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Michael Jordan inducts himself

Posted by sdrury on September 12, 2009

Most hall of fame speeches tend to be filled with gratitude to the numerous people who helped the individual reach the pinnacle of the sport. Thanks to the family (especially Mom) childhood friends, high school coaches, teammates, repeat through college and then the pros. Add a story or two from your early years that defines you. It’s a tried and true format. 

Michael Jordan, in his Hall of Fame induction speech, followed this format, sort of. There’s not too much that can be said about Jordan that hasn’t been said before. He changed basketball. He changed the way sports is marketed. Jordan’s skill on the court was such that, in the final moments of a close game, when everyone watching knew he would get the ball, he delivered. Not only did he get the ball, he made the shot. Repeatedly. Off the court, his easy smile and confident manner, lifted several companies, notably Nike and Gatorade, to heights they could not have imagined. Jordan changed how corporations use sports to market their wares. Many have wondered whether or not this was a good thing.

In the event, Jordan arguably became the most admired person on the planet, certainly the most admired athlete. He was, and is, a living icon. I encountered Jordan (with Mario Lemieux at his side) at the 1999 Ryder Cup matches in Boston. He towered over the rest of the spectators. And if anyone needed any help locating him, the broomstick-sized cigar he was smoking made it a little easier. Even though his passion for golf was well known, it was a shock to see MJ (with ML and Dick Ebersole, the president of NBC at the time) standing quietly there in the gallery, with the little people. To Jordan, everyone must have seemed little. Consider that several people whispered “Hey, that’s Mario Lemieux, too.” There’s plenty of places that would come to a halt with the arrival of Lemieux. But next to Jordan, he was an afterthought.

Anyway, I walked up to Jordan and asked him what brand of cigar he was smoking. Who did he like in today’s matches?   Could the US right the ship and defeat a scrappy European squad? They would thanks  to this: ( We were standing behind the green of a hole (which one I can’t recall) watching and analyzing the approach shots and putts of players (which one’s I can’t recall). When they holed out, Jordan continued talking, now about his own golf game . So, I walked with him to the next hole. There was no posse and no handlers. Of course there was a throng around him and Lemieux. But, he talked softly, owing to his surroundings, about his own struggles with golf. I mentioned that I was going to be married in less than month. He wished me luck and talked about his kids and how he took his sons to the golf course once in a while. Near the green of the next hole Jordan, understandably, paid attention to his more famous cohorts. I am tempted to say that this was a Jordan that few people ever got to see; Dad and golfer- but I don’t think that’s true. What is true is that golf and fatherhood humbled Jordan, brought him down to earth, in a way that basketball never could.

And it was the soaring Jordan, looking down on the rest of us, who made the Hall of Fame speech. He admitted that there’s not much about him, that we, the soared upon, don’t know about him. No author as accomplished as David Halberstam ever wrote a book about Magic or Bird or Isiah. No book about an athlete included “The World They Made.” We know it all abot Michael. It must be hard to view yourself with any sort of distance when you’ve spent your entire adult life, not just being revered or respected, but deified, as Jordan was. When tears dripped from his eyes, as he took the dais at the Hall of Fame, it was hard to determine whether they were of gratitude for the honor or of sadness that the occasion marked an end to his iconic reign.

It was the latter. He proceeded to list all the people who challenged or doubted him. This list included many people, legends in their own right, who were sitting in the audience. The message was clear. Not only did I prove you wrong, but I beat you. It came off as childish, and beneath the man. He crossed the line when he adressed his own children, in front of the thousands on hand and millions in the television audience, “I wouldn’t want to be you.”

Jordan’s  mother, sitting in the front row, seemed to recognize that her son’s pride had got the best of him. She looked as though she wanted to tell him to go back to his original plan for a speech, which was to go to the stage and say, simply, “Thank you.” Mothers, even Michael Jordan’s, really do know best.

Jordan’s competitive streak is cited by many, as the fuel for his greatness. It’s embarrassed him at times on the baseball diamond, the card table and the golf course. But he was not being inducted to those Halls of Fame. It was basketball. Where he rarely felt failure or lost. He took the opportunity of his Hall of Fame induction to remind everyone of that. He even hinted at a comeback. It must be hard to say, “No, I must move on” when everyone around you is saying “Yes.” Another, equally famous MJ found this out earlier this summer. Let’s hope someone, (maybe his mother?) will tell him, No Michael. You must move on.


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