With the end of ESPN’s The Last Dance, the spotlight has been put on the greatest basketball player of all time once again. No, not Brian Scalabrine, but Michael Jordan. If you got the joke, you’re awesome, and if you didn’t, do research on why it’s a great joke. Still, the 10-part documentary shed new light on Jordan during his final season on the Chicago Bulls.
This got me thinking about some of his famous moments during his time with the Bulls and even while in college at North Carolina. You will not see any famous moments during his time with the Washington Wizards because every basketball fan should pretend those two seasons were a collective fever dream and never happened.
Some players just look right in a certain jersey and Jordan looked right in a Bulls jersey. MJ gave us some great basketball moments and made me a basketball fan, as did the Shaq-led Orlando Magic, but you’ve read that story. Hopefully.
My earliest memory of Michael Jordan was the 1993 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. I was six and wasn’t allowed to stay up past a certain time, even in the summer, but I watched what I could of that series. During that same period, I was taking swimming lessons, a weird way to remember my earliest Jordan years. I was enthralled while watching Jordan play the game, and amazed how he destroyed the Suns that year.
Of course I know a lot more about that now, but that is the first time I remember hearing about how great Jordan was.
Then he retired and instead of becoming a Bulls fan like most people my age, I went to the Orlando Magic because of Shaq pulling down entire backboards.
However, I do remember Jordan’s baseball stint and not really understanding why he went to baseball. Then Space Jam came out, along with his return to professional basketball. That was a great few months for young me.
Seeing him wear 45 for those few weeks when he returned was weird and never quite right, but within a short amount of time, Jordan was able to get back to his basketball greatness and drop 55 on the Knicks.
It was in those playoffs, against my beloved Magic, I rooted against the greatest basketball player of all time. I was happy to see Jordan lose to the Magic, but I had no idea how much drive that would give him for the next season.
Jordan led the Bulls to 72 wins that next year. (Never mind the fact there were two expansion teams that year with no talent, and some of the teams were really, really bad.) Jordan and the Magic met again in the playoffs and he routed my team. Years later I found out Magic player Nick Anderson talked some trash in Jordan’s return year that helped to motivate a guy that used any slight to push himself.
Even in the 1996 finals, I found myself pulling for Shawn Kemp and the Seattle Supersonics because I loved their jerseys. Dumb reason but hey, I wasn’t even 10 years old yet.
It was that 1997 season where I began to appreciate Michael Jordan. I had players I liked on the Bulls for years, like Horace Grant, and I loved Scottie Pippen, but I didn’t click on Jordan until I was 10.
I appreciated his game more, his ability to control nearly everything on the court and his clutch gene. Flash forward to his last game as a Bull, game 6 of the 1998 finals, he pushes off of Byron Russell and hits his best shot. No one should care he pushed off because that was his moment and how his career should have ended.
Then he hurt some of his legacy with the failed stint in Washington and tanked Kwame Brown’s career by being his hard self in practice.
Yet we still love MJ. I haven’t brought myself to watch The Last Dance and I don’t know if I could. I’ve read about every Jordan-related book out there, but watching this show? It feels like it would be closing the door in some manner.
I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I continue to love Jordan, despite knowing how much of a tough teammate he was in practice, his gambling addiction that may or may not have been the real reason for his baseball journey and how he resents so many people years later.
I’m convinced if Jordan had been around in today’s game like LeBron James, he wouldn’t be looked at as fondly. The practice stories would blow up social media. His gambling problem may have been on the front page of those tabloid papers in the grocery stores.
In some ways, I’m glad guys like Michael Jordan played in the pre-social media age. It allowed us to appreciate their game without hearing how bad a person they were. We had books about them where the message was controlled, an exception being, The Jordan Rules, one of the first to peel back the curtain on how ruthless Jordan was.
Still, we got to love him for basketball and not the person he was. This is why it’s hard for anyone else to take up his mantle as “the best.” We are too intrusive as a society now. We see more flaws in our sports heroes and are quick to toss aside fandom because we don’t like how they wanted to play with their friends.
Jordan wanted to win like Bill Russell wanted to win and how even LeBron wants to win despite taking “the easy way” to it. One superstar, however, never won a championship. They always needed a second or third banana. Jordan needed Pippen, Grant, Rodman and even role players like Ron Harper and Steve Kerr.
Regardless, Jordan came along at the perfect time and became the superstar that future generations needed for basketball worldwide. Without him, who knows, I might feel the love for baseball instead.