Don’t be like Mike

Jordan may be the greatest basketball player of all time, but as a role model, he's an airball.

Topics: Basketball, Baseball,

Don't be like Mike

Washington, and the rest of the world, can’t wait to see Michael Jordan play competitive basketball again, but his return doesn’t come without misgivings. Some critics have worried publicly that Jordan — a step slower, a bit older — may sully his legendary career, ended so spectacularly with that last shot against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA finals.

What worries me, however, is the coronation of the public Michael Jordan, and the “be like Mike” mantra that will soon reemerge. I propose that we pause a moment, before the revisionist history becomes biblical dogma, to consider a few reasons not to deify the man.

Failed franchise manager Jordan’s return to the Wizards has to be at least partly motivated by a desire to get out of the responsibilities he sought as president of basketball operations for the Wizards, and at which he has done a less-than-spectacular job. Because he has to sell his ownership stake in the team, and yield his management role to make his (second) comeback, Jordan will have a ready excuse to abandon the Wizards and Washington area altogether when he re-re-retires. Those who think he is hanging around Washington after he stops playing this time are the same people still holding their positions with iVillage.com.

Manipulative marketer When he retired the first time, Jordan requested that his jersey No. 23 never be used again. So, when he first came back, he used No. 45, and of course millions of kids — some of them from poor families, it must be said — begged their parents to buy them the new jersey. Then Jordan went and changed his mind and asked the Bulls to un-retire No. 23. Some suggest this was a giant marketing ploy to generate sales of the No. 45 jersey that nobody had owned until he started wearing it. Whatever the case, and no matter what number he wears for the Wizards, a whole new marketing opportunity now exists for Washington jerseys and related paraphernalia.

Spiteful egoist Jordan’s minor league baseball league venture was little more than a glorified, one-man fantasy league farce. Nevertheless, it went largely unchallenged by the same sports media that scoffed when Ed “Too Tall” Jones tried to box after his football career ended. Jordan wasted a lot of people’s money, time and attention to satisfy a personal curiosity that almost no other person with middling high school baseball chops would be able to even attempt. It’s hard to imagine his move to baseball was not motivated in part by a spiteful, thumb-in-your-eye desire to prove to Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf that the Bulls could not win without him. They couldn’t, of course, but what an elaborate scheme he dreamt up just to prove it.



Media intimidator When Jordan returned to basketball from his baseball fantasy camp, he promptly blackballed Sports Illustrated for its “Give it Up, Michael” cover. The image had given us Jordan striking out — literally and metaphorically — as a Birmingham Baron, but this is the same magazine that put Jordan on its cover more than any other athlete. Many otherwise fearless sportswriters took note of the rebuke, and the flattery they deliver Jordan is ceaseless.

Pretentious brat Jordan dressed in his own private section of the Bulls locker room, separate even from his own teammates. Though the NBA requires that locker rooms be open for 45 minutes before each game, he rarely allowed reporters to interview him during this time. Granted, Jordan has a hard time guarding his privacy. But his insistence on being treated with a double standard came up again and again over the years. Is it any wonder the other players wouldn’t pass him the ball in the NBA All-Star games during his early seasons?

Greedy — but failed — union breaker In the mid-’90s, Jordan, Patrick Ewing and several other clients of high-profile agent David Falk tried to break up the NBA players’ union. The union had been created decades earlier by Bob Cousy and other legendary players of that generation, and had Jordan succeeded, many of the provisions protecting the vast majority of players (including pensions and salary minimums) might have disappeared.

Corporate shill According to Fortune magazine, Jordan’s endorsements constitute the greatest assemblage of sports sponsorships ever. But Jordan has shown little concern about the social implications of his sponsorships. He hardly batted an eye at the accusations of wage, labor and health abuses by Jordan-sponsor Nike in its treatment of employees in Southeast Asia.

Political and race compromiser Former Charlotte, N.C., mayor Harvey Gantt, an African-American, twice ran and lost U.S. Senate challenges to unseat Jesse Helms. When approached by Gantt’s campaign for an endorsement, Jordan replied dismissively, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

He’s no Ali Through the fawning of reporters like fellow North Carolina alum Stuart Scott (motto: I’m the new Ahmad Rashad!), ESPN anointed Jordan the greatest athlete of the 20th century. But Jordan’s contribution simply doesn’t compare with that of Muhammad Ali. Both athletes exhibited personal athletic greatness, and advanced their respective sports. But the societal impact of Ali’s career and life dwarfs Jordan’s. Faced with moral dilemmas that challenge his career or lifestyle, Jordan invariably balks. Ali gave up his heavyweight title belt for five years, lost uncounted millions, damaged his standing in the sport and with the greater public and even risked imprisonment for his refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War.

Michael Jordan is certainly the greatest and most exciting team athlete of all time. He has given money and time to a number of charitable causes. But he is simply not a role model, and he should not be treated as such. Skeptical? Try this interesting experiment: Imagine for a moment that the above points came from Allen Iverson’s résumé.

Whoa! Sports media snobs would never stop ranting about Iverson’s immaturity and selfishness. But Michael Jordan, with his clean, corporate image and Cheshire cat smile, gets a free pass. And all because he has the sweetest fadeaway jumper and mid-air acrobatics of all time. We can enjoy his basketball prowess, and we can even root for him. But let’s not be like Mike.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>