Feb 14, 2013, 2:39 PM EST
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.
Dec 6, 2013, 11:12 AM EST
When the Knicks got Andrea Bargnani the sales pitch from the pro-Bargnani side was he could do things Steve Novak couldn’t — play some defense in the post and put the ball on the floor and blow by guys. Whether those skills are really worth $23 million over two years is now a moot question,…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:50 AM EST
LeBron James doesn’t like wearing his new shoes. I mean literally his shoes — the LeBron 11 by Nike. Usually if you have a signature shoe you wear it, and in LeBron’s case when he slips on the shoe it’s a lot of free promotion considering the spotlight on him. LeBron outsells any current player…
Dec 6, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
As Holly MacKenzie and plenty of other women will tell you, proposing to your girlfriend at a sporting event is your idea of a cool proposal, not hers. But if your girlfriend is a “Luvabulls” dancer in Chicago (that’s what they are called, it’s not my name) you can get away with it if you borrow…
Dec 6, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
Over the years, Dirk Nowitzki has cemented his status as one of the most unguaradable players in NBA history. There have been better scorers, and there have been better shooters, but Nowitzki is second-to-none when it comes to getting his shot off. It would be easy to peg Nowitzki’s 7-foot frame as the sole reason…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:38 AM EST
Our nightly grades from around the NBA, or what you missed while singing Doe, a deer, a female deer… Ray, a drop of golden sun… Mike Woodson, coach New York Knicks. For a night, the Knicks looked pretty good and so Woodson can sleep without the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The core…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:11 AM EST
This is the Chicago Bulls that are hard to beat, Derrick Rose or no Derrick Rose. Since Rose went down with a torn meniscus the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor — they had been giving up 13 more points per 100 possessions defensively than they had with Rose. That was just…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:21 PM EST
NEW YORK – In a game that was supposed to be a lively and competitive rivalry contest between two teams who share a city and began the year sharing aspirations of contending for a title, the end result was to fans what the entire season has been for both the Knicks and the Nets —…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:38 PM EST
NEW YORK – The Knicks ended their nine-game losing streak with a blowout win over the Nets in Brooklyn, and early in the fourth with the game already decided Kevin Garnett and Andrea Bargnani got into a brief scuffle that resulted in both players being assessed technical fouls. Garnett is normally the one to blame…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:53 PM EST
Otto Porter could make his Washington Wizards debut this weekend. He has been out since before training camp with a hip flexor injury, but the No. 3 pick overall could get some NBA action soon. And teammate Marcin Gortat is worried about him. Jokingly. But Porter’s slight frame (6’9, 198 pounds) became a joke, as…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:51 PM EST
Dwyane Wade missed the Heat shootaround on Thursday, he was back at the hotel with what the team called “flu like symptoms.” That will now keep him out of the Heat’s game Thursday night against the Bulls, reports Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. Wade has missed several games this season to rest his knees,…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:24 PM EST
Michael Carter-Williams is becoming must-see NBA TV — 17.7 points a game plus 7.3 assists a game playing at the fastest pace in the league. And don’t forget the 3.1 steals a game. But this weekend the early leader in the Rookie of the Year race will be sitting out with a sore knee. He…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:52 PM EST
Nelson Mandela, the iconic former president of South Africa who helped lead his nation out of the apartheid era to one of more equality, has passed away at the age of 95. The loss is humanity’s, but the world is better off for his full and purposeful life. NBA Commissioner Stern issued this statement on…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:19 PM EST
We know Kobe Bryant will not play Friday against Sacramento — he said as much and he’s not even traveling with the team to beautiful central California. So what about Sunday in Staples Center against the Raptors? Maybe. That’s as good as it’s going to get right now. Kobe spoke with reporters after his third…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:37 PM EST
The Boston Celtics may be on top of the Atlantic Division — at 8-12, but still on top of it — that doesn’t mean Rajon Rondo is rushing back to the court following ACL surgery. In his weekly radio interview with Toucher and Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub Ainge talked about weeks not days,…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:12 PM EST
The Clippers lost to the Hawks because of their defense on Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 51 percent as a team overall, hit 12-of-23 from three, were able to get more than a third of their shots inside 8 feet and shot 64.3 percent on them. The Clippers starting five had a horrible defensive…
Dec 5, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
An NBA fan was handed this at an NBA game Wednesday (and his friend posted the photo on Reddit, where I saw it). It’s a “red card” warning for what is deemed abusive language or behavior to someone — a player, a coach, the referees or another fan. The warning is clear: keep it up…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:15 PM EST
The Houston Rockets’ offense has been one of the best in the NBA this season. James Harden on the outside, Dwight Howard inside and a good combination of role players has worked well. But not Wednesday night. Against the Suns the Rockets shot 35.2 percent as a team and 29 percent from three. It was…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:33 PM EST
The Knicks and Nets as engaged in a thrilling competition: Which team is the biggest laughingstocks in the NBA? Both can lay claim. They have oversized payrolls, cartoonish owners, coaches on the hot seat and underwhelming stars. The Knicks have seen Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin feud, and the Nets have matched with Jason…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:22 PM EST
“I’m not done.” That quote sums up what Derrick Rose said in about 25 different ways during his first press conference since tearing his meniscus, an injury that required surgery and is expected to sideline him for the season. The press conference was streamed on CSNChicago.com. Rose was asked what he would say to those…
Dec 5, 2013, 12:43 PM EST
Anybody who tells you they know what Carmelo Anthony is going to do this summer is selling you something. And it’s something that doesn’t smell good. But we are going to be inundated with this stuff between now and July 1, when Anthony likely will become a free agent. The latest was ESPN personality Stephen…
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