Feb 14, 2013, 2:39 PM EDT
There were fierce competitors in the NBA long before Michael Jordan ever stepped on a court. Go watch an interview with Bill Russell talking about how he hated to lose read about Jerry West and how big losses would make him physically ill.
But no player in any sport has had an ultra-competitiveness fused with his image like Michael Jordan.
Jordan wanted to win — and he wanted it publically at a time when the media focus on the NBA boomed and the league grew to wild new heights of popularity. Riding a wave of winning titles plus being the face of a then unprecedented Nike branding campaign, Jordan’s persona grew to larger than life levels. It grew and has lasted to the point that we as a sports nation are talking about his legacy as he turns 50 this weekend.
After Jordan, every athlete in virtually every sport — from LeBron James to Tiger Woods to Andrew Luck — gets compared to the Jordan standard. How committed are they to winning? How badly do they want it? Fair or not, Jordan made the mold we expect all athletes to fit.
Roland Lazenby, the author of “Blood On The Horns, The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls” (which is being re-released right now by Diversion Books as an ebook edition in honor of Jordan’s birthday) and also the author of a new Jordan biography due out in the spring of 2014 (by Little, Brown), said Jordan was a perfect storm of the player, the personality and timing.
“As a culture, we’ve always recognized and admired people who care about things on a deeper level,” Lazenby told ProBasketballTalk. “In sports, that was why Jerry West attracted so many admirers, despite the fact that his Lakers lost six times to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics teams in the championship. The idea was that West’s desire to win was almost a holy thing.
“Jordan resonated that and then made it so much bigger because his audience was so much larger. He literally came from nowhere to capture the public’s fancy, first with his ability to fly, then as time went on he was revealed as a competitor who cared on a deeper level than just about all of those around him. That commitment, combined with his theatrical and athletic style, created millions of new fans globally.”
Jordan’s legacy of fierceness becomes enshrined in games like “the flu game” where nothing could stop him from performing. We as fans often seem to care more about the team and a game’s outcome than the players — we want the guys who care like we do and will show that on the court. Jordan did.
“His willingness to play through injury and pain, like West before him and later Kobe Bryant, evidenced this higher level of caring. It meant more to them, so it meant more to us,” Lazenby said.
Jordan told Lazenby that timing was everything, and so it was with his career. In the 1970s NBA finals games were taped delayed and shown after midnight. The rivalry of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed that — compelling teams and compelling players that demanded and created a larger, prime time audience for the NBA.
Which served as a launching pad for Jordan.
“With Jordan, the audience was so much larger than what West or Oscar Robertson experienced,” Lazenby said. “Jordan was able to articulate that standard with the way he played.
“So the conversation for the greatest players begins in many ways with, how deeply do they care? How much are they willing to sacrifice? If it’s not immensely important, insanely important, to the star, how can it be that important to teammates and fans?
“As a culture, we marvel at that insanely excessive level of commitment, whatever the sport or endeavor. Basketball is such an emotional game. It attracts the sort of genius defined by physical ability and an unparalleled competitive will.”
Nobody ever combined physical ability and competitive will like Jordan.
With him he changed not just how we perceive basketball players but how fans perceive athletes in every sport. We look at Robert Griffin III and the first thing we fans ask is how deeply does he care? And if you fail to live up to that standard of passion and commitment — we’re looking at you, Dwight Howard — fans’ wrath ensues.
It was Jordan who changed all of that. That is just part of his legacy.
Apr 18, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
Brooks scored 10 points in his first shift.
Apr 18, 2015, 6:39 PM EDT
Golden State, once up 25, escapes with 106-99 win
Apr 18, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The basketball was ugly, but this still may be a very competitive series.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
Pierce backed up his talk with plenty of action.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
They’re still expected to play around 32 minutes each.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT
Ujiri cusses at a playoff pep rally for the second straight year.
Q&A: Corey Brewer on trade from Timberwolves, his 51-point game, Harden’s MVP case, Rockets vs. Mavericks
Apr 18, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Brewer has been a key member of the rotation for the two-seeded Rockets.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Every playoff series is predicted.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
How do you feel about a lot of hack-a-Jordan for six or seven games?
Apr 18, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
With most 2014 conference-finalists eliminated, Warriors are clear favorite
Apr 18, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
Their rivalry goes back until the Dwight Howard free agent recruitment. If not earlier.
Apr 17, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
The winner in 7 games will be …
Apr 17, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Cuban also says of Houston: “that’s not a very good team over there.”
Apr 17, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Can Brooklyn win a game?
Sounds like Pacers president Larry Bird, head coach Frank Vogel don’t want Roy Hibbert back next year
Apr 17, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Hibbert has a player option for $15.5 million next season.
Apr 17, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Three PBT writers pick the Warrior to beat the Cavaliers in the Finals.
Apr 17, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
Wesley Matthews. Arron Afflalo. Nicolas Batum. C.J. McCollum. Chris Kaman. Mike Conley. Tony Allen. All injured.
Apr 17, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Projection: 2016-17: $89 million; 2017-18: $108 million.
Apr 17, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
I just think Doc Rivers the GM has tied the hands of Doc Rivers the coach too much — the Spurs versatility and depth gives Gregg Popovich more options.
Apr 17, 2015, 4:38 PM EDT
He is expected to make a full recovery.
- Warriors strong enough to outlast Anthony Davis and Pelicans in Game 1 2
- Paul Pierce leads Wizards to overtime Game 1 win over Raptors 5
- Q&A: Corey Brewer on trade from Timberwolves, his 51-point game, Harden’s MVP case, Rockets vs. Mavericks 1
- PBT First Round Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. San Antonio Spurs 10
- Why the 2015 NBA playoffs feel wide open – but probably shouldn’t 4
- PBT Extra: Houston, Dallas simply do not like each other 3
- Sounds like Pacers president Larry Bird, head coach Frank Vogel don’t want Roy Hibbert back next year 24
- PBT staff playoff predictions: Lots of Golden State love from us 1