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Monday, October 29, 2007

Michael Jordan: "If Someone Interpreted Me as a Tyrant, I'm Pretty Sure They're Appreciative Now"

The fact that Michael Jordan was a dominating and at times overbearing presence on his teams has been well documented, even if the images of him punching teammate Steve Kerr or being confronted by teammate Bill Cartwright never altered fans' adoration of him. In the October 2007 issue of GQ, Jordan tells interviewer Larry Platt that there was a method behind his conduct: "That was leadership. I was the only one there from 1984. I was there when there were 6000 people in the stands. So I took pride in making sure every guy understood what it took to get us to that point, and by no means am I going to allow you to come in and change what we'd begun--the transformation of a city that's never had a championship. I used my criticism, my aggressive language, my aggressive behavior, to make you conform. Some people, like Sam Smith (author of The Jordan Rules), looked at this in a whole different frame of mind. At first I was offended. Then I realized, people don't understand our journey. I bet if you ask anyone now on those teams, they have a greater appreciation for what we achieved as opposed to the method we went by to achieve what we achieved." Jordan tells Platt that it was essential for him to maintain that stance even after the Bulls became perennial champions, saying that if he took a day off then that would have a negative trickle down effect. That is why when I contrast Shaquille O'Neal's work ethic/focus during his career with Jordan's, Russell's and Duncan's that I find O'Neal lacking. O'Neal has always believed that he can take the regular season lightly and then turn it on in the playoffs--but even if that is true for him, it sets a terrible example for other players on the team who are much less likely to be able to just turn up their performance at the drop of a hat (and O'Neal has not always been able to do so, either, which is why he has won fewer championships than he probably could have won).

Jordan credits Tex Winter's Triangle Offense for keeping everybody involved by defining each player's roles but he adds, "The Triangle won't work without a Michael Jordan or a Kobe Bryant." Speaking of Bryant, Jordan recognizes a kindred spirit in the Lakers' star--to a point. Jordan acknowledges that after drafting Kwame Brown and other players as a Wizards executive he learned the hard way that not every player is willing to make "the sacrifices I made" or shares "the tunnel vision I had." Jordan says, "I had to realize that their passion may not be to be a better basketball player. It may be to maximize the financial aspect of it, to get their own shoe line...No one's going to play the game the way you played it and you just have to accept that. If I do see that dedication, I recognize it in an instant. I'd say Kobe Bryant would have some of those characteristics but a lot of the things Kobe does I would never have done." Pressed to elaborate about that last sentence, Jordan refuses: "I ain't going to go further on that one." It is not surprising that Bryant finds it as frustrating to play with Brown as Jordan did during his Wizards comeback.

Perhaps the most bizarre portion of the interview concerns Jordan's passion for racing motorcycles, one of the diversions into which he is now pouring his legendary competitive drive. Jordan not only owns a motorcycle racing team but he talks about personally riding "crotch rockets" and "popping wheelies" on the streets of Chicago in the wee morning hours. Has he not heard of Ben Roethlisberger, Kellen Winslow and former Bull Jay Williams, each of whom sustained serious injuries while riding motorcycles? As the cliche goes, in the battle between riders and concrete, concrete is undefeated.

Jordan explains his notorious unwillingness during his playing career to take public political stances by saying, "My whole life had always been about being the best basketball player I could be. I had absolute tunnel vision--everything was channeled toward that. So I thought it was kind of unfair that people asked me to do something that I wasn't accustomed to doing just because of my profession." He adds that while he felt comfortable helping kids from the Special Olympics or Make-a-Wish that he did not feel comfortable making overt statements about politics or social issues because, "I'd only be setting myself up for someone to scrutinize my opinions, which were limited, because I never channeled much energy into it." It could be argued that prominent public figures like Jordan should speak out about political issues--but Jordan raises a good point: if a public figure is so completely consumed by his job that he is not really well informed about larger issues then it makes no sense and does no good for him to say anything. Not everyone is cut out to be Muhammad Ali or Jim Brown. As more than a few people have noted, it might not be a good idea to increase voter turnout because a lot of the people who aren't voting are not very well informed; the same reasoning could be applied about athletes/entertainers who choose to not step to the forefront regarding political issues: maybe they realize that they have nothing intelligent to say on these subjects because they have not had the time to really study them.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:33 PM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Monday, October 29, 2007 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Nugg Doctor said...

Great post, David. I enjoyed it.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 10:43:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I wonder if MJ's comments regarding Kobe doing things he'd never do are about Kobe's trade comments. I could never imagine MJ saying anything in public which could potentially hurt his image.

I know you don't necessarily disagree with my comments from the previous thread regarding Kareem and passion for the game, but I think I'll mention this anyway. This article is a good example of what I meant by writing one's passion/obsession for basketball on their forehead. MJ keeps going on and on about his obsession with winning, and it almost becomes a self-promotion for his qualities in the intensity/passion category. Not saying that MJ's passion was any less than this article would have you believe. Just pointing out how what a certain person does or doesn't say about himself shapes people's opinions.

I frankly don't care what MJ's political stances are. Anyway, he makes a good point about not wanting to say anything without being well-informed, but I have a hard time buying that as the truth. I think a desire to achieve maximal marketability had at last something to do with MJ's lack of outspokenness on basically anything of substance. I think he even said at some point "Republicans buy sneakers too."

In fact, MJ basically takes every potentially negative thing about him discussed in this article and tries to justify it by bringing up his (supposedly) unparalleled intensity, drive, and focus on basketball. Again, I'm not doubting that his drive was second to none, but he seems to be taking it a bit far. You don't have to be a jerk to inspire your team to play its best, and EVERYONE has time for hobbies and interests outside of basketball (or maybe gambling somehow fit into MJ's "absolute tunnel vision"). I guess when you win though, you can get away with saying all that.

 
At Monday, October 29, 2007 10:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie
great look david an opion from the GOD himself micheal jeffrey jordan man i miss mike alot he was the greatest for real he could do everything on the basketball court and stepped his game up in the playoffs like no other for real. many have tried to step in the shoes lebron wade kobe tmac vince carter jerry stackhouse harold miner, and others all have failed but even though lebron my favirote player now and kobe and wade are good players as well. he said he would do a few things diffrent if he was kobe ive always said kobe should of done a few things diffrent in his career.

and political thing is not for everybody jim brown and bill russell stood up for blacks during social upheavel today is diffrent so there was no need for jordan to mess with social issues alot of people have critcized but if ali and jim brown played today would they be standing up like they did or would they make the millions and be quiet?

micheal jordan is the greatest of all time no question to copy magic johnson what he said about larry bird at his retirement night in 1993 there will never ever be another micheal jeffrey jordan

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 3:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nugg Doctor:

Thank you.

Vednam:

You are right that MJ has very zealously protected his image. He did a lot of things that could be interpreted negatively but did not take a public relations hit for most of them (the exceptions being some of his gambling exploits and his reticence to speak out politically).

In MJ's defense regarding the focus on his competitive drive, he was answering questions, so the interviewer had a lot to do with what they were talking about. Also, I did not reprint the complete text but highlighted areas that I thought are of particular interest (and I am more interested in his competitive drive than other subjects, though you are right that this became a theme in a lot of his answers). That said, I would agree that MJ is very skillful at presenting himself in a certain light.

The interviewer actually asked MJ specifically if he regretted making that Republicans/sneakers comment. MJ replied that he did not regret it and that privately he lent his support to Gantt (against Jesse Helms) in that election because his mother supported Gantt but that at the time he felt that he did not know enough about Gantt to speak out publicly on his behalf.

Dr. J and Pip are two players who were very intense and competitive but who had a much lighter touch than MJ when dealing with their teammates.

Reggie:

Since MJ did not say what he would have done differently than Kobe it is not really possible to know what he meant by that. Kobe himself has said that there are some things that he would do differently. Can anyone honestly say otherwise about himself?

 
At Tuesday, October 30, 2007 9:55:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

its always good to hear from mike.

 
At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 3:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

mj knows kobe has made terrible mistakes in his life and he was saying that to me. mj knows some of the stuff that happened to kobe wouldnt happen to him because he would be too smart to let the that happen and if it did people would never know about it. kobe tells the media everything or they end up finding out everything about him he not slick or smart alot of off court and on court descions he made. mj was smart not just as a player but off it as well

 
At Wednesday, October 31, 2007 4:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Maybe. Since MJ refuse to elaborate about what he meant anything anybody says about this is just pure speculation.

We know about a lot of mistakes that MJ made--from writing a check to Slim Bouler to staying out late to gamble the night before a playoff game to punching out teammates to cheating on his wife--but this knowledge has not really had a significant negative effect on MJ's popularity. Does that prove that he is "smart" or does it say more about how the media shapes the public's opinions and perspectives?

 
At Friday, November 02, 2007 1:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

nah mike was smarter how he talked to the media kobe lets all his buisness out in the open he has bad etiquettes as kenny smith was saying a couple days back it is hard to side with him. kobe is phony to me where jordan for the most part was genuine to me, kobe says what sounds right rather than how he really feels. thats why i love shaq too if you agree or not with hi he says whats on his mind kobe said he loved playing with shaq a lie said he never disliked shaq a lie, stuff of that nature makes it hard to embrace him fully for me.

i know jordan made mistakes not nearlty as any as kobe has and some of the things kobe done is simply not smart learn how to complain behind closed doors and not through the media. look up skip bayless article kobe is as good phyiscally gifted as jordan just not as smart as a person.

 
At Friday, November 02, 2007 8:25:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

I agree that MJ is more polished in his dealings with the media--but the media is also more sympathetic toward him for the most part. MJ made it clear early on that he would not deal with those who portrayed him negatively and most writers wanted to retain access to him.

How do you know whether Kobe likes or dislikes Shaq or how he felt about Shaq at the time that he made the statements in question? Shaq once said that Kobe is the best player in the game and he talked about how he was the big brother and Kobe was the little brother. Then Shaq disparaged Kobe and said that he couldn't stand playing with him and wanted to be traded. So which time was Shaq lying?

Let's just say that Bayless is not very objective. Have you seen what he writes/says about LeBron and how he mocks him, calling him "Prince" James?

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

jordan was way more polished than kobe and had better pr people around him than kobe has.

kobe said shaq payed women hush money to police when he was in the colorado situation trying to deflect attention off him and put it on shaq a very bush league heartless thing to do i might add. i know he didnt like shaq, shaq admitted he didnt like kobe as a person but respected him as a player why i always like shaq he was REAL. where kobe is fake as hek clapping for him in christmas jgmae in 04 when you didnt want to play with that man anymore and everybody knew you didnt like him comeon kobe be REAL

far as skip bayless dont like lebron but he isnt a kobe hater at all really for the most part he on kobe side what he said in the article was fact about kobe not kobe hateing. have you read it because you really cant comment if you havent.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

So if Kobe booed Shaq in the Christmas game then he'd be "real"?

I have not seen the Bayless article but I have read enough of his work and heard him often enough on TV to know that Bayless is not very objective. He has no appreciation of just how good LeBron is.

 

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