Michael Jordan delivered the blueprint for the modern, iconic athlete. He didn’t just transcend basketball, but American sport. Tiger Woods gets compared far more with Jordan than he does Jack Nicklaus. Basketball hasn’t been alone searching for the next Jordan. As it turns out, so is everything else that uses a scoreboard.
Jordan taught sports how to pursue championships with ferocity and flair, style and grace. He always treated Sacramento in February like he did Madison Square Garden in the playoffs. Jordan was an industry, a movement, a happening. As much as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James chase each other, they also chase Jordan’s legend.
On Monday, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame welcomed Jordan as an elected member. Hours before his North Carolina Tar Heels play Michigan State for the NCAA title in Detroit, Jordan was introduced with the class of 2009 at a news conference.
They shouldn’t just give Jordan a plaque in Springfield, Mass., they should give him a wing. Truth be told, they should’ve let John Stockton and David Robinson and Jerry Sloan wait one year. They should’ve let Jordan into Springfield alone. He is too big to share a stage, his legacy too immense to be shared with Vivian Stringer.
The Basketball Hall of Fame is too political of a place. The voting belongs to insiders and the membership reflects it. The Hall of Fame should be for greatness and dominance, not the politically connected. It’s an insult to Jordan to have to share that shrine with faceless administrators and clownish TV hacks. Nevertheless, Jordan delivers a dose of credibility to sports’ most flawed Hall.
“I’m guessing the vote was unanimous,” Tim Grover said with a laugh on his cell phone Sunday.
Grover is the famous fitness guru out of Chicago, whom Jordan trusted with his most vital commodity: his body. Grover has a gym there, where he worked out ballplayers, but Jordan changed everything for him. When everyone else was gone – the adoring throng, the players, the press – there was Jordan and Grover. Sometimes, they were at Grover’s gym. Sometimes, they were on the road. Always, they were together. No other basketball player made a generation understand that greatness was an around-the-clock, around-the-calendar job.
“Michael would go for 40 or 50 points one night, and the next morning he was right back at it in practice,” Grover said. “He just couldn’t take a day off. His mental toughness was unbelievable, but the reason was that he was so physically ready every day. He used to have a saying, ‘I practice so hard because that makes the games easy for me.’ ”
Jordan’s legacy are the talents he spawned: Kobe, LeBron and Dwyane Wade. The next generation is so directly linked to Jordan, so influenced. Grover happened to be in Los Angeles on Sunday visiting Bryant, whom he’s called a client for several years now. The most direct descendent of Jordan on the planet, Bryant emulates him in every way: from his game, to his obsessive need for dominance, to his speech inflection.
Grover happened to be traveling with Bryant when he broke Jordan’s visiting scoring record at Madison Square Garden in February. Kobe dropped 61 on the Knicks, had a 2½-hour meeting with Spike Lee about a documentary in a hotel suite afterward, and wouldn’t you know it: “Kobe was back in the gym at 7:30 that next morning with me,” Grover said. “That’s the mental toughness that Michael had. They just always feel like that if I don’t work out, I just won’t feel right. Something will be missing in my day.”
Basketball is blessed with Kobe and LeBron and D-Wade, but Jordan remains a singular talent, a phenomenon, a generational happening. He was a confluence of events, a post Magic-Bird perfect storm for the NBA. The Hall of Fame will have a plaque that tells the pertinent facts: six NBA titles, five MVPs and 32,292 points.
Funny, but those things don’t stay with his old trainer the way the feeling of Jordan does.
“The one thing that I haven’t seen from anyone else yet is the sense that people felt on a day there was a game in Chicago,” Grover said. “People would start to get excited at 7 and 8 in the morning. It didn’t matter if you were going to be in the arena for the game. People would want to see Michael on the expressway to the arena. Just to see him walk into the building, people would flock to come watch. They would be waiting outside and thinking, ‘What’s he going to be driving? How’s he going to look?’
“They just wanted a glimpse. It was an unbelievable show.”
Michael Jordan goes into Springfield in September, and maybe they shouldn’t just give him a plaque – or even a wing. They should turn the whole building over to him. For one night, anyway, that should’ve been the plan. No shrine could ever do justice to his genius. You just had to be there.