Tuesday, November 17, 2009

But It'd Be So Empty Without Me...

Book04: "The Jordan Rules" by Sam Smith

This past summer, Michael Jordan was accepted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Definitely a no brainer. The surprising part of that day was Jordan's "acceptance" speech, if you want to call it that. During his "speech" (more like rant), he seemed to be releasing about 30 years worth of ill feelings that he may or may not have held back from everyone who's entered his life since he first started playing basketball. Gone was my vision of a heroic icon who was a decent man who just hungered for the game, and in his place stood a bitter, vengeful player who held a grudge and a chip on his shoulder for way too long. It was the first time I actually saw Michael Jordan in this light, but, as I'd come to find out, it was not the first time the world was introduced to this "true" Michael Jordan.

"The Jordan Rules" is centered around the 1990-1991 NBA season, the first of six times Michael Jordan would win the NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls. The author, Sam Smith, was working as a sports journalist in the Chicago area at the time, and decided that he would chronicle the ins and outs of this season with the Bulls. The title references both a supposed set of "rules" the Detroit Pistons had developed in order to shut down Jordan during games as well as the special treatment Jordan received by a number of people for being the star that he is. The outside cover reads "The Inside Story of One Turbulent Season with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls". And it is completely right.

Smith digs deep into the core of what the Bulls were that year: a superstar who believed he deserved more credit than he was given and didnt think anyone else could do the job but him, eleven other team members griping over minutes, chances to score while in the shadow of Jordan, and their contracts, and the new head coach (Phil Jackson) who would have to figure out a way to make this all work. Of course, in the end, I knew the Bulls would win the championship, but after reading page after page of how the other players resented Michael Jordan and how Jordan was an egotistical jerk who's addiction with his star status was basically the crux of all the malcontent within the organization, it truly is a surprise that they got one championship at all.

Jordan was basically as I stated: a player who had become a huge superstar, but thought he deserved more. Not only did he believe he was deserving of the treatment he was receiving (which, to be fair, he did); he believed he deserved MUCH more. The truly surprising part for me was how terrible of a teammate Jordan was until the Bulls entered the playoffs. Jordan had no faith in his teammates and ridiculed and debased them for every mistake they made, while the Jordan Rules protected him from criticism even during games in which he played poorly. Growing up, I always imagined Jordan being a great person, a figurehead who lead his team into battle and was beloved by all. To me, it was if he was Captain America. Come of to find out, Jordan was NOT Captain America. Many people term him as "hungry" and "the fiercest of competitors", but come on. That does not excuse him from being an atrocious teammate, which he was. You can be hungry and a fierce competitor without belittling your teammates. But Jordan was not a leader, and he was no hero. In fact, the only hero in the book was the first year coach, Phil Jackson. It was interesting to hear about a Phil Jackson outside of basketball. In fact, it seemed like Phil Jackson barely defined himself by the game of basketball. He was somewhat of a "hippie", and preferred to read the news and discuss politics and world affairs over anything sports-related, and he had a degree in psychology. Amazingly, he'd often use this to shape and to mold his players into a team. Jackson would often read into what each player wanted and how each responded to the world around him; he'd couple that with his basketball and coaching knowledge. The end result was a team that won a championship by surviving each other.

The power behind "The Jordan Rules" is that it really examines the truth of who these players are. Smith shows us that these sports superstars, these idols of children and so many more, are just as human as the rest of us. They have the same tendencies and fallacies and make all the same mistakes and commit the same vices. Michael Jordan was not a god amongst men in terms of being a human being, but I guess for me today, he doesnt have to be. Despite my displeasure over who Jordan was, it doesnt change the fact that I, along with so many others, are still enamored with him. He was the most incredible basketball player who ever lived, and in the end, that's who he'll remain.

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