My Apology to Michael Jordan

FROM THE HOSS MARTIN ARCHIVES:

        On May 12, 1988, The Chicago Bulls went on the road to defeat the Detroit Pistons 105-95. Following the game, my parents drove the approximate one-hour back to Toledo as I reflected upon how much difficulty my childhood favorite Detroit Pistons were going to have defeating the Bulls in the playoff series. I continued to replay all of the various ways Michael Jordan was able to score via dunks, lay-ups, and jump shots over the vaunted Pistons’ defense; I went on to have an extreme sense of disdain for the budding superstar as a result.

            Of course, the Pistons would eventually dispose of the Bulls, but it definitely gave my cause for concern as the divisional rivals kept meeting in confrontational regular season/playoff games following the 1988-1989 season. In addition, the National Basketball Association quickly instituted the “Flagrant Foul” as a means to aid Jordan by punishing the Pistons (also New York Knicks) from the clothesline tactics of Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer as the 1990s commenced.

            Although I was a young man at the time, I had a keen sense that the NBA was positioning Jordan as being the centerpiece of the brand as Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird’s careers were about to wane. I could see the immediate impact of this transition do to the vast numbers of Bulls’ apparel I saw worn around my hometown. A decade earlier, a Chicago Bulls’ player, such as Reggie Theus, could not even give away the franchise’s souvenir items if he wanted.

            As expected, Michael Jordan was able to lead the Chicago Bulls to a championship in 1991, and the march towards the Hall of Fame was in motion. A year later, I began my studies at Oral Roberts University and watched Jordan hoist championship trophies like it was mandated by birth. My irate disposition regarding Jordan began to leak out in my dorm room commentary to the point where some of my wingmates probably thought I was imitating a Richard Pryor/George Carlin comedy album from the 1970s. I guess my resident advisor and chaplain were semi-concerned about my attitude and said, “You ought not to say those things about Michael Jordan”. I began to dislike any associations with Chicago/North Carolina such as the following: Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Tar Heels, Chicago pizza, politicians, etc.

            Sadly, my feelings about Jordan did not change until July 23, 1993. The senseless murder of Mr. James R. Jordan, Sr., his father, had a profound impact on me because of my relationship with my own father. I could not imagine the pain Jordan went through because I could not comprehend what my thoughts would have been if someone took either of my parents away from me. So, I did not believe it was unexpected for Jordan to enter into this first retirement as a result.

            Prior to Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA in 1995, I began to reflect on all of his qualities that I do admire. Jordan was able to use motivation and determination as a powerful combination to get an advantage over his opponents. Now, some of his detractors were quick to address his less than sanctified habits during his career, but I would argue that it was not necessarily Mr. Jordan’s responsibility to become the Patron Saint of Professional Basketball. At the time, his primary objective was to be there for his family, friends, team, and his charitable endeavors.

            When Michael Jordan returned to the NBA following his second retirement, I was really hoping he could perform well enough to lead the lowly Washington Wizards (still Bullets to me) into a playoff appearance for old time’s sake. Unfortunately, Jordan was unable to carry the deadweight of teammate Kwame Brown through his nearly 40-year-old legs for a playoff run in his final season as a professional. I thought Jordan’s teammates should have manned-up enough to send him a more appropriate send-off after such an illustrious career, but he was unable to communicate to them the type of intensity that was necessary to become winners in their profession.

            In the end, I guess Michael Jordan was somehow able to get even with me for my bad feelings towards him in years past. When I first met the woman who became my wife, the first question I inquired of her was which state she called home. Her immediate answer with pride was, “I’m from North Carolina!” Next, I looked up towards the ceiling and thought, “God really does have a sense of humor.”            

June 15, 2010

David Stern: The Commissioner that I Remembered the Most

As news of the recent, unfortunate passing of former National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern began to intensify, many current and former athletes along with media personalities understandably became panegyric upon reflections of a man who was essential to the success of one of the best-run enterprises in North America. Stern, who was initially along the periphery of events, was an eyewitness to a professional sports league that was in transition.

Not long after the merger between the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association, Stern became a prominent member of the NBA’s general counsel. Although the merger was seen as a necessity in stabilizing professional basketball in the United States, the development was anything but a harbinger of health and prosperity for the NBA in the mid to late 1970s.

During the time, the prevailing attitude of media and fans alike was that the NBA was devolving into a moribund outfit with a perception that the preponderance of its athletes was illicit drug users. These rumors were pervasive to the point that fans chose sides in whether to romanticize or vilify these athletes in Wild West fashion probably due to a lack of understanding between the patrons and players resulting in a schism.

Nevertheless, the new NBA should have flourished with the infusion of talents such as Julius Erving (Dr. J.), George Gervin (The Iceman), and Artis Gilmore, but the phlegmatic public was far from enamored with professional basketball at the time. These problems resulted in the NBA Finals being aired on a tape-delay via CBS late in the decade because airing it on primetime seemed like a waste, especially when the network had the option of airing The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Dallas on Friday nights. Thus, the 1978 and 1979 NBA Finals between the Seattle SuperSonics and Washington Bullets seemed more like a ruse than reality.

The NBA was eventually granted a stay of execution following the sensation of the 1979 NCAA Championship game between Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores that became a fixture in basketball lore. The national championship game was so intriguing that fans eagerly followed these young men into the NBA the next season anticipating greatness.

The winds of change were afoot with the behind the scenes guidance of Stern by the early 1980s. With the NBA’s once nearly sunken vessel righted, outgoing NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien gleefully handed over governance to his apprentice, Stern, and the NBA was finally poised for prosperity and unprecedented league expansion as recruits Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton arrived.

Commissioner David Stern used his skills for jurisprudence and willingness to embrace mass media to advance public relations with the league so that average sports fans could relate to these athletes in more of an artistic fashion. The NBA players were more like skilled actors than perspiring behemoths and broadcast television could not get enough of it because they needed something to rely upon after the Super Bowl concluded.

Stern’s stewardship of the NBA from 1984-2014 will be written annals of Northern American sports history as to how effective leadership can catapult an organization from the nadir of its modern history to the apex of achievement to date. Yes, there were labor issues periodically like any other professional sport, but he was adept at maintaining professionalism and urbaneness during negotiations that ostensibly helped the owners and the Players Association be at least tolerant of each other.

 Perhaps, Stern’s most notable blunder was his endorsement of the microfiber basketball during the 2006-2007 season. The players were not impressed with the tactile nature of the ball that was unfamiliar to most. Nonetheless, Stern was willing, albeit reluctantly at first, to reverse his decision and return to using the previous basketball that was in existence since circa 1970.

Stern seemed like a balance between an autocrat and ambassador depending upon what was necessary for the benefit of the NBA and the game. With billions of dollars at stake, effective governance is of the utmost importance. Stern possessed these qualities and bequeathed an organization to Commissioner Adam Silver in a much better condition than what was handed to him back in 1984. Let that be his epitaph.