Rohde: Michael Jordan

Ed’s Note: Kyle Rohde is guesting today. He’s around these parts often and asked to write to Mike. Enjoy.

Dear Michael,

You became the hero of my youth sometime around age 8 (1990); I’d moved on from He-Man and, though you didn’t have a sword or a castle, something about you struck a chord and for the next 10 years, I worshiped the ground you walked on.

On Oct. 6, 1993, I woke up, watched the news and could scarcely believe what I saw—you were retiring and I broke down in tears, barely able to go to school that day. It’s one of the most vivid days of my life.

You came back and those next three years were amazing, the stuff dreams were made of. You re-established your place as the most famous, iconic athlete in history. And after you retired again, you had the whole Wizards comeback thing, which I wish had never happened. But hey, I understood; you couldn’t give it up. And it’s not like you pulled a Brett Favre and went to play for the Pistons or something. Plus, you donated your salary both years to the 9/11 victims.

A tearful Jordan at his Hall of Fame induction on Friday night.

A tearful Jordan at his Hall of Fame induction on Friday night.

Besides the obvious, I loved and admired other things about you. You’re articulate. You have no visible tattoos and never succumbed to the thug culture so many athletes feel compelled to be a part of. You had a gorgeous wife named Juanita and three beautiful kids—Jeffrey, Marcus and Jasmine—and seemingly had a great marriage, with no known Steve McNair-esque issues or rumors. Your parents were still blissfully married and you were close to them, until your dad was tragically taken from this world. I read The Jordan Rules and, yeah, you went nuts and punched Will Perdue once, but that’s just your ultra-competitive nature coming out, right?

Then, you started doing things that showed the naivety of my youthful hero worship. You and Juanita separated and things got ugly. She ended up getting what might be the biggest celebrity divorce settlement in history and you moved on … to stupidity like this. Really MJ, you’re the greatest basketball player ever, with your choice of women anywhere, anytime, but you feel the need to get down with a couple college chicks that wouldn’t stand out in any KU or MU bar?  Then there was the Lisa Miceli thing, too.

You failed miserably as the Wizards owner and now you’re doing the same in Charlotte. I read When Nothing Else Matters and started to see the MJ that never starred in a Nike commercial; I started to see the arrogant egomaniac you were behind the scenes.

Things went further downhill for me when I saw the Miami love shack you bought for your almost-20-years younger model girlfriend, Yvette Prieto. I’m sure she’s smart, funny and really “gets you,” MJ, but couldn’t you have avoided becoming another aging celebrity going after some young piece of ass to recapture your youth? Even Burt Reynolds is embarrassed for you. Not to mention the rumors she’s pregnant with your fourth child.

All those things saddened me, thinking back how I worshiped the ground you walked on. But I was still looking forward to your Hall of Fame induction because that would be the night you showed the joyous kid inside you again. Your humble side would come out and you’d thank all the people who helped you accomplish what you did. But instead, you showed that six years of retirement has done little to quell your desire for attention and adulation.

In stark contrast to the humble joy of David Robinson and John Stockton, you felt the need to combat a slight that hasn’t existed for more than 20 years: You took as much credit for the championships as you could, quickly mentioning Scottie & Phil, while leaving out Grant, Paxson, Rodman, Kerr, Tex Winter, Johnny Bach, Tim Grover and the other guys that helped you win six rings. You gave Jerry Krause a few more sharp barbs, even though he was a far better GM than you will ever be, building six championship-winning teams and a seventh that almost won one without you in ’94-95.

I don’t want to repeat what Adrian Wojnarowski said here, but on a night when everyone came out to celebrate you, you still felt compelled to avenge every perceived transgression ever directed toward you. People were talking about having a separate Hall of Fame ceremony, just for you, and maybe changing the NBA logo to reflect your status as the GOAT, yet you still felt a need for revenge.

I hope that you can learn from a guy like Magic Johnson, who has far more reason to be bitter than you, with a career ended too soon by a disease that will more than likely kill him one day. But Magic’s warmth still radiates, 17 years after being diagnosed with HIV. He’s become an ambassador for basketball, just as you should. As you age, I hope you can become that.

In the end, I’m disappointed, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, that you turned out the way you did—flawed and imperfect, bitter beyond reason and struggling to hang onto a part of your life that’s long gone. Like finding out the truth about Santa Claus, knowing that takes away a part of my childhood. You’ve come back down to Earth and, unfair as it is, I like you less for it. You were better than all that, MJ, in the eyes of a 12-year-old, Wisconsin kid named Kyle.




21 responses to “Rohde: Michael Jordan

  1. Hey, y’all.

    @Kyle: Good post.

    I watched some of the induction ceremony with my husband before having to leave the house to attend a football game. Before we left, I made sure to set the DVR so that we (mainly my husband) could catch his acceptance speech later.

    It seems to be very common for a celebrity to have one persona in public and be an entirely different (or even polar opposite) person in private. I think this goes beyond their iconic, mentor, hero status to show a human side. A lot of people, celebrity & non-celebrity, act one way when out in public and can be an entirely different person behind closed doors or in the safety/privacy of one’s home among family and close friends.

    It’s always interesting to see what different people take away from the same show or event. From reading your letter, I see what you realized & took away from the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. From the small part I watched (because I haven’t watched the DVR’d remainder), I took away something similar but since I haven’t watched the rest of the ceremony and acceptance speech to find out if my perception was correct, I’ll witthhold comment.

    • Thanks Shawnta – I’ll be curious what you think when you watch the rest of the speech, especially if you watch the other four beforehand. Stockton’s and Sloan’s were particularly good.

  2. As someone who followed Jordan as close as legally allowed, I can say that I’m not particularly shocked by his HOF speech. Every last person who was a true fan knew that Jordan was extremely flawed. From his refusal to ever speak on anything that socially affected people (“Republicans wear shoes too…”), his gambling/competitive compulsiveness, and his countless rumored affairs…I mean could you honestly as a fan have been shocked?

    In the words of Dennis Green: “They are who we thought they were! (And if you’re going to crown his ass, then crown it!)”

    I thought the speech was quintessential Jordan. This is the same guy that slapped Steve Kerr and when Pippen was having Migraines one season, Jordan would come to him after a game w/ a stat sheet and if Pippen didn’t perform well, Jordan would hand him the stat sheet and say “Migraines again, Scotty?”

    He insulted Ron Artest to the point that Ron Artest broke Jordan’s Ribs in a practice! In practice, he trashed Rodney McCray so bad that he lost all confidence his ability shoot. There are countless more Jordan stories but not too many that speaks of him as a “Nice” or “Grateful” or “Humble” guy.

    MJ was my first lesson as a child that you can respect someone in one capacity but not in everything. What I find funny though, is that most Jordan lovers hate Kobe when they are as equally cold individuals…*shrugs*

    • Oates, you know your stuff. I’ve read those same stories too, plus the punching of Will Perdue, absolute shaming of Brad Sellers and a ton of others we don’t know about.

      I’d just hoped that by 2009, he could have moved on past that type of mentality and realized those guys busted their butts to help him win, and they did win. I was particularly put off by him flying Leroy Smith in just to show a 30-year grudge against his high school coach. That certainly speaks to his incredibly competitive spirit though.

      Thanks for reading. What’s your favorite MJ play ever? Mine’s right here: Start at the 1:20 mark – this play’s just a fantastic microcosm of his career, IMO.

      • Well I have 1 classic one and one that to me showed the fire in Jordan.

        1) The 98 Finals game 6 shot. It was supposed to be how it all would end. Kids dream of ending the championship w/ the shot or the home run or the touchdown. When he walked off, I knew it was over and I had witnessed the greatest B-Ball moment ever.

        2) Even though I choose to forget the Wizards years, there was 1 moment I thought summed Jordan. They were playing against the Bulls, He was on the offensive end, drove the lane and was fouled but didn’t get the call. The Bulls start a fast break the other way and 38 year old Jordan comes sprinting down on defense like a mad man. When Tyson Chandler went up for the easy layup/dunk, he didn’t know that Jordan channeled his inner “airness” and was gliding in the air behind him for a thunderous block off the glass. Not only did he block the shot but he caught the shot in the air and immediately looked the Ref in the face and told him “I’m gonna get my ball back”. Classic.

        • Yep, the shot against Utah would have been the perfect way to go out, the same way Elway did for the Broncos. On top, as a champion.

          I’d forgotten about that block, but you’re right – that was an awesome play. Blocks like that are even better than a nasty dunk.

  3. 1) “As someone who followed Jordan as close as legally allowed”

    2) “MJ was my first lesson as a child that you can respect someone in one capacity but not in everything.”

    @Kyle: 1) Funny. 2) Great point. I said this same thing yesterday in regards to musicians, actors & athletes, celebrities in general, yesterday on another blog. I agree that you can respect one aspect while rejecting other aspects of a person. I also think you can dislike (or even despise) a person’s acts but like (or even love) the person.

  4. I can’t fault Jordan for saying what he wanted to at his hall of fame induction. The Admiral and Stockton chose to enter humbly. Jordan chose to enter by taking pot shots at people he still has beef with over the years. My memories of him, though, will not be of speeches he made, women he slept with (although the pic of him dancing on those chicks in the club is hilarious) or people he berrated. I will always remember his skills on the basketball court…as a Bull. I try to forget that he played with the Wizards as much as I can. LOL

  5. I like hearing stories like this. I know it sounds wrong and sadistic but lemme finish.

    I dont know how I feel about the cannonizing of public figures. We makes them into gods and goddesses who can do know wrong. We oft create images of how we want them to be and put those images on the celebrities. Knowing of my bruh’s and other celebrities’ flaws makes them more human to me. It made it seem that i can too achieve the things that they did. It didnt cosign those flaws but made me weary of them b/c it taught me that if he can fall victim to them, why cant I.

  6. I think I figured out Jordan fairly early. I read a book and watched so many biopics, that I knew that he wasn’t the greatest guy…

    But he never allowed anyone to deny him of who he was because of his competitive nature. Yeah, he had asshole stamped across his forehead, but he was the best at what he did… and always seemed to amaze us all on the court.

    I knew not to put much weight in him or most any other athlete not named AC Green just because they amazed in their given professions.

    But I thoroughly enjoyed his HOF speech because of how honest he was. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. And he took you inside his mind…

    I think the most interesting part of it all was that he still believes he can play, and that he doesn’t want to let it go. He’s a perfectionist, and had the drive to be just that… I think that speech showed his honest will, and I don’t think you can hate him for that.

    The other stuff, *shrugs*… idk … he’s not AC Green.

  7. I was always somewhat of a Jordan ‘hater’. I guess I never bought into the mirage of MJ, even at a young age. I ALWAYS pulled for whoever the Bulls were playing, especially the John Starks led Knicks and the Bad Boys of Detroit.

    While MJ is definitely the best to ever lace them up, he showed he is truly an unhappy person. Sometimes roses really do smell like booboo.

  8. MJ did mention Tex Winter. I had to look him up while I was listening to the speech…lol
    He did leave out the rest of the teammates you mentioned however.

  9. Kyle, I love how you called MJ by his entire name! It made me shiver a bit…I felt like I was in trouble.

    You managed to make MJ human, which I appreciate. I didn’t worship the man, but I enjoyed watching him play. I haven’t enjoyed basketball quite the same since MJ left. He was an AWESOME athlete….AWESOME. I can’t throw any stones at Michael, but this was a good read.

    As a side note, when I saw the author of the post today, I was curious to see whether the name of your alma mater would come up. I’m LOLing that it did. Thank you for contributing to my mid-day chuckle!

    • But notice I threw MU in there too 🙂

      Thanks for reading and for the nice comments; I wasn’t sure how my writing would go over, but I had fun with it and may try again someday, if Damon and the team will have me!

  10. I always heard about his infidelities. The rumors about his gambling before they started becoming public. I already knew from reading greek mythology and going to church that heroes are human and thus have flaws(Abraham, David, Peter?). What Jordan showed us was that he was indeed human and deeply flawed. But that flaw, that competitive nature of his, was never analayzed beyond the court and into his personality like it was when he gave the speech.

    We all knew that Jordan had “that killer instinct” to him that, as we see now in the aftermath of his acceptance speech, would more than likely not goover well with other folks. Hence why his image, that alot of us fell in love with, turned out to be so crafted and refined that this new revelation seemed to blindside his fans.

    However, lets not forget that when he gave this speech Jordan wondered if there were any parts of his life that have not been already talked about. He gave it to the audience raw and uncut. I loved it!!!!

    Every instance, he said what motivated him to do that act. The family that pushed him. The coach that applied pressure on him. The players on opposing teams. he recounted the story better than any roastmaster I have heard. Nobody was crying and Joe Wilson would have been wrong to call Jordan a liar, too!

  11. I think this is the first letter I have read up here where I disagreed with everything. I saw the whole speech and I thought it was typical MJ too. Anyone that is a true fan knows that he is outrageously competitive. How do you think he got to be as good as he is?

    The problem seems to lie more in than author than Jordan. He is a basketball player . You really shouldn’t see him as a hero or someone to look up to unless you aspire to play b-ball. Why are you so concerned about his relationships with the women in his life and what he does with his money?

    His job was to entertain, and his speech definitely entertained me.

    • Thanks for the comments. I was writing the letter, looking back a lot at how I felt about MJ when I was a kid, and I idolized him. Him having a solid family and a seemingly good home life was part of that idolization for me. I was prompted to ask Damon if I could write a letter to MJ for the site because the HOF speech was sort of a “nail in the coffin” for any childhood illusions about MJ left in me.

      I was a fan, still am a fan, and know his history well, but sometimes it’s hard to let go of that childhood hero worship and no one can live up to it. That’s all I was trying to convey with my letter – I’ll try and make that more clear next time!

  12. I’m going to roll with Teddi37 on this one. I disagree. People don’t speak about the level of emotion he showed. This was the culmination of his career. For the greatest to have ever done it, that is a big thing. And it showed in his speech. The cool, calm, collective Michael we are used to in postgame interviews wasn’t there. He stumbled over his words, was a bit incoherent at times and was truly shook by the fact that basketball, with relation to playing the sport, was over for him. Despite his jokes at coming back at 50. I appreciated that. I think his pointing out those people that he did was his attempt to show that his competitiveness wasn’t only something that he pulled from inside him. It was the product of his familial upbringing, high school and college challenges, challenges by foes in the league (Russell . . .but he won’t do that again), etc, etc. He stated that all those persons put logs on the fire and in turn contributed to Jordan becoming Jordan. I just don’t think he communicated that as eloquently as we would like him to.

    I don’t know why we have thsese overinflated expectations of PEOPLE. That’s what they are PEOPLE. They just happen to do SOMETHING exceptionally well. They’re not GODS for that they’re just talented PEOPLE who are put in the spotlight and ridiculed by less talented PEOPLE who don’t have to hold ourselves to such a high accord because we feel we paid to judge with our ticket price.

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