Thursday, February 21, 2008

Michael Jordan Saves Black People From Themselves!

My new issue of ESPN – The Magazine arrived last week and I was jarred by the cover. Michael Jordan – the greatest athlete of our lifetime – looks old. His cheeks and jaw line are obviously softer, while the once piercing intensity of his eyes has been extinguished…replaced with the yellowing glaze of middle age mixed with nicotine.

Inside this issue, Jordan gives a first-person account on the state of the NBA. His is an odd opinion to seek out on this matter, since his last stint as an active player – with the Washington Wizards – was a fantastic disaster in no small part due to his failure to connect with younger, Hip Hop-centric teammates, opponents and fans.

Still, I'd probably have a lot less of a problem with this piece if Jordan had stayed on topic (the NBA), instead of trying to…well, you'll see. With apologies to FJM for the format theft…and, once again, Jordan is ostensibly the "author" of this article:

The NBA doesn't have an image problem.

It has young guys who have young ideas. Maturity comes later, and sometimes too late to realize you should've done this or you should've done that.

Last weekend's All-Star Game in New Orleans seems to have scared up all sorts of pro-NBA angles. And, whether it's from Michael Jordan or Bill Simmons or ESPN's other myriad of media tentacles, the obvious conflict-of-interest aspect can't be ignored. The league needs its signature brand (which could be either Jordan or ESPN on any given day) to sing the company line.

But, as long as the NBA is populated with large, tattooed Black guys in scary hairstyles, it'll always have "an image problem" with a large segment of the American population. Y'see, somewhere between Latrell Spreewell, Allen Iverson and Ron Artest is when every African-American in the league got painted with the ol' "thug" brush.

Kids shouldn't come out of school as early as they do. A year in college isn't enough. They shouldn't be allowed to come out until they are adults—21 years old.
Now, why shouldn't a black kid who isn't wealthy have a chance to provide for his family? That is an issue; I'm not walking away from that.

Check the article yourself, kids. Jordan walks away and doesn't offer up a solution. I don't pretend to have an answer, either, but I find it interesting that Major League Baseball has no qualms with sending a Spanish-speaking 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic to Rookie Ball in Idaho Falls (a city and state that I'd feel uncomfortable walking around at night).

I was a mature guy coming out of North Carolina, so when a negative thing happened—someone misinterprets what gambling means to me—it didn't stick. But I was a lot more mature when it happened. If I'd been in that position and had been asked that question at 18 or 19, I may have had a very different way of handling it.

By most accounts, the Jordan gambling stories didn't break nationally until the end of the 1992-93 season – when MJ was 30. I'm not sure what Jordan's point is here other than teenagers might not be able to deal with intense media scrutiny, but Jordan's example renders that point moot. Of course, players are more equipped to deal with similar controversies when they're older. And, one might argue, the sooner they came into the league, the sooner they could adjust to the bright lights and attention.

When I turned pro, the league was looking for a change. I had the personality and the game and a style of play, and all that came together at the same time. All the stars lined up and catapulted everything that came after—23 different shoes, Jordan Brand, everything. It's a phenomenon. How do you explain a phenomenon? You can't.

Ummm, it sure sounds like MJ did a decent enough job of explaining the "phenomenon" of himself. I'd take issue with a few points, though. Jordan really had no discernable "personality" during his playing days. He spat recycled athlete clichés in interviews and carefully used his hand-picked friends in the media to cultivate an image that he wanted us to see.

And, while it might seem unfathomable today, Jordan's "game and style of play" were openly criticized as selfish ball-hogging, before the Bulls put championship-caliber teammates around His Airness. Jordan oversimplifies how he got where he is when, in actuality, it was a meticulously crafted marketing plan by millionaires and billionaires including, but not limited to: NBA Commissioner David Stern and league ownership, Nike CEO Phil Knight, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Jordan's longtime agent David Falk and Jordan, himself.

One thing to learn from me is that everything I've ever done has been me, not something that someone calculated me to be.

Four words, Mike: "Republicans buy sneakers, too."

It goes to my upbringing, my parents. I didn't grow up in the inner city. I grew up in a rural area, where values were magnified. You were taught how to operate in society, to be articulate, honest. Kids growing up in the city, they're more materialistic.

In summary: You Godless, amoral blue-state heathens should be more like Michael Jordan. And, if you f*ckin' spooks would pull up your pants and add "ing" to the end of your verbs, you'd be more about honesty and values than wanting to drop $200 on my new shoes…exclusively at Foot Locker!

I can wear a suit today and jeans with holes tomorrow, and yet people know they are seeing the real me in either outfit. I had cornrows when I was a kid, but it was before anyone knew who I was; would the public or corporate America accept me if I had them today? If I was willing to say, "This is who I am, I'm not trying to be so-and-so," maybe, but even then I'm not sure. When you see Michael Jordan today, you see Michael Jordan as a totally honest person, and when I say honest I mean real, genuine. I am who I am, and that's comprehensible to the masses and in many languages.

I wanted to break this up, sentence-by-sentence, but it holds up better all together. I mean, really…is there anyone on earth who knows the "real" Michael Jordan? His ex-wife obviously didn't and it's not a stretch to assume his kids didn't either. So, you'll forgive me if I don't believe that the "masses" know him any better.

And, his need to mention that he wore cornrows as a kid just kills me. "Hey, America…I was REALLY Black when I was younger. Would the public accept me if I grew up to be Allen Iverson?" I'm finna say "no", Mike.

It's a tough task for the league to create a similar image for itself. It has to find the right mix between corporate and street, believe in what it's doing and live with whatever the response may be.

The "response" is that the league has an image problem. Your entire article is a rebuttal to that opinion. The NBA has gone to great lengths to "clean up" the league in an attempt to make it safe and palatable for the middle-class white families and upper-class white sponsors who feed the league its revenue. No one – including you – is "living with whatever the response may be".


Anonymous said...

If you want to read a first hand account of Jordan's struggles to adapt when he returned with the Wizards, I'd highly recommend picking up When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan's Last Comeback. It tries to play the, "He's So Competitive" angle but in actuality he acts the way he does (during that time period) because he realized that the game and it's players have passed him by (not in a playing sense, but more of a "this is how it is now" way). I think you can get it for $3 on Amazon. Check it out.

That Bootleg Guy said...

Funny you should recommend that.

I picked up the paperback before my trip to Orlando last year and plowed thru it on my flight home. You're absolutely right, it's a terrific read and very enlightening.

The way he basically ruins Kwame Brown is compelling stuff.

Tom said...

It's gotten to the point now where the "image problem" thing borders on ridiculous. There's been two more NFL players arrested in the last week for assault or domestic battery.

I can't even name the last NBA player that's been in serious legal trouble.

NFL players get arrested every other day. Kevin Durant lets kids from the neighborhood come over and play Madden... but everyone is too scared to call the almighty NFL out on it.

The NBA needs more scrappy white guys.

Mathan said...

But in fairness, the NFL doesn't have it's player running into the stands and attacking patrons.

Sure the NFL has players getting in trouble, but it's nothing that people aren't used to reading about. Just subsitute "NFL player" for "rapper" and it's pretty much the same story that's been reproduced since the early 90's.

The NBA on the other hand has identifable "stars" (who don't have faces obscured by masks and helmets) who sport "urban" hairstyles and more ink than a Nu-Metal group. Oh and there's also that (since we're using loaded words) riot in Detroit.

Those weren't NFL players getting in trouble, away from cameras on their own personal time. Those were NBA players pummelling fans in the stadium. That's a huge unhealed gaping wound that's part of the NBA's "image problem.

Joe Reid said...

God love that "MFWNTAK" tag. MJ, to me, comes across even more negatively than Dr. Cosby. At least Dr. Cosby appears to have a genuine desire to elevate his community at heart. MJ just seems to want to remind everyone how much better a league spokesman he was than everyone since.

Tom said...

Mathan: I'll agree that there's no defense to the Ron Artest brawl... but the NBA had an image problem well before that and, even if it hadn't happened, would have the same problem now.

If you remove that event from the equation (and let's be honest, we live in a world where it happened two years ago and therefore no longer really exists) the NBA would be in exactly the same shape as it is right now.

that mexican guy said...

One could rip this article apart all day. My favorite excerpt of stupid from MJ is that he decrees that there should be no one trying to duplicate him. I guess 20 years ago, that was fine and dandy when Gatorade(?) was inspiring us all with their "If I could be Like Mike" campaign.