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.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:42 AM EDT
This is what the Clippers do, they put on a show. Midway through the first quarter Saturday night Chris Paul made the steal and it was a two-on-none fast break, so Paul went off the backboard to DeAndre Jordan for the slam. Not the best off the backboard I’ve ever seen, but not bad. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Cavaliers raised the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the rafters on Saturday, following a ceremony at halftime of Cleveland’s matchup with the Knicks. Ilgauskas delivered a speech and thanked the fans as is customary at these events, and LeBron James was in attendance to honor his former teammate, who had requested his presence. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Glen Davis has only been a member of the Clippers for four games, but he’s already sensing something special about his new team. Davis was bought out by the Magic and signed with Los Angeles less than two weeks ago, but played for Doc Rivers in Boston during his first four NBA seasons. He was…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Carl Landry appeared in a career-high 81 games for the Warriors last season, and was a key reserve who averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs. The Kings haven’t sniffed the postseason in eight years, but signed Landry to a four-year deal worth…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Phil Jackson was first offered a head coaching position with the Knicks this week, even though Mike Woodson is still (for reasons unknown) firmly in place. Jackson declined that one, so New York upped the ante with a front office job offer, one that Jackson would reportedly be deciding on in the coming week. No…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away. On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an…
Mar 8, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
UPDATE 6:20 p.m.: Batum’s nose is not broken after all, according to an updated CSNNW.com report. It’s being called a nasal contusion, and it hasn’t yet been determined if it will require a protective mask. 4:30 p.m.: Well, we know he can’t wear a black mask to protect his face going forward. Portland’s starting swingman…
Mar 8, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
O.J. Mayo has been suspended one game without pay for “forcibly striking” Greg Stiemsma in the throat during Friday night’s loss to the Pelicans, the league announced on Saturday via official release. This comes as no surprise, as Mayo’s teammate Ersan Ilyasova received a similar suspension for even less of an offense that occurred in…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Paul Pierce is finishing out his Hall of Fame career with the Nets at the moment, after playing 15 seasons with the Celtics and rising to the top of many of the franchise’s all-time statistical leaders lists. Pierce returned to Boston for the second time this season wearing a different jersey on Friday, but he’ll…
Mar 8, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Because the Lakers haven’t been embarrassed enough lately… That is Jodie Meeks just getting dropped by Ty Lawson‘s crossover during the Nuggets 134-126 win over the Lakers Friday night in a real defensive struggle. Lawson threw a series of moves at Meeks and got him off balance before dropping the hammer (then making the dish…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Late in the third quarter Friday with the Rockets leading the Pacers by 23 points, James Harden and Evan Turner got into it a bit, and the players had to be separated after getting face-to-face and a little shoving ensued. This appeared to be Harden intentionally agitating things, as this play had been whistled dead…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Even after three straight losses, the Indiana Pacers remain the team with the league’s best record, though they’re now tied with Oklahoma City for that honor while sitting at 46-16 in the standings. But the last two losses have been troubling. On Wednesday, Indiana lost by 22 points to a Bobcats team that is five…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Earlier this week I gave you a few highlights of my conversation with author Jeff Pearlman, who has a fantastic new book out on the Showtime era Lakers. Now, I bring you our entire conversation. In this latest edition of the PBT podcast myself and Eytan Shander of NBC Sports Radio discuss Phil Jackson and his…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:54 AM EDT
The Lakers have lost a lot of games this season (42 to be exact), but the historic 48-point blowout loss to the Clippers Thursday night on national television hit the fan base hard. Many of these fans rooting for them to lose and get a better draft pick were embarrassed at the lack of defensive…
Josh McRoberts with an incredible behind-the-back pass to set up Chris Douglas-Roberts for three (VIDEO)
Mar 8, 2014, 12:02 AM EDT
This pass was incredible in two distinct ways. First, the ability shown by Josh McRoberts to recognize that his teammate was wide open behind the three-point line from his position in the paint was fantastic. But the pass? It wasn’t just daring to attempt, but the physical level of skill required to get it there…
Sixers coach Brett Brown on whether we’ll see Nerlens Noel play this year: “It really is, ‘Who Knows?’”
Mar 7, 2014, 10:34 PM EDT
Nerlens Noel was selected with the sixth overall pick in last summer’s draft, and the Sixers traded Jrue Holiday for him in order to jumpstart their rebuilding process. But we have yet to see Noel take the floor for Philadelphia this season, in much the same way that Andrew Bynum missed his entire year with…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT
It’s been a frustrating season in Milwaukee, and it’s gotten to the point where the team’s players are taking out those emotions violently against their opponents. Ersan Ilyasova received a suspension for the punch-shove combo he delivered to Reggie Evans, and we can expect the same punishment to be handed down to O.J. Mayo, who…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
The nationally televised schedule of games that appear on TNT Thursday nights is apparently etched in stone. There’s no other way to explain the network keeping a Clippers-Lakers game on the air when a perfectly good Suns-Thunder matchup — one between two high-scoring playoff teams — was on the slate the very same night. Logistics…
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Teams keep asking if Phil Jackson wants to come back to coaching. This is a guy who has had both hips and one knee replaced (with the other likely), who has spent too many years on the road sleeping in beds too short for his 6’10” frame, having showerheads hit him in the middle of…
Mar 7, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT
According to every reliable source, Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of the final year of his contract this season and look either to re-sign a five-year deal with the Knicks or move on to another team to be part of a contender. If Anthony wants to jump ship and go somewhere like oft-mentioned…
- Report: Phil Jackson ‘leaning toward’ accepting offer to become Knicks president 22
- Paul Pierce’s move to power forward adds twist to his career, Brooklyn Nets’ season 3
- O.J. Mayo suspended one game for punching Pelicans’ Greg Stiemsma in the throat (VIDEO) 4
- Pacers players hold locker room meeting after getting crushed by Rockets 24
- PBT Podcast: Talking Showtime Lakers with author Jeff Pearlman 9