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