Killing MJ, Part I
Let us tally the points against Michael Jordan’s legacy. Number one: He was very good, but only because he had the right pieces around him. Except, that is true of every champion athlete. No one ever said Jordan did it all alone, yet every MJ legacy critic sets that straw man up and swings away.
Number two: Jordan wasn’t really clutch, as legend says. What legend was? Reggie Jackson is famous for coming through at the right moment, but check his overall playoff and World Series stats. Being “clutch” in sports is less about always succeeding, and more about being available. It is not the pure numbers at the toughest moments. It is the willingness to be that man.
Number three: Jordan’s so-called advanced statistics don’t match up to this or that player in this or that area. You can cherry-pick stats to make anyone look better than MJ. Or any other player, for that matter. “Curry’s off-ball defense is not as good as so-and-so’s, because look at these new numbers.” … You can find a way within statistics to justify almost anything, same as any other religion.
Number four: MJ was super-arrogant. So are all the top athletes. Next? After Golden State’s 73-win season which broke Jordan’s Bulls record of 72, Jordan congratulated the Warriors in a statement: “The game of basketball is always evolving and records are made to be broken. The Warriors have been a lot of fun to watch and I look forward to seeing what they do in the playoffs.” But then Golden State blew that infamous 3-1 Finals lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not surprisingly, MJ gloried in that collapse, taunting Golden State owner Joe Lacum at a later time.
Number five is where we continue this chronicling of the dismantling of Michael Jordan. But now, we’re getting more specific:
LeBron James can guard lots of positions on the court. When people say that, and they are comparing James to MJ, they are saying that Jordan could not guard as many sizes and positions of opposing players.
Here is an easy rebuttal to this: We never asked Jordan to do that.
Did Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep ever play bloody serial killing maniacs? Not that I remember. But they are considered among the best in the Hollywood game, whether in terms of box office revenue or acting chops. No one holds them accountable because of roles they DIDN’T play.
Likewise, no one tears down Joe Montana nor Tom Brady, because they couldn’t average 75 yards rushing as an all-time quarterback. It isn’t even raised in conversation. As pocket passers, they were never asked, never expected, to run around like Randall Cunningham.
Lebron, by most accounts, is a more complete athletic force than Jordan. James has a sturdier frame and seems nearly as spry, yet is larger than MJ’s peak “game body”. Also, as focused and in shape as Jordan was, things have advanced just enough medically and physiologically since the 1980’s and 1990’s. His peak was long enough ago that another generation is standing on his shoulders.
There was a time when Shaquille O’Neal’s size was seen as an unfair advantage. Remember? “He’s only dominant because he’s so huge!” That is not Shaq’s fault. It’s not LeBron’s fault, either. The component of natural size and strength is baked into their skill set.
The answer to this specious dismantling is built into the very criticism, itself. “We never asked Jordan to guard every position.” It’s a point only said to get a discussion going.
Nothing wrong with that, because the job of media talking heads is to build up idols and then tear them down. That’s what they do, and the somewhat-honest heads even admit that’s the idea. They get paid to chew on content for hours per day. Doesn’t matter if the point is valid. When they keep talking and writing, their off-the-cuff musings are buried under waves of more blather. No one seems to remember what was even said. And the talking heads like it that way.
Well, let’s help these poor, content-starved, implacable jackals:
The fact that Jordan did not or could not guard a 6-11 power forward consistently one-on-one does not diminish him.
The fact that Lebron can do that just makes him unique.
I use “dismantling” more comfortably than “downgrading” as I started to do when building this piece. Because those who say these things are not necessarily saying that MJ wasn’t great, per se (okay, actually: They kind of are).
It is really an effort to tear down the statue so to say. Or at least spray paint and t.p. it.
Not that I am opposed to destroying the idols of sports fanatics. But the talking heads who do the dismantling are only doing this to the MJ legend, only to push other idols… which they will then destroy.