Today, I spent a bit of unscheduled time researching the YouTube entries on Michael Jordan’s induction in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Because earlier I heard Milton Kent call Michael Jordan for being classless in his acceptance by providing concrete situations that served as motivation for him. Some of those examples detailed in the speech made for uncomfortable moments certainly for some of the subjects who were there as well as the audience.
Me, not being the tried and true basketball fan like my dad—a true student of the game—paid little attention to the induction ceremony as it happened and only saw it today after wondering exactly what he said. In my mind it was simply a background formality that may had already occurred if not for the media coverage. But, after knitting together the various clips that exist out there to get all of what he said, I found little in the speech that did not define the personality of Michael Jordan.
In the speech he asked, “what about me do you not know?” The fact is to the true watcher knew of Jordan’s competitive drive. The 2000-era Esquire article, by now incarcerated Jayson Williams, that detailed the extent to which Jordan would lay into talkers on the court, only to say something like “we had a little talk” when the commentators asked what was being said is really the stuff that dominates my mind. It’s just not a shock at all.
I think the question is to what degree is his vengeful spirit warranted and perhaps I’m not the person to ask that but I think it is. Speaking about trash-talkers, there’s clearly no better way to make yourself a target of anyone than to be a trash-talker. Among the many reasons I never liked the wide-receiver Terrell Owens, a consistent foot-in-mouther, dishing, not only the other team, but his own teammates regularly. Personally, I always have had a policy of never calling out the other team, because I knew I had to play them in any sport I played—unless they start.
Jordan, rarely grilled people in public, despite our knowing he had his grudges against a litany of people: the late eighties Detroit Pistons team, the early nineties Knicks team, Utah Jazz’s Byron Russell, the Bulls’ management, some of his coaches and many more. The list delved all the way down to the player picked on his high school team over him. He spent a bit of time talking about the desire to prove himself against that player picked for the team in high school. Having been cut from a team, I can say that’s a meal that sticks with you.
I find a speech like that to be the stuff of lore that one could be called to speak about what drives your motivation against large and little morsels of disrespect that one, as a “player” in any sport must endure. Perhaps that’s what some people did not know. While it may be surprising for him to use that venue, it’s a part of who Michael was. I think that the thing that commentators like Kent may very well not know, or may have forgotten, might be the depth that those motivations shape his actions and thus his being. But then again, the people for whom true greatness is a ubiquity, to really understand their motivations may truly be beyond pen.
Despite the discomfort posed, I understand. And I won’t be picking up any hall of fame awards anywhere. But, heck, I’ve got my own list.