Jordan's Speech was Petty, Ugly

I spent last night doubled over from food poisoning--today's blogging will be my flu game in Utah, thank you very much--so I wasn't sure if Michael Jordan's speech had really happened. But that's why God created Tivo and Adrian Wojnarowski. This morning I watched it again, and then saw Adrian Wojnarowski's eloquent takedown of the whole affair.

His words, from Yahoo! Sports:

Jordan didn’t hurt his image with the NBA community, as much as he reminded them of it. "That’s who Michael is," one high-ranking team executive said. "It wasn’t like he was out of character. There’s no one else who could’ve gotten away with what he did tonight. But it was Michael, and everyone just goes along."

Jordan wandered through an unfocused and uninspired speech at Symphony Hall, disparaging people who had little to do with his career, like Jeff Van Gundy and Bryon Russell. He ignored people who had so much to do with it, like his personal trainer, Tim Grover. This had been a moving and inspirational night for the NBA – one of its best ceremonies ever – and five minutes into Jordan’s speech it began to spiral into something else. Something unworthy of Jordan’s stature, something beneath him. [...]

Whatever, Michael. Everyone gets it. Truth be told, everyone got it years ago, but somehow he thinks this is a cleansing exercise. When basketball wanted to celebrate Jordan as the greatest player ever, wanted to honor him for changing basketball everywhere, he was petty and punitive. Yes, there was some wink-wink teasing with his beloved Dean Smith, but make no mistake: Jordan revealed himself to be strangely bitter.

The entire article is great, and it's a point well taken. Jordan had the chance to enter immortality with grace and gratitude, and instead showed himself to be classless and callous. There will be plenty of default reviews of today's speech that praise his "playful" humor and cite his tears as the ultimate symbol of his love for the game. But make no mistake: despite the tears, Jordan remains a man with scores to settle, and last night he chose the most inappropriate forum possible.

And then he closed with eloquent words about the game of basketball:

The game of basketball has been everything to me. My refuge, my place I've always gone to find comfort and peace. it's been a source of intense pain, and a source of most intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. ... It's been a relationship that's evolved over time, and has given me the greatest respect and love for the game. It's provided me with a platform to share my passions with millions, in a way I neither expected, nor could have imagined, in my career.

I hope that it's given the millions of people that I've touched, the optimism and desire to achieve their goals through hard work, perseverance, and positive attitude. ... One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50. Oh don't laugh. Don't laugh. Because limits, like fears, are often an illusion.

Still, however dignified, his closing seems like such a dramatic departure from the tone and themes of the rest of his speech, you have to wonder: did Jordan even write that last part?

As a player and even in retirement, Jordan has spent most of his life insulated from criticism, and presented for public consumption with the benefit of a corporate-assisted sheen. Perhaps this was just the latest example of corporate sponsors burnishing a deeply flawed character into something we can all romanticize? I think so.

Maybe Nike didn't write the entire "basketball" section, but they definitely wrote that final line.

And it's sad; the most romantic notions of what basketball should and can be were all encapsulated in the video that preceded Jordan's induction speech. But it goes back to what I said on Thursday: his final home game with the Wizards featured a similarly spellbinding highlight video, and one that literally made my eyes water. Then the lights came on, and Jordan arrogantly refused to address a crowd of Wizards fans hoping for just the slightest bit of gratitude. To feel like they played some tiny role in his towering NBA mythology. But he gave us nothing.

I didn't realize it then, but in hindsight the moment makes so much sense: Jordan the player and Jordan the myth were both impossibly perfect. But when the lights come on, there's only Jordan the man. And unfortunately for the fans hoping to remember Jordan's poetic greatness and dominance on the basketball court, last night John Stockton and David Robinson made Jordan the man look hopelessly inferior.

And finally, as an addendum, some phenomenal tweeting from last night:

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