Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Search of Yang...or Yin: Part 8 - The Gift and The Curse

rIt's a time for elation and celebration. The back cover has closed on the book of the greatest player in the history of Basketball: Michael Jeffrey Jordan. We all know the legacy. We know about the game-winners, the fadeaways, the retirements—and so on. But by now, you should know that my FU way of doing things will make this more than just an essaying of listing all of MJ's accomplishments. Jordan brought more than just amazing sneakers and dunks. He did a lot for the professional athlete, both good and bad. In fact, MJ's career both enhanced basketball and hampered it at the same time. Since Jay-Z always makes MJ references, I decided to flip it and call MJ's career "The Gift and The Curse." All things good will be presented after the random picture.

The Gift
Everything Jordan starts with his partnership with Nike. MJ showed future pro athletes how to turn a name into an establishment. Think of how many other star athletes are under "Brand Jordan." Not even Tiger Woords has any other golfers of significance (if any at all) rocking the TW fitted. Jordan took the foundation of Basketball and applied it to his sales pitch. Combined with whoever those geniuses are at the Swoosh, and His Airness has pushed billions of attire with the Jumpman logo on it. "Sometimes I dream..." indeed.

Because of that marketing, and the growing popularity of the NBA post Bird-Magic, the world was able to see Jordan's supernatural competitive nature and skill level. There was nothing he could not do. Through the midst of hand checks, hard fouls and better competition; he's better than any other player. Period. Then there's the list of HOF players whose championship hopes he's killed with each dagger jumper. One of them is being inducted with him in Springfield. In addition to Stockton and Malone, there's Barkley, Payton and Kemp, Reggie, Patrick (Ch)Ewing—all succumbed to the magnitude of Jordan's awesome. He truly created a legacy and is a living legend.

The Curse
This is that curse I had alluded to in the previous Yin/Yang post involving Jordan. Because he is the Perfect Hooper, he gave young aspiring ballers that they, too, can possess every tool available in the Basketball realm. The problem with that is: not everyone has room in his repertoire for everything; so they either try to do something that doesn't fit their personal style, or their game suffers as a whole. We all know of the many swingmen that received that scarlet letter of a label in "the next Jordan." Only Kobe has been able to overcome that without some hindrance to his career because of it. Jordan's shadow loomed so large over SG/SF blends everywhere that a lot of them were pressured by the mainstream to, "Be Like Mike." Ask Jerry Stackhouse.

Secondly, and more importantly, because of Jordan's marketing dynamic, he was the first megastar athlete post-Ali. I always said the generation after the Civil Rights one—my parents' generation—was softened by integration. As a result, they weren't looking for their celebrities/athletes to take political stands. That's why Ali is as revered as he is. He didn't just make up clever poems and master the sweet science; he did it during a time of racial prejudice and was actively involved in that struggle. MJ, bluntly put, allowed future pro athletes off the hook socially. This means the Lebrons, Kobes, Tigers, Jeters, etc. are able to sell merchandise without having to say anything meaningful. Now, this doesn't mean they have to walk around blasting "Fight The Power" to games. But thanks to His Airness, neutrality is safe and money is all that matters. Now, if an NBA player wants to take any sort of stand, he gets hushed by Commissioner Stern and his goons. That's why Chris Jackson Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is out the league and Shareef Abdur-Rahim was able to stay. But the Association as a whole is watered down and less skilled anyway; so I guess the social side of it is reflective of that. "Republicans buy sneakers, too." Right, MJ?

Michael Jordan is an icon and should never be forgotten. The man is excellence personified and the result of what happens when a man's will is completely focused on success. Celebrate his originality for there will never be another like him.


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