September 11, 2009
I was supposed to knock this one out of the park. Absolutely own it with this column. Michael Jordan's going into the Hall of Fame, it's probably the last chance to fete the man without getting too mawkish, and I had to get everything right.
And I tried. I went righteous. I went hard. I worked the emotional angle. I went production-heavy. I went with wins, I went with losses. I tried to define the indefinable, in 2500 words or less. Sometimes 500 words or less. Sometimes I gave up, rather early. I tried every angle, and I always ended up with an empty page.
I'm not going to say I can't do it. I'm not going to say that I can't write the perfect column about a person that might be the perfect basketball player. I'm just going to say that, right now, it ain't happening.
And it's happened before. I honestly remember the look and feel of the white composition book, second grade, 1987, deciding to surreptitiously write a Jordan biography while the teacher prattled on in front of the class. Well before I knew my multiplication tables, much less what the word "surreptitiously" meant. I got past the intro, no sweat. I might have used the phrase "no sweat," which was quite popular in 1987.
Then, a couple of paragraphs in, I shelved it. "Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls 3rd overall in 1984 after his ..." Crap. Sophomore year? Junior year? Couldn't exactly call up my Dad to ask at 2 in the afternoon when I was supposed to be learning about, well, multiplication tables. So, shelve that project.
I tried some wispy stuff in 1999, when he retired for the second time. Put it together for OnHoops.com, entitled "Thank You," and meant it. Later, I wrote about the next comeback, his work with the Wizards, some of his play with the Wizards, and his time with the Charlotte Bobcats; but most of my time, spent in front of the laptop writing about basketball, was spent ignoring the giant No. 23 in the room.
Number 23. The reason I'm here, essentially.
Literally, and figuratively. Who knows what I do, where I'm going, where I'm staying, what I'm thinking, what haircut I'm sporting, what shoes I'm wearing, what job I'm working at to earn the money to buy those shoes, if it isn't for Michael Jordan?
Seriously. This isn't to say he's some all-knowing presence in my life, I'm down to having to really consider him to about once a week. But you want to talk about butterflies, flapping their wings? He's the biggest butterfly there is, with me.
Other people may have guided me to be stronger, smarter, happier; their influence was more direct and way more profound and important. Let's not get out of hand. But Jordan's influence led me down a path that leaves me where I am right now. Trying to get it right.
Literally, and figuratively.
Literally, because I've been working on Jordan columns all week, with pretty poor results. Time spent trying to get it right.
Figuratively, because I'm absolutely obsessed with being the best I am at what I do. Trying to get it right.
That isn't an ego talking. That isn't me telling you that I am the best, am close to the best, or anywhere near the best. This early into the game, the latter is probably closest to the truth.
But that doesn't mean I'm not driven to get better, get smarter, learn more, accept more, reject less, think more, work more, work more, work more, work more. That's what Jordan pulled. Constantly. Never, ever wanted to be left in a situation that wouldn't allow him to be the best at what he did, should the situation call for it.
That's why I appreciate Kobe Bryant(notes), because he gets it. That's why I appreciate this new generation of writers, who came long after I did (I was throwing crap against the internet wall back in 1997), who are working harder, smarter, and faster in a profession (hell, a good chunk of them don't even get paid) that for too long rewarded complacency, superstition, and mediocrity. And willful ignorance.
And that's why I have to work harder. Because Kobe's going to have a new move, next year. He's going to play off the ball, more. There's always something to learn from this game. Always. And that's why I have to work harder, because for as much NBA clippage as I consume, there's always someone else who is brighter, faster, smarter, and understood what "surreptitiously" meant in second grade. They're growing. They're watching more tape. More tape. More tape.
At least, I think they're out there. That's the paranoia that MJ handed me, and I'm OK with that. Magic had it. Bird had it. Kobe has it. And even if I level out as a middle of the road scribe who made sense every so often, I've got to at least push for that midrange ranking. And push hard.
Jordan was the epitome of midrange. Every year the NBA lists its average height and weight, balanced out from 450 players, and every year it's about 6-6, and 216 pounds. Every year. Those are Jordan's dimensions. Midrange.
Guards were going to be quicker than MJ. Centers were going to be taller, and stronger. He had to work to leave himself in a place where he could do the best he could. And mean it, sincerely, when he said "yes" after asking himself, "am I doing the best I can?"
You can't go into every game attempting to drop 50. With this column, I didn't drop 50. Might not even have put up double figures.
But what Michael taught us all, most of all, is to put the work in place to be able to drop 50 whenever the matchups are right, whenever the time is right, whenever the motivation strikes, and whenever it's needed most. I think I've done my best to try and learn from that.
He drove an Aston Martin to the Hall of Fame today, while I drove a Dodge Stratus around Lafayette, Indiana; but it was his influence that sparked my basketball fandom, his enduring brilliance that made me want to cover it, and his example that made me want to get it right.
So, again, thank you, MJ. Thank you for the pride you made me feel for my city. Thanks for the memories, memories I'll be forever able to mix with the goings-on in my own life, intertwining your story with mine. Thanks for lending me, us, the ability to head to our living room for a DVD, or to YouTube for a clip, and the guarantee that we'll be able laugh, gasp, exult, or get a little misty-eyed, every time we pull your work up. Every damn time. Thanks for helping me cement my love for the game that has given me so, so much.
And thanks for the example. Good or bad, Dodge or DB9, I kind of like my lot in life. Kind of love it, actually.
The work you put in? It didn't just help you stand up to the Pistons, lead you to move past the Knicks, or aid you in surviving in Utah. It also changed people's lives, for the better. Completely and utterly shaped the ever-evolving spiral of the way people live their lives. Positively.
I can't think of a greater measure of a man. In this way, "6-6, 216 pounds," just isn't enough.