Friday, September 11, 2009

Michael Jordan, Today (9/11), and Tomorrow

Today is the day. in a few hours, the greatest player of all time will be inaugurated into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.

Michael Jordan...has achieved everything he will ever achieve as a pro basketball player. And no one has ever done it better.

As we've all spent today reflective not only of Michael Jordan's legacy, but also in remembrance of the lives lost eight years ago on this day, a strange and melancholy thought that came to mind, as I thought about these two worlds in collision:

What is the relationship between time and greatness?

Is it inverse, is it direct, or does it vary? Can greatness diminish? Does greatness only swell? Or does time have any relation at all to how monumental a person or event is in history?

Are our lives any less impacted by the great tragedy of 9/11 than they were eight years ago? Yes, our attitudes may have changed. We have returned to a relative sense of peace and stability compared to the emotions of that day. But the reality of what happened, the many lives that were forever changed, the young men that have spent years overseas at war to this day--none of that changes.

The attitude change is attributed to two natural human inclinations: 1) our natural drive towards homeostasis--we were not designed to be emotionally monotone, and 2) today's society is so drowned by information and a world consciousness made possible by 20th-century technology that we are constantly fighting to find our place in history, some assurance that we have had a historically-relevant existence.

(Sidebar: It's the reason that every time you watch SportsCenter there is a new statistic that you would've never imagined was even important, like "Most Time Spent Stranded on 3rd Base", "Most Minutes Played in Toronto by a Non-Raptor", etc.)

So that's why every tragedy that takes place after 9/11 will be compared to 9/11. The lives lost, the effect on the stock market, and the residual damage to our foreign relations will all be marked as "<" or ">" September 11, 2001. It was the greatest tragedy my generation has ever experienced.

But even if/when a greater calamity falls, nothing can change the fact that many sat, as I did, in high school classrooms around this nation, and saw their entire lives flash before their eyes in an instant. No numbers and statistics can supplant the reality of what we and the rest of the nation experienced that Tuesday morning.

Never forget.

(Please see note at end of blog)


great (grt)
adj. great·er, great·est
1. Very large in size.
2. Larger in size than others of the same kind.
3. Large in quantity or number: A great throng awaited us. See Synonyms at large.
4. Extensive in time or distance: a great delay.
5. Remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree, or extent: a great crisis.
6. Of outstanding significance or importance: a great work of art.
7. Chief or principal: the great house on the estate.
8. Superior in quality or character; noble: "For he was great, ere fortune made him so" (John Dryden).
9. Powerful; influential: one of the great nations of the West.
10. Eminent; distinguished: a great leader.
11. Grand; aristocratic.
12. Informal Enthusiastic: a great lover of music.
13. Informal Very skillful: great at algebra.
14. Informal Very good; first-rate: We had a great time at the dance.
15. Being one generation removed from the relative specified. Often used in combination: a great-granddaughter.
In my belief, greatness, both in its positive and negative forms, does not fade. The emotions, however, can regress over time.
25 years from his first NBA game, and less than a decade removed from his last dribbles up the court, Michael Jordan's legacy as a great player is well remembered, but his status as the greatest player has already come into question.
Kobe Bryant, for many years seen as the heir apparent, has finally climbed to become the best player in the league, after cementing his first MVP award and Finals trophy sans Shaq. Were he to win one or two more trophies, and climb a bit higher in the record books, many will be ready to give him the "greatest" status already.
Less than a decade removed...
LeBron James, now entering his 7th year in the league (we are getting old), is only 25 but has already established a hall-of-fame career for himself. He has led the league in scoring, won the MVP trophy, and carried his team to the top of the league. If he continues on his current pace and plays for another decade or close, with a few title wins he will likely be considered among-if-not THE greatest player of all many.
Less than a decade removed...
Then there's Dwyane Wade, who has already won a title; Carmelo Anthony, a Jordan-brand athlete who has shown flashes of being absolutely unstoppable and could one day get his game in focus; Kevin Durant, who is 1/2 an inch and 25 pounds from being impossible to guard, and Chris Paul, a small guard who has the will and toughness to compete with players well beyond his experience and size.
Less than a decade removed from seeing Jordan play his last NBA game, there are already whispers of players who could take the reins. What will his legacy be in a full decade? In 20 years? In 30?
Bill "The Sports Guy" Simmons asked an interesting question in one of his recent mailbags: What if Kobe Bryant was a good guy all this time, and we misperceived him because of the Shaq beef? Does that change things?
My first thought, of course, was the way he is perceived compared to Jordan. Would I personally feel that Kobe is closer to catching up with Jordan if I actually saw him as a person rather than a species? Yes, that was a bit harsh, I know.
But then I realized...sure, Kobe could acquire 6 rings, and more MVP's. Sure, Vince Carter might've produced more electrifying dunks in games. Sure, It only took Wade 3 seasons to do what took Michael 7. Sure, LeBron might shatter every scoring, rebound, and assist mark Jordan ever set by the time he's 30. Sure, Kevin Durant could one day average 40 points per game.
But what no one can ever match, and what makes him the greatest player of all time in my eyes, is not his statistics, but his story.
Watch the commercials. Read his quotes. Jordan didn't want to become rich, or famous, or a great dunker, or a leading scorer, or a defensive player of the year, or an MVP, or Finals MVP, or NBA Champion. He wanted it all. He fought for it all. And he achieved every bit of it.
It would be a calamity to see a generation pass and watch Jordan become nothing more than a high-flying dunker who scored a lot of points and won 6 rings. In this highlight-friendly era, that's what he's in danger of becoming. But the beauty of his career is found not in his successes, but in the things we discovered about him in his failures...Being picked after Sam Bowie
  • Losing to the Celtics in his 2nd season
  • Being abused and defeated by the Pistons for three straight years
  • Losing his father
  • Struggling as a minor league baseball player
  • Coming back into basketball, older and further removed from the game
  • Coming back into basketball at age 38 to join a losing Wizards team
...and when he faced the brink of his own demise...
  • The Knicks battles of the mid-90's
  • The '96 season, 72 wins after losing to Orlando the previous year
  • The Sick Game
  • Game 7 against the Pacers, 1998
  • Game 6, The Shot, against the Jazz in '98
  • The "game winner", 2003 all-star game, his last
When you've seen those moments, when you've seen how he fought his way to the top--and stayed there for nearly a decade--it's hard to confine what he accomplished to just numbers and highlights.
Michael Jordan is... a global empire...of shoes.
Michael Jordan is…a shot. THE Shot.
Michael Jordan is… evidence of human flight capability.
Michael Jordan is… a player that cannot be duplicated.
Michael Jordan is… Craig Ehlo’s father
Michael Jordan is… last, a Hall of Famer.
And tomorrow.................................who knows?
*(Please note: in no way am I attempting to tie the legacy of Michael Jordan with the events and destruction of 9/11. This was merely done in tribute and, I hope, in good taste).

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