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.
Jul 24, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Green, drafted No. 46 in 2013, spent a year overseas
Jul 24, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Huestis would have accepted arrangement only with Thunder or Spurs, but will the NBA or players union allow it?
Jul 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Sacramento’s search for a starting-caliber point guard let the one already there leave for Suns
Jul 24, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
San Antonio guard says he won’t represent Argentina if he still feels pain
Jul 24, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
The good news, he did not eat all the ice cream he wanted during his recovery from a tonsillectomy.
James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.”
Jul 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Rockets players certainly are giving Parsons plenty of bulletin board material.
Jul 24, 2014, 1:00 AM EDT
Shannon Brown joins Metta World Peace and Lamar Odom
Jul 24, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Allen has already said an MRI comes first
Jul 23, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT
We know how this movie is going to end, Donald Sterling will lose the Clippers, we just don’t know how we will get there yet.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Aminu, who replaces Rashard Lewis, will have player option
Jul 23, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Houston’s other second rounder, Alessandro Gentile, to remain in Europe
Jul 23, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
If you really want something and you can afford it, why not? But Ballmer overpaid big for the Clips.
Jul 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
Does this mean Boston will trade Rajon Rondo?
Jul 23, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT
Sacramento reportedly plans to file waiver claim on Casspi
Jul 23, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
If Kevin Love goes to Cleveland does that impact Ray Allen’s decision?
Jul 23, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Numbers show a substantial increase in popularity.
Jul 23, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
Exum is a project but he also could be the point guard of the future in Utah.
Jul 23, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
“I was about to get him kicked out of the camp,” Wade joked.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT
Good pickup to add some depth at the point, something Dallas needed unless you’re expecting a monster bounce-back season for Raymond Felton.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT
Is it better than the offer being put together by the Cavaliers?
- James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.” 32
- Mavericks signing Al-Farouq Aminu to two-year, minimum salary contract 10
- Report: Ballmer’s $2 billion Clippers offer nearly double what Bank of America valued team at 15
- Report: Jameer Nelson near $2.7 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 16
- Report: Mavericks void Rashard Lewis’ contract after it’s discovered he needs knee surgery 13
- Report: Sixers, Nuggets or Celtics could become third team in Kevin Love trade to Cavaliers 48
- Five biggest surprises from Summer League 14
- Justin Bieber and Kevin Durant share brunch (photo) 23