Michael Jordan’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend got me thinking about my opinions on the former Chicago Bulls star for the first time since he completed his second “three-peat” (© Pat Riley) of NBA championships some 11 years ago.
See, while the world swooned at the clutch shooting, acrobatic dunks, smothering defence and unmatchable will to win of Number 23 through the nineties, I continually struggled to warm to the man who can quite rightfully claim to be among the greatest basketball player in the history of the game.
Watching Jordan give his acceptance speech in Springfield and take time to throw in a few (justified) barbs at Jerry Krause and jokingly chide the ticket prices for the ceremony, I couldn’t help but think there was a better time and place to settle scores and bitch about money. This was supposed to be a celebration, a career-encapsulating honour, yet Jordan still felt compelled to take petty pot-shots. And it reminded me why I could never root for the man, even at the peak of his playing powers.
From my perspective, Jordan was a typically American icon. A born winner, an alpha male, the ultimate competitor. Mike’s presence in the NBA finals guaranteed record-breaking TV ratings and massive revenue from advertisers. America loves a winner so it tuned in again and again to watch the Bulls demolish the Lakers, the Blazers, the Sonics and the Jazz from 1991 until 1998.
Jordan and the Bulls became the ultimate team for the glory hunters. The team you could support knowing you’d be satisfied at the end of the season. These days you only have to look at the way Red Sox fans outnumber home fans in baseball’s smaller markets like Kansas City and Oakland to see this trend is alive and well in the States.
But while America loves a winner, Britain loves an underdog. Rather than cheer for the predictable outcome of a Bulls victory, I wanted to see their opponents do the impossible and defeat Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and coach Phil Jackson. Surely Payton and Kemp or Stockton and Malone overcoming Jordan’s brilliance and dominance would linger longer in the mind than watching another Bulls triumph? Was there any real victory in a team led by one of the greatest ever players asserting their superiority over an eminently conquerable foe?
Let me say again, Jordan was a superb player accurately rated as one of the best of all time.
But he was so much better than his rivals that, for me, there was precious little entertainment in watching him achieve what he did. He was born to win, he trained to win, he was supposed to win, he did win. Six times in eight years. And then he was gone.
So, I said it. And remember, it’s on me. As a Brit, I’ve been bought up to love the underdog and dream of the unthinkable upset. For this reason, Jordan has to join Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer and Sir Alex Ferguson on my Mount Rushmore of sporting greats whose utter dominance meant I could never truly love them.