On Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame Speech

by

I have a friend who kept an unusual hobby in college. Let’s call her Sarah.

Sarah was attractive, intelligent and had a warm, sunshiny personality that was impossible not to like. A gaggle of guys could be found chancing their arms for her attention at every party, dutifully waddling behind as she moved from room to room.

Sarah liked to page through tabloids and fashion mags in search of the celebrity cellulite which some talented photoshopper missed while prettying-up the stars. It wasn’t a vindictive act. She had no ill will toward Charlize Theron or her ordinary thighs. It was an act of self-affirmation. Sarah liked to remind herself that the pressure to become pin-up pretty was a scam. Regular flesh was fine.

During his Hall of Fame speech, Michael Jordan pinned up posters of himself to the wall. And then he unwittingly took a magic marker and began to diagram the deformities we’ve happily glossed over through the years. It too was an act of self-affirmation.

It was tacky and vitriolic and unnecessary. For many it was a critical discovery—the anagnorisis of basketball’s most enthralling three-part—into the character of Michael Jordan. The high-priest of plastic people, it turns out, passes gas. And sometimes loudly, and in tight quarters.

There is no doubt that Michael Jordan had a different aim. His intention, I suspect, was to mark his will to win as his single most defining characteristic, to lend that sentiment more weight than championships and MVP trophies. Champions and MVPs are, after all, only nearly peerless. They still keep some company. Jordan’s strategy was to relegate all that stuff to the footnotes of his mythology. Who else has that stuff in their footnotes? His myth—the myth that would swallow up all others—would be that when push came to shove, he always shoved a lot effin harder.

So strange that the king of last second heroics would miss so badly on this, his final attempt. No matter how much spin that scripted, staff writer spiel about limits, fears, illusions and various other nonsense puts on the ball, we’ll always hear those first 22 minutes clanking off the rim. We should have heard it coming a long time ago.

But maybe there is a moment of critical discovery in all this. Let’s put a little less elbow grease into the myth-making machinery that demigods are best players. And let’s pay a little more attention the next time a David Robinson comes through.

  • ikhilioju

    This is why I respect David Robinson so much more as a person than MJ. Robinson is such a good person
    —————————————————————
    why, because his motivations are more palatable to you than Jordan’s?

    The answer’s yes, if you’re pausing to think about it, but that’s not even the point of it all….spending 20 minutes talking about how the word of Christ has motivated you can be just as disquieting to someone as Jordan’s speech apparently was to so many….

    someone said that if Olajuwon wanted to speak about Islam for his acceptance speech it would’ve been fine, since this is his only chance at it, and it’s fine if Robinson talks about God for his speech, because it is what defines him as a man…..so why can’t Jordan speak about his sole motivation, or the one aspect of his character that defines him, on his one and only chance???

    the hypocracy of people’s arguments about this speech is so glaring it beggars belief….

  • Edudlufetips

    I’m not religious, but clearly the trend in the recent years is that publicly speaking about one’s religion as a driving force in his or her own life is looked down upon. This is wrong. Just as someone is able to claim that their parents drove them to success, or their coaches, or mentors or friends, one should be able to say the same about God, Allah, Jesus, Yahweh, or even Satan. We have this formula that we want to be fulfilled, even if it’s BS.

    I personally found Jordan’s speech distasteful, but as Voltaire so eloquently put: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” We learned that Michael Jordan is not what we want him to be. On the court, he was the most feared and deadly force the game has ever seen. Off the court, he wasn’t quite the superhero. Criticism is our right as well, but character judgment shouldn’t be.

    Jordan obviously has deep-seeded issues, all of which are responsible for the player we all at one point admired and ‘oohed and aahed’ at. He denigrated his teammates, coaches, opponents, and even friends. He subsequently acknowledged that this feeling of superiority led to his basketball success and no one can argue this claim.

    At the very least we should be thankful that he was honest, even if this honesty does not hold up to our standards of the ‘selfless superman’ mold we love to fantasize about. We wanted him to be Jordan on the court and Jesus off the court. He’s a man with flaws, and this became evident in his acceptance speech. But we all also have major flaws if we believe that someone we revere should pretend to be something he is not.

  • matt conway

    From John Stockton’s speech:

    “So what am I doing here? I do know that I played 30 years competitively. 3 at St. Aloysius, 4 at Gonzaga Prep, 4 at Gonzaga… and not once, never, was I best person on my team.”

    Such humility. What a class act.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Timothy Varner

    Matt,

    I agree with you. He was a class act. His was the forgotten quote from the speeches various speeches that night.

  • JM

    Tim and Chris K. both put it so well.

    To people who say they only care about Jordan’s on-court prowess excuses or even entitles him to make such a speech, here’s why I disagree.

    During his career, Jordan worked just as hard off the court as on it. . . to created the impression that his personality and off-court life was just as perfect as on the court. He has everyone believing he was the perfect husband and father, perfect friend, perfect everything. He went to great lengths to silence any reports about his many affairs, gambling, fights with teammates, etc.

    It was only because everyone – the public, reporters, his team, his family – turned a blind eye to what a jack@$$ he truly was that he was so successful as an endorser and media personality. For him now, in his speech, to credit only himself for his success, is all the more galling.

  • JM from Chicago

    Does anyone remember when Dickey Simpson joined the Bulls, and Jordan and Pippen would sit on the bench laughing out loud at him when he’d miss a shot? I always thought, “Wow, you COULD be mentoring him to get better, but I guess laughing at him is almost as good . . .jerks.”

  • Jack Cee

    The Jordan speech apologists keep referring to his “desire”, and “drive”….I’m a Jordan basketball fan, but if you don’t see the pettiness, mean spirited “slights” and his failure to even begrudingly give some “thanks” to others you’re far to much in love with his playing skills than finding his live skills flawed big time. He ticked off each slight as if it was time to settle…..he had the opportunity to show some class, and, in my opinion, he showed how little he really is as a man. Of his children all he had to say was that he wouldn’t want to be them. Has this great giant of basketball no shame? No class? No sense of place and purpose? The apologists will continue to say it makes no difference; it makes ALL the difference. He was a great player and probably not so nice of a man.

  • Life is Good

    I hate basketball, but I thought the speech was great. I love all the haters here, including the author, badmouthing the speech. Jealously is a nasty thing boys. Just because you have not led successful lives is no reason to hate on someone who has. Oh well, continue on, you bitter little men. I think I’ll go watch the speech again and laugh at all of you!!!!

  • FRANK G

    IF YOU DIDNT LIKE HIS SPEECH, THEN YOU DIDNT LIKE MJ…..CUZ THE SPEECH EPITOMIZES EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS, A GREATLY COMPETITIVE MAN, A GREAT BASKETBALL PLAYER, AND A CHAMPION….HIS WORDS WERE NOT MEAN, OR NASTY, BUT AGAIN COMPETITIVE, AND CONFIDENT……THANK YOU MICHAEL FOR ELEVATING, AND BASICALLY SAVING THE GAME OF NBA BASKETBALL.

  • Pete

    The only guy Jordan didn’t beat is the guy in the mirror.. he has been consumed by that guy.

  • http://www.yahoo.com JT

    Those defending Jordan on the basis of attributing his pettiness, vindictiveness and narcissism to his love of the game have got it all wrong. Basketball is a team game. I suspect that Jordan could have done without the team concept altogether. His alleged love of the game amounted to little more than a self-aggrandizing, pathological love of self. Jordan wasn’t liked by his teammates, whom he would often viciously and publicly deride and he was at best begrudgingly tolerated by league executives who must have secretly wished that the league’s most luminescent, headline garnering and revenue generating star wasn’t such an intractably cocksure egomaniac.

    Rumor has it that Jordan’s gambling problem may have led to his initial, premature retirement. I remember the press conference. When asked if he’d ever consider a comeback he casually dropped this phrase, “if Commissioner Stern lets me back into the league…” What?! Why wouldn’t he? Unless Stern had something to do with Jordan’s retirement.

    No one is saying that Jordan wasn’t the best player of his era or possibly of all-time. My point and what I think was the point of the writer is that Jordan’s persona, image, marketability, even his marriage, were all part of a meticulously crafted media fabrication designed for the benefit of the NBA, the Chicago Bulls and the corporations paying Jordan to defy gravity. Most men would have found Jordan’s level of achievement and notoriety intoxicating and probably would have engaged in behavior deemed less than morally circumspect from time to time given all the spoils and indulgences that accompany being a ludicrously compensated superstar athlete BUT Jordan’s appetite for, not fame, but like the author said, winning via the public humiliation of anyone whom he could even remotely construe as an opponent was sickening. Did that pathology contribute to his on-court legacy? Would he have been such a ferocious competitor if he’d been just a little saner? I’m not sure. Maybe Jordan’s life serves as a lesson regarding when the hunger for victory devolves into something ugly and dehumanizing. In the context of his entire life Jordan’s basketball achievements ring hollow if indeed he’s incapable of cultivating close friendships or humbling himself enough to genuinely ask the forgiveness of another human being. All things considered, I feel sorry for him and for the people he has hurt.

  • ryan

    Although I rarely write comments on blogs these days, I feel compelled to chime in on this issue, however self-indulgent. First, I wonder if any of us criticizing or commenting about M.J.’s Hall of Fame Speech realize the intrinsic irony of that criticism.

    By putting forth our personal judgments of another man so publicly, especially at what was clearly such an emotional ceremony for him, there is an implied claim of our own superiority. Those who would claim M.J. lacked class, has an over-inflated ego and/or serious psychological issues in regards to competition and defeat, should perhaps look in the mirror. After all, why would one person seek to voice his opinion so publicly about another individual unless they themselves had their own ego-gratifying motivations? Why would one spend their own time plastering the walls of the internet with criticisms and negativity, if they themselves were not insecure and flawed? Why indeed am I even writing this now?

    Secondly, as Quincyscott said above, “These are athletes, not statesmen…”. Michael Jordan is a competitive basketball player. He is not a professional orator, nor an accomplished speech writer. And yet, I personally found his speech (which to me was more of a dialogue) to be honest and refreshingly genuine.

    Rather than putting a rosy face on everything and simply waving a plastic smile at the cameras, M.J. gave us an intimate look at what the life and mind of a sports hero is like. One could not have asked for a more candid or truthful moment.

    Rather than reciting the standard thank you list and cordial but often vaguely detached socially-expected words, M.J. spoke from the heart. To be sure, some of what he said could be seen as immature. But to quote Socrates “An honest man is always a child.”

    M.J. was talking about his career playing a competitive game, at an event honoring that role. Therefore, it was very relevant for him to discuss who he was, and how his career was formed, along with his adversaries along the way. He opened up and showed us what created the drive within him, and what kept him going during the hard times.

    To be sure, much of what we see powered him was insecurity and desire – desire to be the best, to be superior, to dominate. But this is the very nature of sports and perhaps of humanity in general. M.J. himself personifies the word competition, and he clearly knows that.

    Perhaps what some may find so offensive is how in your face he is about illuminating this dark dichotomy of sports. Do we as fans not yearn for the team we root for to be victorious? Do we not shout and hoot and holler while rooting for men like M.J. to crush those competing against him, thus leaving one team to suffer defeat? All fans of any champion surely share a kind of common ego who’s desire is to win and revel in that victory. To think that this is a wholly healthy activity in general, not motivated by any darker personal insecurities is to be in a state of denial.

    To be the greatest at anything, one needs both competition and collaboration. To wallow in whatever negative connotations there may have been in M.J.’s words, is to miss the bigger picture in his message. M.J. is saying to us – look, I am this man because these other men and women made me so, whether on purpose or not. M.J. is illustrating the words Confucius spoke “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.”

    And finally, he embodies an era. I grew up with the basketball greats of the early to mid 80’s, including Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and M.J.. They were brazen, trash-talking, egotistical men who thrived on competition and beating each other. They often came from low-income homes and struggled against all odds placed in front of them to become the best. And yet, they did it with a sense of humor and grace, and ultimately, they all became great friends.

    Those on the outside looking in may have seen M.J.’s words here as cheap shots and low blows, yet the truth is he is playing a game that he has been playing for years – a game he has mastered. He is poking fun at his old friends – jesting with them while also reminiscing, and reminding them, as they each in turn would remind him, that he is the best. He is embodying that idolized basketball persona – the essence of a star.

    The bottom line is, he spoke from the heart about his career and his personal relationships, with a sense of humor and his classic, playfully cocky attitude that made him who he was and is. Again, in the words of Confucius, “Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.” None of those he spoke about seemed to be hurt by any of his words, and in the end, he left us with a perfect portrait of a competitive athlete at the end of an illustrious career.

    Although time has taken away his physical abilities, as it will all of us, his mind remains the same. At heart he is still the same M.J. we adored back in his glory days, and if he could, he’d don a jersey tomorrow morning and hop right back on that court to millions of screaming fans and trash talk his way to the top again.

  • sportstalk23

    I said it on youtube so I’ll say it here too the only people that hate that speech hate MJ,since there were worse athletes walking the planet than him haters needed something and his speech was it,no dice he spoke of what drove him and this well his teammates didnt like him SO the reason why we even know most of their name is because of MJ
    I truly think that speech was a F-You to the same people who bashed the man for years for being too bland,too vanilla, he never says anything edgy,or controversial, well take that haters, it was his moment to express what made him as great as he was and it was haters like writer that decided to hijack his moment,MJ greatest ever dont give a damn rather you like him, but you can never deny his talent which haters want to but know they cant

  • Down Under

    Lets remember one thing – he is one of the greatest basketball players (if not the greatest) of all time.
    He is not a speech writer or maker.
    Basketball made him their PR machine, showed him a life he could never have trained for or learnt from another the right (or as it seems most want to argue – the preffered way).
    He is competitive in nature and that is what he showed in his speech. He will never stop this, and this is why he comes across the way he does. 
    Dont mistake it for arogance – as most seem to want to ridicule him for being.

  • Carlo09kaloy

    he just said what he have to said and also said what happened to his career and man. he got all the rights to be cocky if he is well he got that backed up. so just hate on him but you cant be better for him. well haters and media reporters are just hating because of the money or they were just losers

  • Cool

    very cool

  • Abner33

    I can appreciate what you say about Mr. Robinson. The talk about God may rub you the wrong way but just think that to him it is a very important and worthwhile thing to say. If you believed in something so much and loved something so much..wouldn’t you talk about it? I want to be like Robinson, I want to stand up for what I believe even when it may rub others the wrong way.

  • Cindy

    when he cried on the stage, I cried.