The craziest thing about LeBron James'(notes) talcum/chalk controversy has to do with his supposed ownership of the whole ritual. I mean, it's not even his controversy to own. You guys know what I'm talking about, right?
You don't? Oh. I forgot that some of you weren't around, back then, and that the finest minds of my generation have slipped up on that knowledge due to copious amounts of video-game playing and (probably) those hormones they put into chicken.
LeBron James stole the routine of tossing talcum or chalk into the air from Michael Jordan. And considering what went down Thursday night, I can't believe more people (besides NBA Offseason) aren't talking about it.
There's no way around it, no way James thought of it on his own, and for a guy to be as celebrated and documented as Jordan was, it's a bit shocking that people don't remember this. I mean, I know Jordan retired from the Bulls about 12 years ago, but those "WASSAAHHP?" Budweiser ads were introduced about 12 years ago, and everyone's annoying uncle still quotes those. And yes, we know that Kevin Garnett(notes) aided in the evolution of the talcum toss, before a game; but honestly, was LeBron James watching Minnesota Timberwolves games growing up? Doubtful.
Johnny "Red" Kerr was a former NBA All-Star, Chicago native, and he was the first coach the Bulls ever had -- taking Chicago's expansion team to the playoffs in its first year, a feat that hasn't been duplicated in the 43 years since. Following his time spent coaching the Phoenix Suns and as an executive in the ABA (the guy, seriously, drafted both Julius Erving, and George Gervin for the Virginia Squires), Kerr became a Bulls broadcaster in the late 1970s.
Luckily for the late 1970s, they begat the early 1980s, and the early 1980s gave the Bulls Michael Jordan. And sometime in the late 1980s (he didn't start it right away), Jordan started to clap the talcum powder he was given just after player introductions (as he walked toward the game's opening jump ball) in Kerr's general direction just to annoy the Chicago legend. Kerr, who didn't seem to get angry at anything but a bad referee's dubious call, would laugh and feign coughing as a result; sometimes complaining about how the powder would float down into his coffee.
The ritual never went away. This wasn't something Jordan did during the doldrums of a long NBA season. If the Bulls were nationally televised, and Kerr was moved into radio duty, Jordan would seek him out. MJ played 1,109 games for the Chicago Bulls in both the regular season and the playoffs, and while he did clap talcum into Johnny's face every time, Kerr was there for each and every one of them. As pictured above, Kerr (who passed away in 2009) got the treatment from Jordan even at a ceremony that introduced a Johnny "Red" Kerr statue at Chicago's United Center in 2009.
[Video: LeBron's chalk commercial]
James' ritual is a little different. The talcum flies in the air to draw attention, as if he's some sort of magician trying to encourage the parents at this particular birthday party to step away from the snacks table and into the living room for his "show." Thursday night, it was almost designed to infuriate.
Jordan's ritual? Just a smart-alecky little move, meant to annoy the person who documented his career better than anyone else, and something that turned into a superstition that Jordan nearly could not live without.
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- Michael Jordan
- LeBron James