It is wholly appropriate that the NBA stages its 2013 All Star Game on the 50th anniversary of the birth of the game’s greatest player. Michael Jordan. For fans my age (32), the name elicits pure reverence. Jordan walks, or in his case, flies through the air, on a different plane than any athlete I have ever witnessed. The MVP awards, the dunk contests, the championship rings, the commercials, the endorsements. Air Jordan was a cut above.
Admittedly, as a kid growing up, I despised Jordan. I was a Celtic fan at the low point of the franchise, and Jordan seemed to take a special delight in destroying those post Big-three Celtic teams. It was more than that, though. I am a born cynic, I guess you could say, and everyone, EVERYONE I went to school with during those formative years bent over and collectively kissed the fundament of MJ. Everyone wore Bulls starter jackets. Everyone wore the latest pair of Air Jordan kicks, no matter how god-awful the design may have been. I was a Celtic fan, and it pissed me off that no local kid seemed to give a rats ass about the hometown B-Ball team. They only cared about the Chicago Bulls, and, as such, I labeled these guys frontrunners (a bit rich coming from a New York Yankees fan living on the outskirts of Boston, but I have my reasons). Whenever anyone came up to me to sing the praises of His Airness, I dismissed them, ignorantly calling him a ball hog. That, certainly after watching some truly epic Kobe Bryant seasons, what not the case.
In an era where, as a Celtics fan, I had to stomach the stylings of Acie Earl and Dino Radja, the Bulls having a team that fielded Jordan, Pippen (criminally underrated, by the way), and either Dennis Rodman or Horace Grant. It seemed like an embarrassment of riches, seeing that anyone with even an idea of basketball could realize that this guy was a cut above anyone else on the court.
Game recognizes game, though. For many years, many experts have called Jordan the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of (ridiculously expensive) sneakers. I have had a small issue with that. Jordan is the best combination of things that make a basketball player great. Bill Russell, with his 11 championship rings, is the greatest team player of all time. Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest individual, statistics oriented player ever. Jordan melded the two. While Jordan would eventually capture six rings, earlier in his career he was preoccupied with stats, very Wilt-esque. Once he realized what it took to be the center of the team with an eye for winning championships, he relented, a bit, at chasing individual goals. Jordan has been defined, by ESPN writer Bill Simmons, as “Homicidally competitive.” I could not put it better myself. Jordan HAS to win. He MUST win. At everything. Basketball, horseshoes, tiddly wings, four square, EVERYTHING. That is the trait that separates great athletes from ALL TIME GREAT athletes. And Jordan possessed that in spades. In fact, no one may have ever had that trait in greater quantity than Jordan.
I won’t get into all the great moments of Jordan’s career. They number in the thousands, and most of the people I know, people who may (or may not) read this blog have already experienced the greatness that was Jordan. What I would call Jordan’s greatest trait was his clutchness. No athlete I have ever witnessed since had Jordan’s flair for the dramatic, making the big shot or big play when the rubber hit the road. He was uncanny in that sense. The best I have seen since Jordan’s heyday is Derek Jeter, and Derek Jeter can’t even sniff Jordan’s jock.
So I find it appropriate that the NBA stages its annual All Star Game on this, Jordan’s 50th birthday. I just hope people remember, for how brilliant LeBron James has been playing lately, and for all of Kobe’s and Carmelo’s recent and past brilliance, no one in my lifetime will match Michael Jeffery Jordan. No one.