Given the chance to meet any athlete, past or present, I’d most like to sit down with Michael Jordan. Boxers Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson also make my short list of athletes I’d like to meet because of their social significance as 20th century black celebrities and the many battles they had to fight outside the ring as a result of that fame and color dynamic.
Looking at the sports world today, there are a number of figures that stand out for their stories and for the fact that their legacies are being constructed in the moment. Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and LeBron James all have unique sports stories and I’d love to get to ask them a few questions about how they see things.
But when the gavel falls on the question “What one athlete would I like to talk to most?” I have to answer with Michael Jordan for reasons that are personal, impersonal and historical.
Michael Jordan was the central sports figure of my youth. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in Illinois, I lived in the middle of the Jordan Empire. His face was everywhere. His shoes were everywhere. I had just turned 12 years old when Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their first of six championships and I could not have been more enamored with the celebrity of Michael Jordan.
Given a chance to sit down with MJ, some of my questions would focus on this period of his basketball career, as the hype rose to a crescendo and the championships started to come. How did he feel about breaking through for the first time to get the ring? Did he expect to be able to win five more championships? When he grasped that trophy for the first time and cried, did he think of all the 12 year olds at home, screaming with joy and living vicariously through him? What was his idea of his average fan? What, in Michael Jordan’s mind, did a Michael Jordan fan look like?
Dealing With Fame
The athletic accomplishments of Michael Jordan are myriad. Basketball prowess made Jordan a star, a straight up legend. And that was only the beginning. With Nike and Gatorade and even a chewing gum company, Michael Jordan became one of the world’s foremost pitchmen and spokesmen.
The athlete became an icon then became a brand.
The fame that accompanied Jordan’s name was truly massive. Only Michael Jackson was a bigger name – and that’s saying something.
This notoriety came with costs, pressures, and expectations. The spotlight never left Michael Jordan and eventually sordid rumors began to stir about Jordan’s off-court gambling and other purported improprieties. His father was shot and killed in a robbery during this period.
At what could be considered the peak of his game and his fame, Michael Jordan retired from the NBA and attempted to play professional baseball.
Personally, I find this period very mysterious and intriguing. Was the pressure of fame getting to Jordan? How had he been dealing with the spotlight for so long and what changed that made him quit basketball? How true were the gambling rumors? Is it possible to explain to a regular person what it’s like to have one of the most famous faces on the planet?
Dealing With Money
Skip ahead fifteen years. Retired for the third and final time from basketball, Michael Jordan is now in the basketball Hall of Fame. He is also a corporate executive with a clothing line and an NBA basketball team under his ownership. Jordan is the first former NBA player to become the majority owner of a franchise (the Charlotte Bobcats).
What is motivating Jordan now, in business, besides any obvious profit motives? How did Jordan become the first basketball player to own a basketball franchise? Most players don’t earn enough money in their athletic careers to become majority owner of a professional sports franchise and those that do, if they exist, may feel that they don’t need any more money or don’t need the headaches and sleepless nights that come with ownership. What got Jordan into the ownership game? What is his vision for the future of the Jordan Empire? Is he selling sports shorts and shoes for his kids, to secure a future for them?Or are his business enterprises part of the famous Jordan competitive drive?
Perspective on Today’s NBA
Jordan has not shied away from commenting on the NBA and it’s stars since his last retirement. He has been quick to let Kobe know what he thinks, and LeBron too. Yet there are many issues that he has not been asked about.
What does he think about the pace of the NBA game today, as impacted by the rules allowing zone defense, and less contact (more fouls)? What does Jordan think about the surge of the “swing-through” move and the “kick-out” move both used on jump shots to draw fouls?
What is Jordan’s thinking on the scandal of several years ago involving a referee who was caught trying to fix the outcomes of games for Las Vegas gambling interests? Is that kind of thing still going on in his opinion?
What is Jordan’s view on the NBA’s technical foul policy, it’s All-Star voting and Awards voting policies? Should any of these policies be re-thought? If NBA commissioner, what would MJ do?
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