Watching ESPN’s “The Decision” the other night, I realized how much impact one person could have on an entire sport.
And that one person was Michael Jordan.
Sure, it was LeBron James’ decision. He’s arguably the best player in the game and his free agency should be cause for some hoopla. But watching a three and a half hour (the actual hour long episode plus two and a half hours of blasé commentary analyzing it) segment about LeBron’s choice to join Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat this fall, I couldn’t help but notice how the ghost of “the greatest ever” loomed over the whole scene.
“Like I said before, it’s gonna give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years,” LeBron told Jim Gray last night after he announced his decision.
Really LeBron? I don’t believe you.
See, if you really wanted to win, you would have gone to Chicago. There, you have a complementary supporting cast of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and the newly signed Carlos Boozer who could actually accommodate your insane athletic ability.
Or get this, if you were insistent on winning with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Chicago still would have been the best situation for you guys because they had the salary cap space to welcome you as well as the other puzzle pieces to surround you.
So then, if it was about winning all along, why don’t you have on a windy city jersey on right now? Answer: because it was never about winning. It was about being better than Michael Jordan.
Much like ghost of Banquo scared the shit out of Macbeth, the ghost of Michael Jordan in a Chicago Bulls uniform scares the shit out of LeBron.
See Michael Jordan was a freak of nature: he was an overly-competitive superstar who also had the skill set that helped him prevail over and over again. A bubble of invincibility surrounded him. 6 time NBA Champion. 14 time All Star. 6 time Final MVP.
It’s so extreme now that anybody who is anybody in basketball is almost automatically compared to him. Scratch that, anybody who is anybody in basketball is considered a piece of dung if they don’t live up to Jordan’s impossible legacy.
So somewhere along the line, whether it was we collectively as a society or just through tacit agreement, we came up with the Jordan formula. It goes something like this:
PREMISE: There can be another basketball player to supplant Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever, but in order for someone to reach that plateau, they have to do the following:
1. Stay with the franchise and lead them to their first championship.
2. Overcome a conference rival like let’s say the ’89 & ’90 Detroit Pistons.
3. Never lose in the finals
4. Play with a star sidekick, but one who is so much of a star that he takes the spotlight.
5. Win Finals MVP every time your team wins a championship.
6. Never lose in the finals.
7. Win more than six championships.
The problem is that when Jordan was inadvertently creating this formula, the process was organic. Nowadays, the process is contrived. For instance, Kobe Bryant demanded a Shaq trade because he felt threatened by rule #4. By trying so desperately to adhere to the formula, he ended up trying too hard and breaking rule #3 in 2008 against the Celtics. LeBron is in the same boat with this formula. Going to Chicago violates rule #1. Staying in Cleveland complies with rule #1 except there’s one problem: there’s no championship season coming to Cleveland anytime soon. Why? Because LeBron is not Michael Jordan and he knows it.
When you’re not Michael Jordan, a cold-blooded roundball killer who would cut a pound of his own flesh to win, you know it early. You can only hide it to the rest of the world. I think even Kobe, a valiant contender for Jordan status, knows he’s not Jordan. That’s why he often hides behind a stacked team of Artest, Odom, Gasol, Bynum, a team that Jordan would have never lost with. And it’s definitely why LeBron decided to join his rivals instead of beat them. Think about it, if Jordan had the opportunity to play Shaq, he wouldn’t force a trade (he maybe would have forced Shaq into a secondary role, but not force him off the team altogether). If Jordan was a free agent with the Cavs and wanted to win so badly, he would have gone to Chicago.
For LeBron, going to Chicago would only show the world what the LeBron himself already knew: he’s not Michael Jordan. It’s like in The Wire when fourteen year-old Namond breaks down crying and admits that he can’t be like Weebay, his major drug-dealing father. Everybody wants him to be the man, even his mother, but he doesn’t have the heart. In Chicago, LeBron would have been under immense pressure to win six titles while not having the competitive spirit to obtain that goal.
What we have here now is an hour long special where the biggest sports star on the planet exposes his even bigger insecurity to the world. Only he disguises it as a thirst for winning. What we saw yesterday was not competitive spirit. We saw a star who indirectly admitted that he couldn’t be the best player of all time. That he needs a tremendous amount of help and is willing to be second fiddle just to obtain a semblance of Michael Jordan’s success.
So what we got was an awkward hour long special filled with time-stalling Jim Gray questions and an awkward announcement like this:
“This fall, I’m gonna be taking my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
Does that sound like something “the greatest player ever” would say? Granted, there’s no other Michael Jordan in basketball, but there are Michael Jordans in other professions like education, medicine, etc. Would the top dog in any of other those professions say something like that. Picture it:
“This fall, I’m gonna be taking my talents to the Boogie Down and teach at PS 51 in the Bronx.”
“This fall, I’m gonna be taking my talents to the H-town and see patients at Hermann Hospital in Houston.”
Doesn’t make sense. What we are seeing is the product of an instant-gratification generation where young people feel like they can flip a switch and the championships come pouring down. All I will say is have fun, LeBron. I hope you guys can figure out who gets the ball and when. If you do and you win a couple of championships, I hope none of you starts getting greedy and wanting more limelight. I’ll be rooting for you to go all the way (what can I say, I’m 27. I’m part of the instant gratification generation, too) and I hope you will be remembered as a winner.
But I think we share something in common. We’re both okay we with the fact that you will never be the greatest ever.