Can Michael Jordan rebound?
After his Charlotte Bobcats suffer the worst season in NBA history and critics start to lash out, MJ seems to be trying to bolster his image.
I saw Michael Jordan play in person for the first and only time on March 24, 1987, against the Philadelphia 76ers, in what was just the Bulls’ tenth Chicago Stadium sellout of the season. These were such early days for MJ that he still had a full head of hair and Air Jordan IIs on his feet (the shoe line now boasts 27 iterations). Even so, Jordan had already earned Rookie of the Year honors and established himself as an All-Star in less than three NBA seasons. But it was still disappointing to learn that Sixers great Julius “Dr. J” Erving—who was, as Mayor Harold Washington put it during a pregame ceremony, making “his last house call” in Chicago—would not be playing.
In his classy farewell, Erving called the Bulls “a team that will be reckoned with in the future.” But Jordan decided there was no time like the present to play a game for the ages, twisting his body around defenders to sink baseline shots, drilling fadeaway jumpers under heavy pressure, scoring off his own offensive rebounds, slamming home four dunks—including two of the tomahawk jobs immortalized in the Nike Jumpman silhouette and Jordan’s United Center statue—and executing one gorgeous mid-air pump-fake that ended with a reverse layup that seemed equal parts effortless and miraculous. Jordan grabbed a rebound as the final buzzer sounded, having scored 56 points in what would be the ninth-highest-scoring game of his storied career.
Even from the squintiest upper reaches of the nosebleeds, I was hooked. If you lived in Chicago during those years, you probably have a similar story. And like many of you, I avidly followed MJ through the Bulls’ first three championships, his baseball exploits, his thrilling NBA comeback and that second glorious three-peat, all the while knowing as well as I’ve ever known anything that he was the greatest basketball player of all time.
Minutes before the start of that long-ago Chicago Stadium game, Dr. J apologized to his teammates for subjecting them to a farewell speech in every NBA city. But he said he hoped he could provide them and other players “with an example…of what it could be like when their time comes to exit from this game of basketball.” Given Jordan’s score-settling Hall of Fame induction speech in 2009, the Bulls great clearly didn’t take Erving’s words to heart. But MJ does tap into some of the good doctor’s eloquence when he describes his ongoing connection with the city.
“I will always be tied to Chicago and that’s something I’m proud of,” Jordan says. “Plus, I know where the good restaurants are.”
So what if Michael Jordan’s trying to sell us something yet again—whether it’s an aw-shucks public image or a plate of Asian barbecue? It’s his job. Besides, he’s already given us his spectacular talent on the basketball court. He never really owed us anything off of it, did he?
If cold calculation ultimately lies at the heart of the public MJ, well, we can stop buying into it anytime we want. Most of us won’t, of course, no matter how often the moralizers scold us.
Jordan was just that good.