Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday, August 27--Interlude, Part VI: MJ

I'm reading a great book right now by David Halberstam called Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made. Halberstam is one of those incredibly objective writers who is able to steer the facts to his developed hypotheses, though not in a heavyhanded or bombastic manner. It is truly a book written by a journalist who is skilled enough to make the reader forget that he is a journalist.
It has been eleven years since Jordan retired (feel free to count his Wizards comeback as part of his career--I choose not to, thank you). How then has he gotten better as a player each and every year that he has been retired? How it is that his airtime seems that much longer, his fallaway that much more unstoppable, his pullup jumper that much more deadly, from a 2009 viewpoint? Something about the mass-media age in which we live has elevated our celebrities and athletes to even greater heights with each highlight, each ESPN Classic retrospective, each YouTube search for "Greatest Jordan Dunks" or "Jordan Mix."
As Kobe Bryant led (is this too much credit to say he "led" a very talented team?) his team to this year's NBA Championship, there was a bit of the old man in me who couldn't wait to be asked my opinion on whether this had catapulted Kobe into "GOAT" territory. The more I was asked, the more had to defend my generation and speak my piece on how he was a great player, but not in Jordan's territory, lacking the unselfishness, the number of NBA titles, the pure "Did you see that?" quality of MJ's game.
There is something seemingly innate to humans that causes us to insert ourselves into the era(s) in which we have lived and defend that era to the death, because we are in effect territorial people. How dare a Young Turk come and shake the bars of our era, claim Lil' Wayne as the best rapper, when we know the best has to be someone from "The Golden Era of Music" (our era)--Dr. Dre or De la Soul, Tribe, Tupac. How dare someone say that these current cartoons are the best--umm, have you even seen Batman: The Animated Series?
In the same way that old-timers saw Elvis as profane with his hip-shaking Antichrist routines, so too do I have to remind any disbelievers that rape accusations against Kobe would not be forgiven in my day. (Sure, Jordan has proven to be a philanderer, but let's not let the facts get in the way of the story here.)
Your grandpa will never concede to your father that Ali was better than Marciano or Joe Louis, or to you that Tyson in his prime would have whupped any 1940s boxer.
And you will not, cannot, ever concede that anyone, be it Kobe or maybe even LeBron in a few years, was better than MJ.

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