Jordan the nobody?
January 14, 2005 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Whatever happened to Jordan? This is perhaps the most thought-out dissent regarding Michael Jordan as sports god I've ever read. I have to say I agree, even though I was a Bulls fan growing up. What did he ever really stand for?
posted by Leege (52 comments total)
That article really annoyed me when I read it yesterday. What do 90% of professional athletes stand for? They are marketing tools from the day they put their signatures on the contract. I have no problem with that, and simply because Michael Jordan wishes to pursue business interests, I should hold this against him and accuse him of being shallow?

I wish more athletes were like Jim Brown, etc, but they are not.
posted by xmutex at 2:07 PM on January 14, 2005

Shameless hucksterism/commercial opportunism?

Honestly, though... why do they have to stand for anything other than that? As a culture we put too much importance on being famous/notorious, whether for sports, movies, tv, or what have you, but why is he to be faulted for taking advantage of all the opportunities he did?

From a cultural perpspective, what was amazing to me that his image/brand lasted as long as it did. With all the exposure he had, I expected him to flame out years before he did. Maybe it helped that, if he wasn't the best player throughout his career (arguably, he was), he was its fiercest competitor.
posted by psmealey at 2:13 PM on January 14, 2005

What did Jordan stand for?

I dunno, Basketball is fun to play and exciting to watch?

You mean that's not good enough?
posted by effugas at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2005

Jordan haters. Always been here, always will be here. Jealousy. Basketball is a game. Jordan was one of its greatest players of all time. The rest is all smoke.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:18 PM on January 14, 2005

He stood for good basketball skills? Just a guess.

Personally, I don't think he "stood for" anything. Symbols stand for things, not people.

Or, as the article put it so well (and then proceeded to ignore):

Michael Jordan was a great player. He also was a great salesman. And that was all he ever was, and that seems to be all that he ever will be. There's nothing wrong with that.
posted by Bugbread at 2:20 PM on January 14, 2005

What's that disturbing sound I hear, reading this article? That dull creaking, borne upon the wind? Waaaaank, waaaaaaaaaank, waaaaaaaaaank ...
posted by grrarrgh00 at 2:20 PM on January 14, 2005

Synchronicity. Three minutes before opening MetaFilter I briefly ruminated on my feelings about Jordan after I read that Kobe Bryant had severly sprained an ankle. I don't really follow basketball anymore, but I admit that I read that little news blurb with relish. I can't help myself, I dislike Bryant intensely and am convinced that he is a rapist that bought his way out of a conviction and back into his marriage. Then I thought of Jordan and how I used to idolize him when I was a younger man, about 15-16 years ago when he was in his prime. When Michael Jordan was on the court, he was very nearly perfect. Very nearly perfect, it's worth repeating. Unfortunately for his perfect image, we both grew older; I stopped taking sports seriously and Jordan stopped playing nearly perfect basketball. His retirement took away the rose-colored aura that surrounded the superstar. Let's be honest, off the court Jordan, like Bryant, is an egomaniac and a creep. His intense competitiveness, far more extreme than any normal person can even understand, is actually a sympton of mental illness that outside of professional sports is truly a horrible character trait. Almost all the evidence seems to point to him having a Tony Soprano like disregard for the feelings and well being of others, even his wife and family.

The amazing thing is that while he was playing he was so good that few people cared about all that other stuff. Now that he's not playing, few people care about him, period.
posted by sic at 2:36 PM on January 14, 2005 [3 favorites]

Maybe he should've mooned the crowd after one of those eye-popping dunks or something.
posted by manicroom at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2005

Michael Jordan was a great player. He also was a great salesman. And that was all he ever was, and that seems to be all that he ever will be. There's nothing wrong with that.

posted by me3dia at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2005

I say so what? What should he have done (or be doing) that he hasn't? Fund a hospice? Be photographed with Habitat for Humanity? Let's level the same standard at past and present corporate CEOs and see how they compare. Give the man a break.
posted by terrier319 at 2:45 PM on January 14, 2005

I never liked Jordan as a player, yet I find myself liking him as an ex-player, probably because he's doing what I would do if I had a shitload of money, and that's whatever he damn well pleases.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:47 PM on January 14, 2005

Jordan is also a symbol of how hard work and dedication (even if sic's point about that intense dedication being a symptom of mental illness is true) can make a high school bench warmer into a great basketball player. Even if you aren't into basketball, there is something inspiring about evidence that you can advance to the top of your field if you work hard enough.

And then, after working hard, you can retire before you are 40 and spend money until you die. If that isn't the American dream, what is?
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

sic, I find your point about egoism and the character traits that equate to a character like jordan interesting, because i've often thought nearly the same thing...

I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with "TDF Theory", but basically it gives generalized archetypes of people and orders their strength (generally, T=organization, D=getting things done, F=people skills, but it goes deeper than that)...

I've always looked at big headed sports stars as what we learned in my TDF Theory class as "a big D" ... I noticed when taking this class that sales people and sales managers were exclusively D's... all of them.. DTF's and DFT's... (first being your strongest trait, last being your weakest)...

I also noticed that these people almost all seemed like total dicks to me... they were arrogant, selfish and bossy...

It then obviously came to light that these are traits necessary to excel at certain job types... well, maybe not necessary, but, definitely "most likely to work"...

One of the things you learn in TDF Theory is to empathize with and understand how those who clash with you think. Me being an "FDT", I found myself really frustrated with the way the D's in the room were acting and carrying themselves, but the class sorta made me realize how they think and how to understand and work better with it.

I think Jordan is a picture of this -- someone determined enough that what's on his mind is his goal, and not so much what it takes to get there.

I guess the bottom line is, I'm not so much saying that he wasn't this selfish prick .. but saying that he couldn't really help it.. nor could many of the people around him figure out how to deal with it or interact with him better... and that the whole thing is interesting to look at having taken that class and learned more about this type of thing.
posted by twiggy at 2:58 PM on January 14, 2005

I heard that Jordan is sponsoring a condo park in Vegas where residents can live the "Jordan" experience, whatever that is these days.

I never liked basketball but I was living in Chicago while he played and it was worth it to tune in to watch him.

sic, I'm in the same boat with you about Bryant. He raped the girl and bought his way out of it. And that sucks because it will continue to warp another generation of kids who think money makes everything okay.

Crash, Jordan did pretty much what he pleased while a player too. Gambling, speeding (it wasn't unusual for him to get into street races before they were called street races) and the occasional hard core gay pron (I read it on the internets so it must be true).
posted by fenriq at 3:01 PM on January 14, 2005

Jordan Teams Up with Developer on Las Vegas Project

600 million? Damn, maybe he's a really bad gambler and needs the money.
posted by fenriq at 3:07 PM on January 14, 2005

I loved, loved, loved watching Jordan play in his prime (he's why I became a pro basketball fan, frankly -- till then I only really followed pro football and a little college basketball) -- and later, when I lived in Chicago, it was genuinely a pleasure knowing that I could turn the TV on regularly and watch him do something physically beautiful almost every night. But yeah: that was it. Other athletes (historical and contemporary) have meant more to me personally (John Elway, for example, showed himself to be a person who -- after all the hype about Being John Elway and Finally Getting the Superbowl Ring were swept aside -- cares an enormous amount for his family and community, and who possessed the ability to reflect on the mistakes he made in both his professional and private lives; then there are the actual heroes, like Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali).

As a person, Jordan is, in some ways, a bit of a cipher. He's worked hard on himself as a brand, it seems, but not as a human. I think part of why that's so disconcerting is that we know -- we could see -- so much of what he was as an athlete, and so many of is were astonished and thrilled by it, and therefore assumed that there was something more to it. But I really have the hunch that off the court, when it comes down to it, there's just no there there with Jordan.
posted by scody at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2005

This article was desperately short on specifics... I was looking forward to reading some dirt. All I got was "The greatest basketball player of all time, who never made any claims to being anything more than that, will never be more than that." Gosh, what a scoop! Everybody put your tongues back in your mouths before you bite them off in a collision at the hoop...
posted by micropublishery at 3:21 PM on January 14, 2005

I have such a hard time with this idea that people who make a lot of money or have some sort of fame *should* do something more. That's bull. It's great if they do, but they don't owe it to "the people".

Michelle Pfeiffer was once quoted as saying something to the effect that she'd act for free, the pay is really for dealing with the hassle of being famous. And really, the perks are great, but the downside is much, much worse.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:24 PM on January 14, 2005

I think the article misses the point too that Basketball - professional sports in essence - is itself "soulless and almost completely devoid of any lasting resonance outside of pure consumerism."

Perhaps in DiMaggio's day records meant something, not so much any more (McGuire comes to mind). There isn't that cultural connection anymore. It doesn't really MEAN anything (culturally) if your guys win or if your particular player is the best (unless your a fan among other fans and that is still just a sub culture)

Beyond the pure beauty of what Jordan was capable of which made the games worth watching there is no real impact on anyones life (beyond gamblers) if a given team wins or loses.

Sports is similar to gambling anyway - at any moment you could witness a miracle.
And like gambling, mostly you don't.

Jordan was different. It meant something to Chicago what the Bulls were doing because the Chicago teams had been losers for so long (except for the pure shining moment of glory that was the '85 Bears).
Doesn't seem to mean much outside Chicago tho' - beyond the joy of watching him play at that level.

And similar to Achilies, Hercules, and all the other demi-gods who were interpersonally considered - real a$$holes, but had that single minded mania that drove them to perform and achieve at such a high level - Jordan will (along with Ditka) ascend into sports heaven in due time, his mortality stripped from him like so much dross and only his game will accordance with prophecy.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:30 PM on January 14, 2005

Since when are athletes supposed to "stand for" anything besides winning games for their teams? Give me a fucken break.
posted by kjh at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2005

I think we all leave something to be desired once put under the harsh light of widespread public scrutiny. I haven't opened a hospice yet. We expect celeberties to be superheros. They're just people.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:00 PM on January 14, 2005

I only followed his stint in Washington, where his effect on the franchise was corrosive, and where he is not missed in any way. (I'm no expert on basketball, but my sense is that his relentless bullying of Kwame Brown -- a high school player Jordan personally selected with the number one draft pick -- has really retarded Brown's development as a player).

The local alternative paper reported that he'd spent the night after his dismissal in the V.I.P. lounge of a local club, where he not only expected his drinks comped, but also declined to tip the staff who served him. Someone wrote about a dinner date at another club where Mr. Jordan and company at the next table. Jordan spent the whole evening hitting on the author's date, and then sent someone to invite her out (alone) to party with them.

My overall impression from his time here was that both the causes and effects of his basketball success have made him really unpleasant to be around.
posted by coelecanth at 4:11 PM on January 14, 2005

Since when are athletes supposed to "stand for" anything besides winning games for their teams? Give me a fucken break. - kjh

the thing that bothers me is that you're completely right, and yet professional athletes are revered as heroes and role models in our country and others. to may, they aren't just interestin to watch on the court, they are gods. otherwise there'd be no use in paying them for endorsements.

i'm not saying that there aren't athletes that do heroic things. i'm also not saying that athletes who don't lend there money or celebrity to good causes are in dereliction of duty. i'm just worried that our culture usually doesn't differentiate between the two.
posted by es_de_bah at 4:42 PM on January 14, 2005

Heh. 23 comments.

I went to UNC w/ him. It has been a continuing inspiration to me taht he became the player he did after his HS coach told him he sucked. And what bugbread said.
posted by yoga at 5:14 PM on January 14, 2005

Since when are athletes supposed to "stand for" anything besides winning games for their teams? Give me a fucken break. - kjh

Well athletes used to represent many things before professional sports and free market capitalism turned them into glossy soda pop icons: anything from a university to a nation to an ideal. The "Olympic Spirit" has become an empty marketing slogan in our lifetimes, a rather uninteresting reflection of the artificiality of western culture (like just about everything else), but I imagine that it was something more way back when. The fact that Jordan -athlete as marketing empire- in some ways represents the ultimate devaluation of this "athletic ideal" while simultaneously being (arguably) the greatest athlete of his generation is pretty much what this mediocre article was on about.
posted by sic at 5:15 PM on January 14, 2005

We frequently read these overweening, hand-wringing critiques of athletes from sportswriters. For some reason they seem to believe they have the right to determine the value of athletes as human beings. This one didn't 'give enough' of his salary to charity. That one did not sign enough autographs. He doesn't smile. He almost never goes to the hospital to visit sick kids. And THIS one (the worst sin, apparently) is RUDE to sportswriters!

One time, I'd like to see the tables turned. Since no paper would print it, let's pretend MF is the sports page:

Charles Pierce has spent a lifetime writing about sports, an activity which, although it generates millions of dollars for a handful of people, has relatively little impact on society at large. While white collar thieves suck the marrow from our economy, while politicians enact ill-conceived policies that hurt working men and women, and while millions suffer from one malady or another, Charles has focused himself -not on participating in, but merely writing about- an activity that is, for the most part, little more than a trifling diversion.

He is probably good to his wife and kids, and he did write an article or two on subjects of greater significance than sports during his life. But overall, he never did anything that stood out. His example never offered the public any particular reason for inspiration. He will leave the world pretty much as he found it. His life has been a triumph of banality, and little or none of his writing will be remembered when he leaves this vale of tears.

It's no surprise that Pierce is just an unremarkable, boring old man. The surprise would be if anyone ever expected anything else from him. His soulless career causes us to wonder: what did he ever really stand for? From the safe distance of the observer, he felt safe to criticize, because he was safe FROM criticism. The athletes he ripped were like lions in the zoo - he could taunt and tease them from a safe perch behind the bars, and there was nothing they could do.


See? You can rip anyone the same way. It's 'safe' to do it to Jordan because hey, he's rich and famous. And he owes us, right?


And natch, it beats looking in the mirror.
posted by humannature at 5:21 PM on January 14, 2005

I hate all sports...but even I'm a but flummoxed by the article. Pro athletes don't need to "be" anything other than what they are and what they do. Did the author somehow wish that Jordan had...I dunno...started some sort of new hoop-based religion, or something, in order to do & be something "more" than a great player?
posted by davidmsc at 5:47 PM on January 14, 2005

Reminds me of garfield... so many sell-outs in this world.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 5:57 PM on January 14, 2005

I don't particularly idolize atheletes and I don't generally care for professional sports at all. I disagree with the people that think that pro atheletes don't owe us any more than good athletics though. Regardless of whether our society should idolize professional atheletes and pay them exorbitant amounts of money, the fact is that we do. And as Stan Lee aptly put it "With great power comes great responsibility".

It's not just atheletes. It's CEO's and people who got rich when their company went public. Heck, its people that are just doing a little better off. Basically, I think that everyone needs to give back to the community, to strengthen it, to lift up those less fortunate than ourselves. And for those people that have gained more money, more power, more influence, their capacity to give back is greater and therefore their responsbility to give back is greater. Consider it progressive taxation.

No one goes through life alone. No one succeeds alone. So hold people that have received more to a higher standard when it comes to giving back.
posted by afflatus at 5:58 PM on January 14, 2005

Better to be notorious for being an excellent athlete and businessman than for having dozens of obscene tattoos, using vulgarities, having multiple spouses, being a drunkard, a cokehead, getting assault charges, sitting on the bench during the national anthem, multiple DUIs, jumping into the crowd and fighting, etc.... The NBA is currently having more than a few problems with image.

Compared to a lot of modern athletes Jordan seems to be pretty damn clean. I would go so far as to actually call him a good role model for young people.
posted by buzzman at 6:06 PM on January 14, 2005

[damn, this got long; sorry in advance. skip 'er if you're not into the long one...]

Jordan per se I kind of don't care about. He's a good ball player, sure; I get the idea he's nice to his family and his dog. Blah blah blah. It's how he's culturally influenced the game that intrigues me. I'm not a basketball guy, so this take may display some ignorance of roundball culture, but hear me out. Let's think for a minute about some "great players" and their influence on their games.

W.r.t. Jordan, it's the team aspect that matters. I think Jordan's big impact on the game was that his success did a lot of damage to the team ethos in basketball. I don't think that was due to anything he personally did or even really due to any aspect of his personality, other than the fact that he was just such a damn good pitchman. But he blew open the money aspect of the game, and it didn't have any structural defenses to deal with the raw venality of the media market. Every now and then you get a throwback team, that's built on teamwork more than star power, and the crazy thing is that people love that. But that team's success will usually kill it.

I think other sports have not suffered in this way because they have structural or cultural barriers.

In hockey, the great example is Wayne, Himself, Of Course. I started watching hockey right before Gretzky entered the NHL, and it was amazing to see the change that he wrought -- not just in his team, but across the league. He drove up the standard of play just by being there. And once he'd done that, he went on to intentionally challenge it further by pursuing records that would imply his team was good, like plus/minus and assists. That drove a contribution ethic in hockey that in turn really helped the sport. [RIP] [... the NHL, that is. Not Wayne.]

Someone once said to me that hockey was the hardest team sport there is, and I think he might be right: You're riding knife-thin steel rails on the substance we use as our baseline metaphor for unsure footing, trying to swat at a hard rubber puck that might be zooming around at 90MPH. While people are trying to hit you. Or trying not to hit you. You're gonna get angry. (No effing wonder they get into fights.) It's a brutal game, and I think brutality (and maybe exhaustion, too) has a levelling effect, and helps to induce that spirit of combat mentality that I like to think of as the teamwork ethos.

(BTW, I'd argue that the failure of the NHL has been due primarily to greed at the management level, not to problems with the players. It's a money thing, not a teamwork thing. )

Football's got some interesting structural defenses against erosion of the team ethos. First, there's the NFL's obsession with United Way. It started as a PR pitch, and it's become a sort of ritualistic obsession. Sure, it may not mean a lot to a multi-million dollar player, but I would be very surprised if league-sponsored charity events didn't have a siginificant impact on the "team formation" ethos of football.

Which brings me to the second point. As brutal (i.e., forceful) and frenetic as football is, the importance of discipline becomes more bluntly obvious, and so you find it rare for these gigantic, dangerous men to challenge their relatively human-scale coaches. That wouldn't be right for the team, after all. That this happens all the time in basketball is instructive.

Which brings me to my third point about football: Say what you will about college athletics, almost all of these guys actually graduated, all of them can read (playbooks, anyone?), and most of them have IQs as high as most of us (for whatever that's worth). It's a brutal business, and you've got to be good at those Gladwellian snap judgements....

Now, basketball... It's not hard to see that the team ethos is more the exception than the rule in basketball, today. The dynamics of small groups see to that; it's easier for one key player to dominate, and since there are fewer people, it's easier for them to dominate the spotlight as well. The salaries are enormous, the camera-time is outrageous (hey, in hockey and football you're lucky to tell who the hell you're looking at sometimes), so the egos get big. And the collegiate culture is quite different: I don't have numbers, but I'd wager that basketball players who graduate (and we all know there are a lot fewer of them than there are football players) don't have nearly as useful an education as a football player. You probably have to be as smart to play either game; but football makes more demands on analytical skills, so they're working on both their "rapid-cognition" and analytical strengths.
posted by lodurr at 6:22 PM on January 14, 2005

Good stuff there, lodurr. But football's going to go the same way the NBA has in a few years here.

Just look at Terrel Owens.

Yes, he's a dick. But he's been more or less successful at something the NFL has tried very hard to prevent their players from doing: marketing themselves, as opposed to marketing the team. More players are going to want to follow his example.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 6:44 PM on January 14, 2005

Michael Jordan's my hero among athletes (strictly based on his on-the-court activities; I don't care much about most athletes' private lives). I admire his determination and team sportsmanship. He played smarter as he got older and his physical skills declined. (I'm about the same age as Michael Jordan, and he's been an inspiration to me in playing recreational sports against people 15 years younger than me.)

ESPN's Skip Bayless recently wrote an interesting column comparing Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Bayless says Bryant "is a little more gifted athletically," but that Jordan is by far the better team player and leader. As an example, he says that if Jordan had a fued with another player, he taught a lesson by beating the other guy's team, while Bryant tries to outscore his rival individually while possibly losing the game.

Jordan certainly has no shortage of ego, but not many professional athletes would have the humility to make this commercial [.mov]:
I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I've failed over, and over, and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:14 PM on January 14, 2005

Is there a Charles Pierce building on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon? No? Is that what is bothering the guy? Or does he just get paid by the word and needs to turn in a column on something?
I remember Michael soaring to the basket with a nearly impossible shot - and I read Mr. Pierce and think "cheap shot". Does his column tell us more about Mr. Pierce than Mr. Jordan?
posted by Cranberry at 10:00 PM on January 14, 2005

I didn't agree with the tenor of the article, and I completely agree with almost everybody's point here, athletes don't really owe anyone anything. BUT,but but, as almost everyone has pointed out -- Jordan -- was THE athelete of a generation. He's not just another successful athlete. He's THE athlete -- even going across sports. HE had a very carefully marketed image. And I guess, there was tremendous potential. Its unfortunate the people around him didn't do more to make sure he grew as a person as well. I don't blame him personally -- but I think people here are just absurdly missing the potential and impact Jordan could have had post-basketball -- on basically whatever he cared about or wanted. The cache he had with a significant part of America and especially its kids. This isn't the kinda thing anyone likes to see go down the drain. He doesn't owe anyone anything, but I still find it disappointing that he didn't do something more. A Bill Gates might significantly more money, but he obviously doesn't have the same type of cultural impact. I guess, an obvious analogy would be to imagine Gates giving absolutely nothing to charity after he passes away. That is in essence what Jordan is doing. We don't expect everything from every cultural star or every rich person -- but the ones at the top, I think we always hope for something extraordinary.
posted by nads at 11:24 PM on January 14, 2005

Jordan was, beyond the polished facade, an arrogant misogynist with a gambling problem. His career over, he spends his millions in a decidedly shallow and simpleminded fashion. I suppose we can't be blamed for expecting better.

The man played basketball as Picasso painted, as Einstein theorized and as Shakespeare wrote. Unlike those geniuses, however, he practiced his art in a public forum. It was a beautiful and inspiring thing to watch. Wanting him to be similarly extraordinary in other aspects of life is akin to wishing Stephen Hawking could pull a triple axle.
posted by aladfar at 11:36 PM on January 14, 2005

Wanting him to be similarly extraordinary in other aspects of life is akin to wishing Stephen Hawking could pull a triple axle.

I don't know. I mean, I hear what you're saying -- we pay them to play well, not to "be good". But inevitably, they do get imitated, because their success is sexy. Fortunately, there's often a Tiger Woods or Wayne Gretzky around to be "exceptional" in that "other aspect."
posted by lodurr at 6:02 AM on January 15, 2005

we pay them to play well, not to "be good".

Exactly. I remember a conversation with my father about Pete Rose and the Hall Of Fame. My dad said "Of course he should be in there, it's the baseball hall of fame, not the moral hall of fame," and you know what, he's right. And Jordan never did anything as egregious as Rose, so I don't see why this is neccessary. Jordan's job was to be a great basketball player, not to raise your kids or "stand for something," whatever the hell that means. Quit forcing other people to live up to some standard you created in your head.
posted by jonmc at 8:02 AM on January 15, 2005

That's somewhat beside the point jonmc, nobody is saying that Jordan isn't one of the greatest of all time. He is, without a doubt. And personally, I really don't care that he's not a nice man. But it's hard to forget that Jordan has always been something else: a marketing empire. Like many of us here, I feel that professional athletes don't deserve the adulation that they receive, nor the responsability that comes with it, but professional sports is what it is. Jordan never shied away from the adulation, he manufactured it. He sold an image along with his athletic skill that inundated the media during an entire decade. Yet the image was a lie. He's not a squeaky clean family man who happens to be a brilliant athlete. He's a misogynist who constantly cheated on his wife (he referred to her as "hired help" according to one of the palimony suits that has been filed against him), who treated his teammates like shit (anybody remember Dennis Hopson?), despite willing them to play good ball, who talked as much trash and played as dirty as any player, despite his "great sportsman" reputation, who gambled obscene amounts of money continually, etc. etc. Let's face it, he's just another rich creep - who happens to be a brilliant athete. But even that isn't really the point.

Consider this: Jordan was a transcendent athlete, on the court he made people believe he was capable of anything. This made most people not look beyond the glossy facade to see the real man who lived behind it. Yet even the facade was essentially soulless, it was corporate branding. No more no less. That's why now that he no longer plays ball he's no longer particularly important or interesting. After all, he's yesterday's brand name. But many other great athletes, like it or not, will always be idols. Guys like Pele, Maradona, Joe Dimaggio, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali will be heros to some until the day they die because not only were they great athletes, they were also real people. (And believe me, those guys all had lots of faults too -anybody who knows Maradona's story will chuckle at the understatment- but they were real.) Jordan, has never been real, like somebody else said, off the court he was something of a cipher. That's why I don't think many people give a shit about him anymore, except to remark on how astonishing it is that someone who had such a tremendous cultural impact throughout the 80s and 90s can be such a blank space.
posted by sic at 10:40 AM on January 15, 2005

sic -- interesting thoughts.

I know a few golf fans, and they get looks of reverent awe on their faces when Arnold Palmer comes up. Golf is such a sport of mingling that I don't think you could get away with being a cipher, there. There's a bartender here in town who's spent a fair amount of time with Fil and Pere Woods, who's told me the surprise is that they're both pretty much exactly like you'd expect them to be from their public appearances. It's an interesting contrast; Shaq kind of annoys me, but there's a valid contrast there, too: He may be a little aloof, even prickly, but you don't get the sense that there's literally nothing there. There's probably a general essay on character and upbringing in there, somewhere, but I'm not feeling self-righteous enough today to go for it; for now I'll just repeat that I think it's interesting.
posted by lodurr at 11:42 AM on January 15, 2005

excellent comment, sic. I was thinking of Maradona as well.
but you said it better than I would have
posted by mr.marx at 11:54 AM on January 15, 2005

Yeah, like that Michelangelo guy. He made that statue and painted that chapel, and they're good and all, but what does he really *stand* for?
posted by fncll at 1:14 PM on January 15, 2005

I don't really understand why gambling gets brought up so much. I understand that religious folk don't particularly like it, but I'm not getting the religious vibe off people mentioning it. So, why the gambling comments?
posted by Bugbread at 2:04 PM on January 15, 2005

Well, personally I'm not very big on gambling, but I don't think it necessarily speaks of moral turpitude (although it can). That said, high stakes gambling certainly doesn't jibe with Jordan's manufactured Coca-cola, McDonald's corporate image. So maybe that's why it seemed shocking when it was revealed in the mid 90s that Jordan is a compulsive gambler. Also, while I think that people who earn their money deserve to enjoy it as they please, there is something very off putting to me, even obscene, when somebody spends absurd amounts of money frivolously. I know some will disagree with me, but I think that if someone has a need to throw huge amounts of money away, they can at least give it to some worthy cause or charity instead of wasting it on a cheap thrill. I mean, apparently, Jordan was betting hundreds of thousands of dollars on single golf shots and other such nonsense. It's his money of course and can do whatever he wants with it, but I can't help the fact that it bothers me a great deal.

Mr. Marx: ¡Dios mío! I've seen Diego look bad, but is that really him?
posted by sic at 2:39 PM on January 15, 2005

sic, I think what you're speaking to is something that goes beyond Michael Jordan (or any other celebrity, for that matter) and that really isn't his fault. As a society we have a need to turn every famous person we admire into a pardigm of everything else we admire, thus holding them up to an impossible standard. If any of us examined our own lives under a microscope, would we come out looking any better than Mike? Probably not.

Why can't we just admire what the man did on the court and leave it at that?
posted by jonmc at 2:53 PM on January 15, 2005

Sic: I highly suspect you're putting the cart before the horse here: "I know some will disagree with me, but I think that if someone has a need to throw huge amounts of money away, they can at least give it to some worthy cause or charity instead of wasting it on a cheap thrill."

I don't think he has a need to throw huge amounts of money away, I think he has a need to waste huge amounts of money on a cheap thrill. In which case the sentence becomes "I think that if someone has a need to waste huge amounts of money on a cheap thrill, they can at least give it to some worthy cause or charity instead of wasting huge amounts of money on a cheap thrill." Which doesn't really make much sense.

And I guess because nobody in my family gambles, gambling has never been an issue discussed either way. I always grew up thinking it was a dumb way to waste money, but no dumber than buying jewelry or eating caviar. Which made (for me, of course, not the population at large), the gambling revelation pretty much as shocking as saying "Michael Jordan likes to buy gold jewelry" or "Michael Jordan eats a lot of caviar and truffles, and has multiple sports cars."

That's just a personal anecdote, though. I guess I never realized that gambling was seen as being that different from other silly ways of spending money by non-religious types.
posted by Bugbread at 3:20 PM on January 15, 2005

Jon: Well, that argument would be more acceptable to me if Jordan himself would have just left it on the court. We simply can't ignore the fact that he sold himself to the world in a way that went far beyond simply being a basketball player. But once again, that isn't really what interests me about this chapter of the Jordan story. As you say, he's no more creepy many other people. In fact, I will always remember him as a great player, no toadish act by MJ will tarnish that part of my memory of him. I sincerely idolized him when I was a youth and I guess that is the reason why I'm so surprised by current distaste that borders on indifference toward the man. I suppose that this also explains why I am interested in hashing my ideas about this matter out. See the thing is after basketball, and now that Nike's decade long worldwide marketing campaign is over, there's just not much left. No virulent hatred, no undying love, no emotional investment whatsoever. There's just this grayish meh. I mean athletes like Ali, men who made political statements that influenced the way people think, can't just leave it on the field or in the ring either. That is why they go on being cultural icons, even after they left their sports. So why doesn't Jordan, who had probably more influence than any of the athletes I mentioned earlier, matter anymore?

Bugbread: yeah, you're right, I can't expect someone who wants a cheap thrill to do something particularly noble with their money, so it is a foolish way to frame the sentence.
posted by sic at 3:36 PM on January 15, 2005

Dios mío! I've seen Diego look bad, but is that really him?

Oh yes. 120 kg. But he's happy!

posted by mr.marx at 3:58 AM on January 16, 2005

Thanks, sic. I think you understood the real issue (point of interest might be the better term) behind Jordan's current situation. It has nothing to do with playing ability - I'd rank him top player all-time, at the very least top three.

But this is a guy who focused his entire public image of being the perfect marketing machine, someone who was all things to all people (in tandem with his other image as the invincible b-ball warrior who refused to be beat). There was never any backstory, any mythology that allowed you to connect to him like other stars such as Pele, Babe, Maradona, et al. Some people might say that there's nothing else in MJ, but I'd hope that he just doesn't choose to show his real nature to the world. When he was a player, I thought he seemed larger than life, but now that he's just some suit, I'm not even sure why he was interesting other than he managed to score all those points and dunk from the free throw line. There's just no connection to those days for me anymore.

I hate to say it, but the proof of what I'm saying will come five years from now when more young fans recognize Charles Barkley than they do Jordan. The fact that Chuck is on TV more might have something to do with it, but I also think it has to do with him not being as calculated, someone who isn't afraid to display his own personality.

See the thing is after basketball, and now that Nike's decade long worldwide marketing campaign is over, there's just not much left. No virulent hatred, no undying love, no emotional investment whatsoever. There's just this grayish meh.

Meh. That about covers it.
posted by Leege at 11:01 PM on January 16, 2005

He was great on the court. Possibly the best ever.

What, you wanted more? Ridiculous.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:53 AM on January 17, 2005

remember that kid from the mandatory P.E. class in junior high who wasn't good at anything, ..who threw like a girl, and always got OWNED at dodgeball? ....He wrote this article.
posted by thisisdrew at 7:38 AM on January 17, 2005

the proof of what I'm saying will come five years from now when more young fans recognize Charles Barkley than they do Jordan.

I'm trying, but I can't picture Charles Barkley. No image comes to mind. Michael Jordan, though, and I can see that splayed leg, straight arm, tongue-sticking out pose as if it were a photograph. Maybe the young fans will recognize Barkley, but us older fans will probably be the reverse.
posted by Bugbread at 4:08 PM on January 17, 2005

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