael Jordan. There will not be another LeBron James. The two dots will wander through the universe forever to be distant.
As they are different, we realize that Jordan is too big to be bothered with comparison. We can write off every great player with one simple saying, “They aren’t Jordan.”
There is sadness in that. Yet, there is also happiness that we got to see him lace up his golden shoes and do what only he could do on the grandest stage. Night in and night out, we saw greatness in its purest sport form. Is it fair that the greatness is the universe of which all things must exist? Of course not.
I guess there are some reasons why LeBron can be better than Jordan; it’s just hard for me to see. Because I saw the best, and I saw him shoot free throws with his shirt tucked in to waist-high pants.
I saw him do it because he was Michael Jordan and he could do anything he damn well pleased on a court. To this day, I don’t question his pregame attire. Just like no one dares ask a question about his playing career.
Just as Poseidon was the God of the Sea and Ares the God of War, Jordan is our God of Basketball. You just don’t overtake a guy like that.