As I clicked on our Tivo and watched the NBA All-Star Game festivities late Sunday night, I missed Michael. I know we have LeBron, Duane, Kobe and others, but I remember seeing Michael every week on television, and I miss him. My brother Sam saw him live in Chicago, and said that he would never forget watching Jordan soar over defenders effortlessly. He is simply the best, and there will never be another like him. I know all the tired arguments about Magic Johnson (who’s hand I shook a few summers ago in LA — huge, soft hands) and Larry Bird (who I saw play high school ball in French Lick, Indiana). But they don’t even come close to being worthy to hold Michael’s jock when it comes to pure, basketball dominance in every aspect of the game.
I just couldn’t resist taking some of you youngsters down memory lane with a few youtube videos that feature Mike, but first, here is a sad e-mail I wrote after he won his last championship against Utah. We miss you, Mike.
Written in 1998 – The day after game six
As I watched the last few minutes of game six last night, I felt privileged. Many years from now, when we are all much older, sitting in lawn chairs watching steaks crackle on a bbq grill and sipping tall glasses of sweet tea, we will reminisce about the greatness of the finest basketball player in history, and how we were lucky enough to watch him play, night after night, and make us all believe that “he could fly”.
Michael Jordan has always been my hero.
I remember those ugly games with Detroit, when Rodman and Lambeer would take turns pushing him and knocking him down, and he would still score 40 and 50 points.
I remember the interview following a particularly bitter series with the Pistons, when Jordan, with tears in his eyes, promised that his team would do what they had to do to bring the trophy to Chicago…they worked out all summer…and did.
I remember reading his autobiography, and being stunned that Jordan was cut from his high school team as a sophomore and told by his coach that he “did not have the tools” to be a basketball player. He ran home and wept in his room until his mother dragged him up off the floor and screamed at him, “You will work out this summer! You will not give up! You will make the team!”
Michael Jordan is embodies everything that makes basketball the greatest sport in the world. He is tall, strong and graceful. He can glide through the air and hammer home devastating dunks with ferocity, or fake the drive and pull up for a sweet, 10-foot jumper. He plays defense like an octopus hopped up on crack, consistently making the all defensive squad. He is a family man, kind to the media, and always has time to smile at the huge groups of kids waiting for him everywhere he turns.
Oh, and Michael Jordan never quits. Now, at 35, his legs can’t propel him as high as they used to, and his heart doesn’t permit him to run full tilt without becoming exhausted and spent by the sound of the buzzer, but he never quits.
I watched as Utah went up by one in the final minute. Everyone in the room knew who would get the ball. Everyone in Salt Lake knew who would get the ball. Every one of the millions watching world-wide knew who would get the ball. Michael.
As he had done thousands of times before, he cradled the ball and drove toward the basket, scooping it in for a score. Before Malone could get set down on the post, Michael came around the baseline and swatted the ball out of the Mailman’s hands, and we waited for His Airness to work his magic one more time.
Unbelievably, Utah failed to double team Jordan as the clock ticked down… 10 … 9… 8… 7… 6… Michael faked a drive, then completed a quick cross-over. As his poor defender, Bryon Russell, bit on the fake and fell, Jordan stepped back, squared up, and calmly flicked the ball toward the basket with a perfectly arched jump shot that sailed straight threw the net…..I jumped to my feet, spilling a subway sandwich and cheetos to the floor… “Oh , yeeeeeeeeessssss!!” After a pathetic desperation shot by Stockton, it was over, and the Bulls were once again on top of the world.
How can anyone cheer against Jordan? My nephews, 5 and 6, are rabid Michael fans, due to “Spacejam” and Sam’s affinity for the Bulls (having attended college and lived in the Chicago area). They were amazed that some members of the family were cheering for Utah. “Why aren’t you for the Bulls?”, they would ask. “Don’t you know that Jordan plays for them?” Nathan even became evangelistic in his zeal: “It’s still not too late”, he said. “You can still cheer for Jordan tonight.”
I know it’s fashionable to cheer for Chicago. I know that many are sick of the Bulls and want new faces in the spotlight. Not me. I wish Michael could win forever. I wish he could keep soaring and dunking and faking and driving.
Someday it will be over and we will be left with only memories and videotapes. I want to appreciate true greatness while we still can…and hey…I still believe “he can fly”.
Thank you Michael…please don’t quit.
Come on everybody…hmmmm….ba-dum-dum-dum
Sometimes I dream
That he is me
You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be
I dream I move, I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
Oh, if I could Be Like Mike
Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I move
I dream I groove
If I could Be Like Mike
I wanna be, I wanna be
Oh, if I could Be Like Mike